What is the VCP Process?

The key concept in referral marketing is relationships. The system of information, support and referrals that you assemble will be based on your relationships with other individuals and businesses. Referral marketing works because these relationships work both ways: They benefit both parties.

A referral marketing plan involves relationships of many different kinds. Among the most important are those with your referral sources, with prospects these referral sources bring you and with customers you recruit from the prospects. These relationships don’t just spring up full-grown; they must be nurtured. As they grow, fed by mutual trust and shared benefits, they evolve through three phases: visibility, credibility and profitability. We call this evolution the VCP Process(R)

Any successful relationship, whether a personal or a business relationship, is unique to every pair of individuals, and it evolves over time. It starts out tentative, fragile, full of unfulfilled possibilities and expectations. It grows stronger with experience and familiarity. It matures into trust and commitment. The VCP Process describes the process of creation, growth and strengthening of business, professional and personal relationships; it is useful for assessing the status of a relationship and where it fits in the process of getting referrals. It can be used to nurture the growth of an effective and rewarding relationship with a prospective friend, client, co-worker, vendor, colleague or family member. When fully realized, such a relationship is mutually rewarding and, thus, self-perpetuating.

This simple concept has made a bigger difference in more people’s networking efforts than any other single idea I’ve discussed. For this reason, I’m going to devote the next few blogs I write to explaining each step of the VCP Process individually. Come back on Monday to learn why it all starts with visibility . . . I guarantee you you’ll want to read this one!

7 Ways to Connect with Networking Partners

1.  Arrange a one-to-one meeting. Meeting a referral source in person is an excellent opportunity to learn more about his business and interests. Prepare some questions in advance so that the conversation flows smoothly. Be ready to give an update on your business and to ask lots of questions about your source’s interests.

2.  Extend an invitation. Invite a referral source to a networking event. Introducing her to other businesspeople you know gives your source an opportunity to meet others in your target market and may also provide new business opportunities.

3.  Set up an activity. A recreational activity, such as a golf outing, fishing trip, concert or play, is a great opportunity to let your referral source see a different side of you in an informal setting. The activity should be one that will give everybody time to relax, but it may also include an element of information such as a speech or educational presentation. To maximize the effectiveness of your time with your sources, you should invite no more than four people and spend at least one hour with each.

4.  Arrange a group activity for clients. Gathering your clients together creates an excellent environment for synergy and for raising your credibility with all. The one thing the people in this group will definitely have in common is you, so you’ll certainly be the focus of a good many conversations. Group activities may be social, such as a barbecue or a ball game, or they may be educational, such as a seminar or demonstration.

5.  Nominate a referral source. Watch for opportunities to nominate a referral source for an award. Local service and civic organizations often present annual awards recognizing contributions to a particular cause, and local periodicals often sponsor awards contests for businesspeople. Find out what groups and interests your referral source is involved in, and check to see if there is any form of recognition associated with them.

6.  Include a source in your newsletter. Even a brief mention of a referral source in your newsletter can pay dividends down the road, including the opportunity for your source to reciprocate with his newsletter.

7.  Arrange a speaking engagement. Help your referral source get in front of a group that would be interested in her business or area of expertise. Local chapters of service organizations, such as Rotary and Kiwanis, are always looking for good speakers. If you belong to a group that invites people to speak, use your contacts to help your source make the rounds among various chapters.

What are some other ways that you recommend to stay in contact with your networking partners?

Safari Entrepreneur

Entrepreneurs can be very creative in their enterprises. Camp Jabulani in the Kapama Game Reserve just outside Kruger National Park in South Africa is a great example of this. I had an opportunity to spend five days there last week and was truly amazed.

Jabulani has six luxury suites with massive wooden sliding doors and floor-to-ceiling screened-in windows that make up the walls of the suite (photo to the left). These walls are covered at night by canvas. During the day, you have the feeling you are in a luxury tent. At night you have total privacy but can hear the roar of lions and the calls of other wild animals just outside the safety of the enclosed compound.

Guests get their very own personal ranger in open safari vehicles as they head out in search of the Big 5 (elephant, lion, rhino, water buffalo and leopard) as well as many, many other species of wildlife. The photos below of a lion and an elephant were taken by me while in the vehicle.

Each guest’s itinerary is tailored to suit him or her. Never is a schedule dictated. The favorite phrases from the camp staff are: “Whatever you want” and “Whenever you want.”

Camp Jabulani offers the only night safari on elephant back in the world (photo to right)!  In addition, guests are treated to a visit to the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre founded by the owner of Camp Jabulani, Lente Roode. The centre is one of the leading private research and breeding facilities for endangered species in South Africa.  It has served in rescuing many threatened elephants in South Africa and Zimbabwe, as well as caring for African vultures, cheetahs, antelope, wild dogs and many other animals.  It also has an extensive and well-known breeding program for cheetahs.

To the left is a photo of my wife and me meeting one of the more subdued cheetahs at the centre.

What Roode has done in this enterprise is truly remarkable. She has taken a business–the Jabulani Camp, within a private reserve that she and her son own, Kapama Reserve–and established a nonprofit center for the treatment and care of injured and endangered animals. She has turned her passion into a thriving business as well as a remarkable charitable cause to save the animals of South Africa. Ventures like this are truly a great example of entrepreneurism. She and her staff have found a way to build an entrepreneurial enterprise while giving back to the country by helping to maintain a healthy bio-diversity and the cultural heritage of a nation.

For more information on Camp Jabulani, go to www.campjabulani.com/

6 Simple Actions

Last week I gave you a list of actions you can take to strengthen your relationships with your referral sources. I promised that in the next few weeks I would give you some more information on each action. So, since we all love it when things are easy, I’ll start by giving you further details on the six simplest actions you can take.

1.  Send a thank-you card.  Always a nice gesture, a handwritten thank-you card makes a great impression, especially in this age of electronic communication. Be sure to write a personalized note that mentions what you’re thanking your referral source for. SendOutCards.com is a great resource for this.

2.  Send a gift. A gift is always welcome. Like a thank-you card, a gift, however small or inexpensive, builds visibility and credibility with your referral source. Try to find out what your referral source likes (favorite foods, hobbies, etc.), and send a gift that is personalized to her tastes.

3.  Call a referral source. An occasional phone call is a good way to keep the relationship strong, if you take care to call only when it’s least likely to be an unwelcome interruption. It’s also a good idea to have a piece of news or some tidbit of information to pass along that will benefit or interest your source.

4.  Offer a referral. Giving your referral source a referral is a wonderful way to build your relationship. By helping build your source’s business, you create a debt of gratitude that will encourage your source to respond in kind.

5.  Display a source’s brochure. Doing a bit of sales work on behalf of a referral source can only enhance your relationship. If you have a public area for your business, offer to place your source’s materials where your clients can read them.

6.  Send an article of interest. Set up a file for holding newspaper and magazine clippings that may be of interest to people you would like to be your referral sources. Sending an article, especially one that is pertinent to your source’s current business or personal circumstances, says that you are thinking about your source’s needs.

These are some of the easiest ways to grow your networking relationships. Check back next Monday to read about some great actions you can take that will require a little more effort on your part.

Strengthening Relationships with Referral Sources

To be an effective networker, you should always be working on strengthening your relationships with your referral sources.  So, what’s the best way to do this?  It really depends on the referral source and what he or she responds to.

There are a number of actions you can take to build good will and credibility in your relationships, and the list below contains an array of examples.  Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, so you should feel free to add your own actions to it.

  • Send a thank-you card.
  • Send a gift.
  • Call a referral source.
  • Arrange a one-on-one meeting.
  • Extend an invitation.
  • Set up an activity.
  • Offer a referral.
  • Send an article of interest.
  • Arrange a group activity for clients.
  • Nominate a referral source.
  • Display a source’s brochure.
  • Include a source in your newsletter.
  • Arrange a speaking engagement.
  • Invite a source to join your advisory board.

This is an important topic so, in the coming weeks, I’ll be posting a handful of blogs explaining in more detail how to do each of these things effectively. Be sure to come back to find out more about this. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your comments about what actions have been fruitful for you when working on strengthening relationships with your network partners.

6 Ways Your Referral Source Can Turn a Referral Into a Customer

Let’s say that upon getting a business referral, you simply take down the name and contact information of the potential customer from the referral source. Sometime later, you call the prospect and introduce yourself: “Hello, Ms. Prospect, my name is John Businessman. Larry Source recommended I call you.  I’m an accountant . . .”

Handling referrals this way, as you might expect, gets minimal results.  Your chance of converting the referral into a customer will be greater if your referral source:

  • makes the initial contact with the prospect (his acquaintance) to assess her need and, if appropriate, alerts her that you will be getting in touch
  • sends the prospect background information about you and your business
  • lets the prospect know the nature of his relationship with you
  • gives the prospect a brief description and endorsement of your products or services
  • arranges to introduce the prospect to you
  • follows up with the prospect after you contact her.

Unfortunately, if you don’t ask your prospective referral source to do some of these things, he probably won’t–not because he isn’t willing, but because he doesn’t know how these actions could make a big difference, doesn’t have enough information about you or your business, or simply doesn’t know how.

Make it your goal to communicate to your sources the actions you wish them to take and then provide them with all the materials necessary to accomplish those actions. If you do this, I guarantee you’ll get better-quality referrals that will more quickly turn into actual business.

If You’re Not Inviting, You’re Missing Out

Inviting prospective referral sources to an event you’re attending, hosting or participating in as a featured guest, exhibitor, panel speaker or award recipient is a great way to enhance your contact with them and build credibility.

If you’re not inviting your prospective referral sources to events, you’re missing out on a great opportunity to keep them informed of activities you’re involved in. When the event is one where you have a chance to share your expertise or where you are being recognized for an achievement, using this tactic contributes to building your credibility and image as a successful and knowledgeable professional.  This tactic also helps acquaint your targets with others in your network and transforms strictly business relationships into friendships.

If you haven’t been inviting prospective sources to events and you’re not sure whom to invite or how to invite them, here are some tips to get you started:

  • Make a list of the events you’ll be attending and a list of network members you might invite.
  • With plenty of lead time, call or write each prospective source to invite him or her to the event; explain the reason for the invitation.
  • Pay your network member’s admission fee, if there is one.
  • Make sure the event offers benefits to your prospective sources, such as an opportunity to meet someone they admire, to be entertained or to be recognized.
  • Whenever possible, allow your guests to invite guests of their own.
  • It’s OK to invite people you do not expect to attend.  Remember, one of your aims is to keep your sources informed of what you are doing.

So, what events are you attending in the coming weeks?  Make use of the tips above and make it your goal to invite someone to each event you attend from here on out. Chances are you’ll not only reap some great benefits, you’ll probably enjoy the event even more with your network member along.

Give Valuable Information, Get More Referrals

Last week I posted a blog on the benefits of turning to your network for advice. It’s also very important to remember that everyone benefits when you give valuable advice to your network.

Think about how you can give your prospective referral sources valuable advice related to your specialty or profession, such as advance notice of a change in procedures that will affect them, tips on how to initiate the changes they will need to make, or other information that can help your network members achieve satisfaction or success.

One of your goals is to get network members to feel that you are a link to privileged information–that you’re an insider. The advice you give may lead your prospective sources to seek you out for answers to their questions or to feel that you’re looking out for their best interests. It’s a great way to remind your prospective referral sources of what you do.

Use these tips to help pinpoint what to share with your network and how to share it with them:

  • List the topics that you feel comfortable giving advice on, then list network members who might need advice on each topic.
  • Decide whether you will apply this tactic formally, such as by newsletter, or informally, such as in a personal note.
  • Decide how frequently you will send updates.
  • Ask your sources to name others who might benefit from your advice.
  • Periodically ask your network members whether they find your advice useful.
  • Tell your network members to let you know if they don’t wish to receive your updates.

Offering valuable information to your network will not only help them, more important for you, it will keep you on their minds and encourage them to refer you and speak highly of your professional knowledge.

Need Advice? Your Network Can Help!

Have you ever purposely sought advice from your network members?  If not, you should definitely take advantage of this opportunity because we all need advice at one time or another and seeking advice from your network is a win-win situation.

You see, people like for others to listen to their opinions and advice.  By inviting your network members to talk, you can get better acquainted with their knowledge, decision-making ability, and attitudes.  Receiving someone’s advice also gives you a perfect reason to contact her again, thank her, and let her know what you plan to do.  This is a great way to keep your resources informed and, of course, to get their opinions about what you are doing.

When preparing to ask your network for advice, here are some important tips:

  • Ask your network member for advice or opinions on something she enjoys talking about and to which you expect her to have an answer.
  • Listen carefully and respond appropriately.
  • Direct your questions toward what your network member says in conversation.
  • Have a logical reason for wanting the information.
  • Avoid potentially controversial and sensitive issues.
  • Don’t ask your network member to give you advice that she would otherwise charge you for.
  • People are more likely to remember their own words than others so if you want someone to remember your conversation, let her do most of the talking.
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