Be a Mentor to Your Future Customers

In the B2B world of industrial manufacturing, sometimes it’s hard to penetrate your target companies; it can be even harder to find the right person to talk to once you’re in. While there are ways to effectively reach seasoned engineers and purchasing agents, right now we’re going to focus on those young men and women who are the future of your customer base: students and young professionals.

What I’m suggesting isn’t really that radical. Simply, become a professional resource and sounding board for someone who is just starting out. In short, become their mentor.

Where to start?

Google is your friend!

For the purpose of this post, I searched Google with the term “student engineering forum.” The key is finding the places where engineering students hang out online. Here are my top results:

  • Top 40 Engineering Forums & Message Boards This is a pretty broad list. The great thing is that it’s broken down by discipline.
  • Engineering Students Reddit feed With almost 50,000 subscribers, this feed on the popular social media platform reddit is extremely active and full of engineering students.  It is “a place for engineering students of any discipline to discuss study methods, get homework help, get job search advice, and find a compassionate ear when you get a 40% on your midterm after studying all night.”
  • Engineering Exchange A very active forum with over 14,000 members from around the world, the Engineering Exchange was “developed for engineers by engineers.” I can endorse this site from personal experience, as in a previous role, most of the engineers I worked with used it.

Leverage industry associations.

Do you belong to any industry associations? Does your company? An easy way to find out about the latter is to reach out to your marketing communications department. Chances are, you have memberships you’re not even aware of, and certainly not taking advantage of. Make a target list of associations and get to work! Why? Most have member-only forums where you can join discussions and foster relationships with those in your industry from all career levels, from students to seasoned veterans.

An excellent example is the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). Membership gets you access to ASME’s online community, where you can:

  • Share your professional qualifications with tens of thousands of engineers
  • Communicate with our fellow engineers and make professional connections
  • Post relevant articles, photos, video, and more from your personal Dashboard
  • Join Groups for your areas of interest, where you can participate in discussions in Forums, comment on blog posts, and share news in the Activity Feed

Ask your best customers.

I wouldn’t recommend asking all of your customers, only the ones you have the best relationships with. Particularly the younger ones who more apt to network online. What are their go-to sites for industry community? Chances are their answers will not only surprise you, but open up possibilities you never would have found otherwise.

Go back to school.

Most, if not all, universities have alumni associations specific to their different colleges. For example, the University of Alabama’s College of Engineering has its Capstone Engineering Society. These alumni groups can be an invaluable resource for networking with college students and recent graduates. Most universities already have mentoring programs already in place. Like this one from Washington University in St. Louis or these from the University of Minnesota or this one from the University of Pennsylvania.

So check out what your alma mater has to offer!

Head to human resources.

Does your company partner with local universities to recruit graduates? If you’re not sure, pick up the phone and call your HR office. Lots of companies have recruiting campaigns that their employees know nothing about. This is a huge opportunity for you to get connected with upcoming graduates in your area. These graduates could end up working with you, or they could end up working for your customers. Either way, these relationships could prove to be valuable both personally and professionally.

 

Of course, this isn’t just about grooming future customers.

Mentoring someone is not just beneficial for the mentee. Try it and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how fulfilling it can be! From a great post on fastcompany.com:

When you teach something to another person, you discover all of the details that you don’t completely understand yourself.

The bottom line: Take the leap and mentor a student or young professional in your industry. Not only might he or she end up being an integral part of your customer network down the line, you’ll also grow professionally and personally.

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