Sorting Out Who’s Who

So, let’s say you’ve just returned from a networking event where you met a lot of new people and now you have a pocketful of business cards that you’re not sure what to do with.  What’s your first order of business?  Your first order of business is to sort out who’s who.

You need to separate the people you think might become new clients or referral partners right now from the ones who might be valuable contacts sometime in the future but not right away.  Let’s call the first group your A list, the rest your B list.  (Sounds kind of Hollywood, doesn’t it? :))  When you enter them into your contact database, labeling each contact as part of group “A” or “B” would be good to include (along with type of business, address, phone number, event where you met, etc.).

Now that you’ve got your contacts filed away neatly, take a look first at your B list. You want these folks to know you enjoyed meeting them, and you want to keep the door open for doing business with them later on if a good opportunity arises.  You can do this with a quick note by either e-mail or snail mail.* If you find you need to reconnect with one of these people at a later time, you’ll at least have some traction in the relationship simply because you followed up with a quick e-mail.

Now, what about your A list? These are people who have immediate potential as referral partners.  You need to follow up with them quickly–within a few days, before you drop off their radars.  First, initiate a “coffee connection” with each of your new contacts, a follow-up meeting where you can get to know her and find out how you can help her.  Anything short of trying to find ways to help her will generally be treated as a sales call instead of a relationship-building contact.  To ask for this first meeting, either a handwritten note or an e-mail is acceptable.*

At this point, you may be asking, “What about the people I meet who aren’t potential clients and aren’t in a field that can refer business to me?  Should I follow up with them anyway?” Absolutely!  You never know whom other people know; even a quick little “Nice to meet you” e-mail is better than not doing anything at all and hoping these people remember you later when you discover a need to do business with one of them.

Now that you know how to sort out who’s who, be sure to do this each and every time with the business cards you gather in your daily networking activities and, I guarantee you, you will start to see greater results from your networking efforts.

*Come back on Thursday to read a blog entry with specific examples of what your follow up notes to group A contacts and group B contacts should say–I’ll give you two free follow-up note templates so you’ll have no excuses for not following up with your new contacts.  Trust me, following up couldn’t be any easier than this!


The "Friendly Skies" Are Back

Long lines, deteriorating service, flight attendants grabbing a beer and pulling the emergency exit handle to slide out onto the tarmac are part of our vision of airlines these days.

However, I had an experience last week that was truly amazing in this day and age.

My wife and I were flying on United from LAX to New Orleans for a business conference.  Before we were about to land, Rebecca, the flight attendant, handed me a business card from the Captain.  His name is Patrick Fletcher.  On the back of Captain Fletcher’s card was a handwritten note that said:

Flight 139, January 19, 2011

Mr. and Mrs. Misner,

It’s great to have you both with us today – Welcome!  I hope you have a great visit to New Orleans – we really appreciate your business!

Sincerely,

Pat Fletcher

Rebecca (who was a great flight attendant, by the way), told me the Captain wrote these notes to everyone who was a member of their premier level frequent flier club as well as all the 1st class passengers.  On this day, that was around 12 people.   She said he is great to fly with because he really treats the passengers AND the crew very well, mentioning that he had brought scones to all of them that morning.

I fly A LOT.  In the last 20 years, I’ve probably traveled on over 800 flights all around the world.  In that time, I’ve never received a personal note from the Captain.

Entrepreneurs and major corporations alike can learn from this story.  Personal service that goes above and beyond the call of duty, can generate great word of mouth.

Captain Fletcher – my hat’s off to you.  Well done.  I think this is a great example of how one person in a really large company can make a difference in a customer’s attitude.  Your note was creative and appreciated.  I hope to be flying with you again.

In the comments section below, please share with me a great customer service experience you have had and how it has impacted your conversation about that company with others.

Don’t Make This Mistake at Your Next Networking Event

If you were sitting in an important meeting with your biggest client and you got a text message, would you stop listening to your client and completely tune him out in order to respond to the text message?

What if you got a phone call . . . would you stop mid-presentation as you were pitching your most important client about your newest product in order to answer the call??  Of course you wouldn’t!  That would be a blatantly rude move on your part and it would put your most valued client relationship at risk.

So, why in the world would anybody ever even consider looking at their mobile phone during a networking meeting?? Make no mistake, a good reason for looking at, picking up, or using your mobile phone in any way during any type of networking meeting does not exist!

One of the fastest ways to ruin your credibility and earn yourself a reputation as being rude, unprofessional, and undeserving of referrals is to use your mobile phone during a networking meeting. It virtually screams to your networking partner(s): I don’t care what you have to say because I have better things to do right now and this meeting is not worth my time.

If you want results from your networking efforts, which I’m assuming you do if you’re reading this blog, then that is the last thing you would ever feel about or  say to anyone in your network.  But, if you’re using your mobile phone during meetings with people in your referral network, I promise you–not only is that the exact message you are sending them, you’re also wasting their time and yours.

So, do yourself a favor and check your phone one last time before your networking meeting . . . check that it is completely turned off and don’t turn it back on until you leave the meeting.  Remember, networking meetings and mobile phones don’t mix!

The End is Near!

No, not the end of the world, silly . . . I’m talking about the end of the recession. Recently, I wrote about “Business Looking up in 2011” which was based on a survey of over 5,000 businesspeople and entrepreneurs at www.BNIBusinessIndex.com.  The survey was a global survey that was taken by people from every populated continent in the world.

The survey found that almost 68% of the respondents say that business is growing or growing dramatically compared to this time a year ago.  What the survey doesn’t explain is why those businesses are growing.

I have a few thoughts, based on my observations recently, which may shed some light on this and also provide insight into how you can grow your business:

  • Innovation in adversity is a key factor. I know a commercial real estate broker in Southern California who said that he had his best year ever in 2010 (and he’s been in business for 26 years).  He cited the fact that he did dozens and dozens of one-to-ones during the year to find ways to work together with other businesses.  His opening approach was to help them.  However, at the same time, it built his business in the process.  This is counter-intuitive to most commercial real estate people he told me.
  • It all starts with attitude.  A product sales company in the UK was about to do layoffs to meet payroll.  One of the sales reps wrote on the whiteboard – “we refuse to participate in the recession.”   Everyone in the office signed it.  They ended up with their best month all year and no one was laid off!
  • Look for new or emerging opportunities.  I met a residential Real Estate agent on the East Coast of the U.S. who told me he had his best year ever last year.  He said he went to investors he’s worked with in the past and told them that “real estate is on sale!”  He said to them, “don’t be one of those people who come to me in a few years and say… “I was crazy not to look at these opportunities.  I should have bought back in 2010!”  He told me this strategy has helped him sell more than any year in recent memory.
  • Be creative with your offers.  I recently met a business coach in the mid-west of the U.S. who created a guarantee for his coaching.  He said, if you follow my weekly coaching program and you don’t raise your income to at least six figures, I’ll continue to coach you for free until you do.  He said it has dramatically increased his sales and has not had to provide any clients with free coaching yet.

If you have any insights / observations about the current upward slope of business or outside-the-box tips on how to boost business despite a challenging economy, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

Making Connections to Start Your Own Business

I recently got asked a really great question on Ask Entrepreneur: Where do I get connected with people who can help me open a business?

Though there is evidence that business is currently on the rise and the economy is moving in a positive direction, the recent downturn in the economy prompted many people who found themselves unemployed to tap into their entrepreneurial spirit and consider starting their own business.

This begs the question above–are there efficient ways to get in touch with people who can help you start your own business?

The answer is yes, and here are my three recommendations:

1) Go through your contacts and talk to people you personally know who have started a business. Set an appointment.  Let them know what you are doing and ask if they’d give you an hour of mentoring.  If possible, meet with them in person.  Show up with specific questions written out in advance.  Send them the questions prior to the meeting so they have a good understanding of what kind of information you’re looking for.  When you meet, focus on those questions, write down the answers, and stick to the time frame you promised.  If the conversation goes well, ask if you can meet with them in the future.  Follow this process with two or three people who have opened a business successfully.  I guarantee you will find this to be very valuable.

2) Find a business coach who has experience with start-up businesses. Hire them to coach you through the process.

3) Read, read, read!  There are a lot of books out there on opening a business. I have personally reviewed many of the books published by Entrepreneur Press on starting a business and they are excellent.  Go to EntrepreneurPress.com to see some of them.

I strongly encourage anyone genuinely interested in starting their own business to pursue the endeavor. I have owned my own business for almost thirty years (that’s a picture of me at top right, when I first started my company, BNI, and was running it from my house and garage with only one other employee in the mid ’80s) and it continues to be an amazing and fulfilling journey. I don’t think I would ever go back to working for someone else.

How to Make Networking Comfortable

Very few people argue with the value of networking, so why do people resist doing it? Aside from all the excuses–I don’t have time, I’m not a good networker, I don’t like to network–what’s the REAL reason people resist networking?  I was reading a book the other day called “Manifesting for Non-Gurus,” which was written by my friend Robert MacPhee (pictured at right) whom I’m in the Transformational Leadership Council with, and the book explains a concept which I think gets right to the core of this question–Comfort Zones.

The real reason most people do not network is because it makes them uncomfortable.

We’ve all heard about the concept of Comfort Zones before.  However, Robert explains it in a very unique way. He talks about how our resistance to doing something new often shows up as wanting to continue to do what is comfortable–even if it is not working well for usIn outlining his “Manifesting for Non-Gurus” approach, Robert explains that a comfort zone exists when our beliefs about who we are match the results we are getting. Think about it . . . if you consider yourself to be a great networker, do you show up at a networking meeting or event and present yourself differently than someone who thinks of himself as a poor networker?  Who is more comfortable?

Are you a great networker?

Hopefully you can answer this question with a highly-confident YES.  Unfortunately, most businesspeople would probably answer with a resounding NO.  Their image of themselves is of not being a great networker so, to remain comfortable, they will avoid networking, despite the fact that they know networking is valuable. Crazy, right?  Yet, we all know people who do this.

Fortunately, Robert explains that there is a very simple solution for anyone stuck in this kind of comfort zone.  It starts with a simple decision that part of who you are is a great networker. To declare that you love meeting new people, sharing what you do, and helping them in any way you can.  Start thinking about networking events as the valuable, exciting opportunities they are, instead of as dreaded situations that will pull you from your comfort zone.  This is the way successful networkers see themselves and perceive networking functions and that is a huge part of why they are successful networkers.

So, what about that voice in your head saying, “What about the evidence that seems to support the fact that I am not such a great networker?”  Well, according to Robert, that’s just your comfort zone crying out to reel you back in because the “I am a great networker” statement doesn’t match your current results.  If a “great networker” is who you want to be, the next step is to continue to declare that you are a great networker and “act as if” until the results you want start to show up!  This is the same thing you have done your whole life with any new skill you successfully learned.

Robert teaches a simple five step approach to making these kinds of changes more quickly and easily, getting out of our current comfort zones, trying new things and creating the lasting results we want.  I highly recommend his work.  Maybe we can get him to write “Networking for Non-Gurus” next . . . 😉

For more information about Robert and his work, please visit www.ManifestingMonth.com.

Business is Looking Up for 2011

My company has recently created a “business index” to gauge the economic state of business based on global survey results of retailers, service companies, and manufacturing companies all around the world.

The statistics gathered from the survey results are intended to keep small business owners, entrepreneurs, and companies, as well as the general public, educated and informed as to the changing state of the global business economy and the current business trends that become apparent over time.

The January, 2011 BNI Business Index Report (based on the 4th Quarter of 2010) represents the first report published by BNIBusinessIndex.com.

Over 5,000 businesses from every populated continent in the world participated in this survey. According to our findings for the 4th Quarter of 2010, 67.8% of all businesses surveyed stated that business was growing or growing substantially compared to the same time the previous year.  Only 7.9% stated that business was declining or declining substantially.  Just over 24% of the respondents felt that business was flat during the last quarter of 2010 compared to the same time period one year earlier.

This appears to be very good news for the recession weary business community.  For more details on these and other findings, go to www.BNIBusinessIndex.com.

Take a moment to share with me how business is doing for you.  Do these findings track with your experience?  Let me know here.

My Marriott Experience

UPDATE:  Before you read this blog (which was posted on Saturday the 8th), I’d like to give an update.  I was contacted by John, the Director of Customer Advocacy at the Marriott Hotels.  He contacted me when he heard of my complaint.  He handled the situation with concern and professionalism.  He also made the matter right in the best way I think he could.  All companies make mistakes, attempting to make it right says a lot about a company.  Thanks John for your follow up.

Just yesterday I wrote about the great experience I had at the Apple Store in Southern California and now one day later I have a great example of how NOT to treat a customer.  I’ve been staying at the Marriott Desert Springs Vacation Villas in Palm Desert for the last several days.  I brought more than a dozen members of my executive management team here for a 3 day strategic planning meeting during which time we had all our meals on site, some golfed on site and some used the hotel’s spa facilities.

Checkout for the facility is at 10am (10am—how many hotel/villas have a 10am checkout!?).  OK, it doesn’t matter—I called more than an hour before checkout time and asked for an 11am checkout.  The Marriott recption desk attendant said, “Sure, if you want to pay an additional $50!”  Really? $50 more to check out at 11am?!!!  I told Melissa at the front desk that I brought more than a dozen people here for the last three days and charging me $50 to check out at 11am didn’t really seem appropriate.  She said they charge everyone—period.

Now here is where it gets really interesting.  I told her, “I brought 12 people for three nights and put them up in three – 2 bedroom villas and you won’t give me an hour later checkout?  If that is the case, I’ll never come back here again.  If you’re OK with that, I’m OK with that.”  And her answer was… wait for it… wait for it…. “Yes,” she actually said: “I’m OK with that.” 

So let’s go back to the “experience.”  This employee could have acted like she cared and maybe even asked her manager (which I requested).  But no, her answer was a “No,” end of discussion.

It wasn’t the $50 that was the big issue for me.  After spending thousands to bring my team there – $50 was not a big deal.  What really frustrated me was the fact that she didn’t seem to care if we ever came back or not.  It was not important to her.   The quality of customer service is so different from company to company and even locations within a company.  My experience here—was bad.  And Melissa should be happy to know that she has motivated me to not come back again.  Well done, Melissa.

Oh, if only Apple ran a hotel.  That would be an amazing place to stay.

My ‘Apple’ Experience

It was a few days before Christmas and the malls were incredibly packed.  My eldest daughter needed a new Apple laptop for college and I was going to get her one as a Christmas gift.

Apple’s in-store customer service is legendary and I would soon experience it firsthand. I went to Victoria Gardens, an outdoor mall near my home in Southern California.  I walked up to the entrance of the Apple Store and the first thing I saw was that the place was wall to wall people. No, really – I’m not exaggerating – it was literally wall to wall people.  I think if there were any more people in that store the Fire Marshal would have had to empty the place.

I stood at the door and was dreading the idea of going into this packed store and waiting forever for service. I took a deep breath and walked through the entrance.  I was no more than two steps into the store when I was greeted by an Apple employee. I expected her to instruct me where I needed to go in order to take a number and wait for service.  Instead, she said, “how can I help you?” I was a little surprised but, I told her what I was looking for.  While standing in the middle of the store she paged someone from a mobile device.  She told me he was the expert and could set me right up with what I needed.  After a few moments Chris was standing next to me answering my questions.

Within minutes of walking through the door I picked what I wanted.  Chris swiped my credit card with his telephone and instantly sent the receipt to my email address.   The entire transaction was done in a fraction of the time I expected in a store that was busier than I thought possible.

A good friend of mine, Stewart Emery wrote a book called “Do You Matter?” A major premise of the book is the idea that customer service is all about the “experience” people have in the transaction of business.  I’ve been to the Apple store a few times now and I can say with conviction that each time has been an amazing experience in customer service.

Another thing Stewart talks about in his book, which the Apple company seems to truly understand,  is that “culture eats strategy for breakfast.”  The Apple culture of customer service is light years ahead of any other computer company I have done business with – period. No computer company has come close to giving me such great customer service (some other computer companies even rank amongst the worst service I’ve ever had).

Well done Apple.  I will be back again… and again, and again.

If you’ve had a similar customer-service experience, I’d really enjoy hearing it.  Please leave a comment and tell me about it.

50 Best Blogs for Young Entrepreneurs

I am excited to announce that this blog was listed as #26 in the list of “50 Best Blogs for Young Entrepreneurs”!

Here’s what they said:

“Networking Entrepreneur: Even if you think you’re a pro at networking, check this blog for new tips and strategies as your business grows. Recommended Posts: Make No Assumptions and Clueless When It Comes To Conversing? Four Tips

The list, published by OEDb (Online Education Database), was created as a resource for young entrepreneurs who are looking to learn some basic business principles and discover how to communicate and collaborate in the real world before finding success.  Divided into categories (“Tools & Resources,” “Inspiration & Testimonials,” “Tips & Education,” “Industry News,” and Insights “From Young Entrepreneurs”), the list presents the top blogs that will help you communicate, collaborate, master the science of SEO and social media marketing, shake hands like a professional, and more.

Young entrepreneur or not, this list contains a cornucopia of excellent links that will provide you with an endless amount of useful information.

I’m honored to be included in this list of the “50 Best Blogs for Young Entrepreneurs” and I encourage all of my blog readers to check out the list and explore the great (and FREE)  information that’s out there to help contribute to your success!

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