Business Networking Trends (Part 3): Small Companies vs. Large

Here is the final installment of my thoughts about trends in 2008 for business networking.

Small companies will continue to have the edge over big companies relating to business networking.

For the most part, big companies are clueless about building sales through the networking process. They continue to teach salespeople traditional methodologies while relying heavily on advertising to create buzz. Mind you, there’s nothing inherently wrong with these strategies. The problem is–big companies don’t effectively incorporate referral marketing into the process.

When it comes to developing social capital and the networking process, small business is king. Big business is slow to move out of the mindset of splashy ad campaigns, big dollars spent on traditional marketing and the “same old, same old.”

If big business does ever get it, however, it is likely to run over the little guys. Big business will learn how to develop social capital and will teach its people how to do true relationship marketing. Most big business is just a notch or two above the universities in the “you can’t tell me anything new” department. For now, there are only a few forward-thinking big companies that consistently apply these concepts (and I mean very few–I’m working with one large insurance company that may be an exception). For the rest, it is a trend to watch for in the distant, distant future.

The trends I’ve talked about in my last three blogs are not just an American phenomenon but an international one. The introduction of “International Networking Week” is a prime example of how this approach to doing business is growing worldwide.

 

Small business development through the process of building social capital will continue to grow in the global market we are currently experiencing. No one has a crystal ball, but based on what I’m seeing and what I’ve seen in the past, I believe these are some of the key things to look for relating to networking and referral marketing over the next few years.

Business Networking Trends (Part 2): Networking Education

Continuing with my discussion on “Business Networking Trends,” here are my observations about networking and social capital education:

Don’t hold your breath for the colleges and universities of the world to begin teaching networking and social capital. At this point, only two colleges in the world offer regular, core-curriculum college courses on networking and social capital. One is a course at Davis College in Ohio taught by Debby Peters, and the other is a class at the University of Michigan taught by Wayne Baker. That’s it–two colleges!

The college and university systems are behemoths of bureaucracy that are so far behind the curve of small business development that I’m beginning to despair that they will ever catch on. Most professors have never had a real job in the business world and are completely out of touch with what is happening in real life, especially in small business.

I predict that the current trend in networking and social capital education will emerge in the form of private professional training organizations, in much the same way that private industry has controlled the educational market on “sales techniques” (another area in which colleges fail miserably). Companies such as the Referral Institute, which are offering training series specific to the techniques and systems of networking, social capital and referral marketing, are starting to pop up with a very refined and polished slate of seminars and training for business owners who want to learn how to harness the power of word-of-mouth marketing.

Next on “Business Networking Trends:” Large Companies vs. Small.

 

Business Networking Trends (Part 1): Online Vs. Face-to-Face

Several emerging issues and trends surrounding the process of networking are being created out of the need to find an effective way to develop business for entrepreneurs and salespeople in this new century. Over the next few blogs, I will address three of the most prominent trends that I believe will become more important in the coming years. Here is the first one:


Online and face-to-face networking will both continue to flourish.

I’m a proponent of online networks such as Ecademy.com and others. I think they will continue to grow successfully and help many of their members. However, they are not the final answer to business marketing or to networking. They are another great tool for people to connect with others (especially outside their local geographic area).

On my Referrals For Life blog, someone recently said: “I don’t know that it is true anymore that referrals are about relationships.â€? He went on to say, essentially, that technology is changing the rules and that just participating in a website will be good enough. Well, in one word, I’d have to say, “wrong.”

Referrals are and will be, for the foreseeable future, all about relationships. Whether they are relationships built online or face to face, they will still involve relationships. People refer people they know and trust. They will not regularly refer someone just because he or she is listed on a website. That’s called advertising, not networking.

 

Online networking works, but relationships must still be part of the process. Using the internet to exchange ideas, share knowledge and increase your visibility will be imperative in the coming years. Virtual networking is catching on in many circles. Some people involved in face-to-face networking feel threatened, as if online networking were going to replace their tried-and-true system.


Those who foretell the demise of face-to-face networking fail to note one important thing: the facts. Face-to-face networking groups continue to expand. The growth rate of my own referral networking organization, BNI, bears this out. Since the internet first became popular in the mid 1990s, BNI has experienced more than a 1,000 percent growth rate. That is not a typo.

Technology flattens the communication hierarchy and provides opportunities to improve your networking efforts–not replace them. I believe people who understand this will begin to use technology effectively–without replacing relationships–to take their marketing to new levels in the years to come.

The Case of the Disappearing Business Cards

Are business cards disappearing? Well, sort of. I don’t mean your business cards. They better not be disappearing. You need them to network with. But what about all the cards you’ve been collecting when you meet people? What’s happening to them?

Business cards are the most powerful single business tool, dollar for dollar, that you can invest in to help build your business. They are a “marvelous, compact, energy-efficient, low-cost, low-tech instrument–a self-contained device with no gears, springs or batteries that keeps working for its owner hours, weeks, years, even decades after it has left his or her hands.” That’s what I said about them in my book It’s in the Cards a number of years ago. Well, I still believe all of the above except for one thing: I’m not so sure that our actual business cards continue to work for us hours, weeks or especially years after they have left our hands.

More and more I am seeing the business card become a disposable advertisement for people. Don’t get me wrong; I still think that business cards are very important. However, I also recognize that technology is replacing the “card box” and Rolodex I once had on my desktop. It has, for me, been replaced with Outlook. For many years, I had all the business cards I collected in a well-organized and categorized alphabetical card box. In recent years, I (like many other people) get back to my office with a pocket full of cards and have the information entered into my Outlook database. And the cards?  Well, let’s just say they used to disappear. But not any longer. No, today I keep them digitally using a CardScan.

I recently got a CardScan Executive and I love this product. I found it really, really easy to use (this said by someone who only reads instructions if absolutely necessary, and it wasn’t). The palm-sized device makes an image of the card and then automatically strips out the information into all the correct categories (name, company, address, phone, etc.). It then allows you to download all the information directly into your computer database (and did I mention that it was easy?).

Although I must admit that cards I used to receive went to that great big card box in the sky, now I can say they live on forever as a digital image and, more importantly, as a contact in my digital database–which is very important to the operation of my business. I really love the CardScan and I highly recommend it to anyone who is serious about networking. You can get more information about it at www.CardScan.com.

I’d love to hear your feedback on this type of product and how you use it in your networking efforts.

If you’d like to read some other articles that I’ve written about the effective use of business cards, take a look at these two columns here at Entrepreneur.com:

Article: Smart Ways to Use Your Business Card

Article: Creating an Effective Business Card

International Networking Week–It’s About Time!

Finally, there’s a week to recognize one of the most important ways that people can build their businesses–networking. International Networking Week is right around the corner. Last year, thousands of people from around the world recognized the week, and even more are expected to recognize it this year.

International Networking Week is about celebrating the key role that networking plays in the development and success of business around the world. It is about creating an awareness relating to the process of networking. Not just any kind of networking, but what I call “relationship networking,” an approach to doing business based on building long-term, successful relationships with people through the networking process.

International Networking Week has now been acknowledged by several governmental organizations (including a joint resolution of the California State Assembly and Senate). Start the new year out with more business. If you belong to any networking groups, make sure to tell them that International Networking Week is Feb. 4-8.

Below is an eight-minute video that talks about International Networking Week, 2008. Share the video with others and feel free to show it at your networking meetings during International Networking Week (you will note that I talk about this blog on the video):

 

Click Here for 2008 Video

Go to www.InternationalNetworkingWeek.com for more information. Share with us here on the bulletin board. What will you be doing to recognize International Networking Week?

Finding the Right Referral Partner

Victoria Trafton, a Referral Institute partner and franchise owner in Arizona, shared with with me some ideas I’d like to discuss here. She said to me recently that, in her experience, the key to having a stream of referrals coming to you is finding the right referral partners. We all know people we like, people we want to help, but it can be difficult to give them referrals.

So then, what does the right referral partner look like? Victoria suggested that a successful referral partnership is mutually beneficial and self-sustaining. Both parties can easily generate referrals for each other as they develop their own business. If it takes extra effort or they have to go outside their normal business activities, business owners generally can’t afford to take the time.

How do you find the right partner without wasting a lot of time? First of all, start with someone who meets the criteria for a strong referral source:

  • Must have trust between you;
  • Must work with your exact target market;
  • Must have influence with your market;
  • Must be willing to be trained as your referral partner;
  • Must be willing to train you to be his or her referral partner;
  • Must have the time and means to work a referral system;
  • Must have a well-developed and organized client/contact database.

Quite a list. But if you both meet the requirements, you are well on your way to having a great referral partnership. There is clearly a lot of training involved. Both parties need knowledge about each other and about referral systems. When the partnership works well, each side knows when it will get referrals, how many it can expect and how the referral was given.

When you find someone you think can become a referral partner, you must get some education to generate referrals intentionally, not find them occassionally. Victoria recommends my book, Business by Referral, co-authored with Robert Davis. She also recommends both parties get trained by taking classes together.

Victoria said that part of the reason she loves being a part of the Referral Institute is because the programs provide the training and systems that enable people to develop productive referral partnerships. As she says, “When you mix education with good people and good intentions, great things happen.”

‘The Time is Now’ Movie

I’m honored to say that I am part of a new film that is currently in production: The Time is Now.

I talk about how collaboration through networking is a powerful way of doing business.

The film features personal conversations with Bill Gates, Jack Welch, Tony Robbins, John Gray and Jack Canfield, plus many others.

The Leaders in the New Civilization–LINC–charitable organization is producing this amazing breakthrough film, which will be both educational and entertaining. It presents a very positive, futuristic view of what is possible as we utilize our most advanced resources, intelligence, awareness and scientific breakthroughs to make the highest-integrity choices for future generations.

Throughout these extraordinary dialogues, these leaders provide some of their greatest ideas, their deepest life philosophy and wisdom, their personal secrets to success and their most effective daily practices, along with powerful solutions for global issues that can shift our individual lives, our families, businesses, communities and the world.

If you would like to see an advance trailer for the film, go to: www.thetimeisnow.tv . I am in the section toward the end on “Collaboration.”

Enjoy!

Referral Marketing–You Can’t Do it Alone!

At the BNI International Directors’ Conference in San Diego a couple of weeks ago, I was talking to Dawn Lyons, one of the Master Trainers for the Referral Institute, about the struggles many people face with referral marketing. As we exchanged ideas about various referral marketing issues, such as inconsistency, quality levels, lukewarm referral sources and, ultimately, the uncertainty that people can sometimes feel, Dawn told me about a new catch phrase she has been using. Her new phrase is, “Referral Marketing … You Can’t Do It Alone!” I thought, wow–it’s a pretty simple phrase, yet it’s so true that it really makes a powerful statement.

As entrepreneurs, one thing Dawn and I both know is how control-oriented most entrepreneurs are. We like to get things done ourselves, and we typically would rather go out and make something happen than wait for things to come our way. Unfortunately, those entrepreneurial tendencies don’t mesh very well with referral marketing because of an important theory that Dawn asserted people must understand. She said, “Where do referrals come from? They come from other people!” Certainly, nobody can debate that. This is exactly why Dawn’s catch phrase holds such power–referrals come from other people who trust us enough to refer us, and who have found someone in need of our services. Referrals will never be generated from an individually focused mindset.

As Dawn put it, “Suggesting that we, as individuals, can go out and make referrals happen for our business is just silly … You Can’t Do It Alone!” Other people are the key factor in helping anyone generate referral business. Dawn has written a more detailed article on this topic, which clearly explains the concept of where referrals come from and shows specific places to go in order to increase referral business. If you are out there trying to generate your own referrals, by all means, take a look at her article and stop wasting all that time and effort.

Remember, being a self-starter and possessing an entrepreneurial spirit are some of your biggest strengths; but when it comes to referral marketing … You Can’t Do It Alone!

Setting the Stage for a Successful Word of Mouth Program

During a conversation last week, one of our assistant directors for BNI in Michigan, Leslie Fiorenzo, made an interesting point of comparison between appreciating opera and learning to use word-of-mouth marketing in your business. She said, “The best way to experience opera is to see it on the stage, and the best way to use word of mouth is to put a referral marketing plan in place. The novice, in either case, may not know where to begin.”

We started talking about a system to generate business by referral and, just like opera, if you have little or no experience with referral marketing, it would be a mistake to jump into action without preparing yourself. Central to the referral-marketing process is getting people to send you referrals. To do so, they must know exactly what you do–what product or service you provide or make; how, and under what conditions, you provide it; how well you do it; and in what ways you are better at what you do than your competitors. You absolutely must communicate this information to your sources. And to communicate effectively, you must know the same things. Before business owners map out their referral marketing campaign, they must stop and get a clear picture of where their business currently stands.

Leslie commented that when people begin to learn and study opera, they begin with basic works by composers such as Giuseppe Verdi and Giacomo Puccini before moving on to more complex works by composers such as Richard Wagner. In the same way, when marketing your business by word of mouth, there is a place to start before you meet with the people in your network. You begin by preparing answers to some basic questions about yourself and your business like:

1. Why are you in business?
2. What do you sell?
3. Who are your customers and
4. How well do you compete?

The ability to communicate this information to your sources and prospects will be invaluable as you begin to build your network and formulate your plan to gain more and more business the most effective way–through referrals.

Once you master some basic tools, you can move on to a deeper understanding of the process. For example, there are three laws of Notable Networking:

1. Have a positive and supportive attitude, and provide a positive and supportive environment for other business people.
2) Learn how to use networking tools efficiently, including business cards and an informative name badge, and have a business-card case to hold others’ cards.
3) Networking is an acquired skill that requires listening to tapes, reading books/articles, talking to great networks and practicing what you’ve learned.

One great place to get more information on this subject is www.bni.com. I highly recommend that you become familiar with the basic tools of word-of-mouth marketing and begin to implement them in your business so that you can begin to watch it grow. Because, just like appreciating opera, if you don’t begin with the basics, you won’t experience the optimum result.

Finding Good Referral Sources Is Like Kissing Frogs!

I was speaking with Sarah Owen, the master franchisee of The Referral Institute in the UK, and she told me that she often comes across people who are good at giving to others but don’t always get an equitable return from their relationships. Many people want to know how to discern whether a potential referral source is a good match, and what they can do to increase the likelihood that their time and efforts are being invested in relationships that will harvest a positive return.

Sarah shared a great metaphor that she uses in relation to referral sources that don’t pan out by saying, “When we are looking for a good relationship in life, we sometimes need to kiss some frogs to find our prince. People are searching for a way to avoid those slimy, slippery, drawn-out kisses, which can be prolonged over months–sometimes years–only to discover that the frog never turns into a handsome prince.” So how do people avoid those empty, disappointing referral relationships that turn out to be slimy frogs instead of princes? I think some of the questions below that Sarah and I discussed can definitely help qualify a potential referral source/alliance relationship sooner rather than later.

  • What are your goals?
  • What are your achievements?
  • What are your interests?
  • What do your networks look like?
  • What are your key skills?
  • Do you have time to invest in another relationship?
  • From what you know so far, do you like what I do?

By asking at the outset whether the individual has the resources, motivation and time to invest, and by then providing him or her permission to opt out, the only question left is whether the match is sufficient enough to ensure the relationship can be reciprocal in time. As our conversation came to a close, Sarah said that her clients are finding better results using these simple steps. Then, she smiled and happily reported that they are also kissing fewer frogs!

I love this metaphor. Thanks for sharing it with me, Sarah.

Networking Now Blog in Polish!!!!

The Networking Now blog is definately “international”!  For all our Polish language readers, you can find a translation of it every week at:

http://bnipolska.pl/content/view/159/98/

Thanks to Greg Turniak for making this happen.

Ivan

The ‘Three R’s’ of Selling

I did 17 radio interviews starting at 4 a.m. and ending around noon today for my latest book, Masters of Sales. While doing one of the interviews, I was asked by a talk-show host whetherI had any ideas that her listeners might apply during the holiday season to “help consumers who will most certainly be attacked from all angles by commission-hungry sales reps who refuse to conform to the needs of the shopper!” I came up with some thoughts that I thought would be good to share here on my blog.

I called the process the “Three R’s” of buying, which are:

  1. Referrals: Whenever possible, do business by referral. Go to stores where someone has recommended the service provided by the company.
  2. Research: Do some research. Google is great. Get information in advance about what you want. The more you know about the products you are looking for, the easier it is to shop with confidence.
  3. Relationships: Get to know the sales staff of places that you shop. The stronger the relationships you have, the more confidence you have that you will get what you pay for.

When you are actually working with a sales representative, keep these things in mind:

  1. Are they asking relevant questions or are they just trying to sell you what they want to sell?
  2. Are they listening to what you are telling them that you need?
  3. Are they knowledgeable about the products or services they offer?

If they are not doing the three things listed above, find someone else. I told this to the host of the talk-show and she asked, “How do you bow out gracefully with a salesperson when you don’t want to work with them anymore?” I responded that I simply tell them, “I’ll find someone else who can help me.” She didn’t like that answer at all. She said that it was “such a ‘male’ approach” and that women won’t generally be that direct. When I later asked my wife what she does in a situation like that, she gave me some great advice for those people (men or women) who don’t want to be so “direct.” She explained that she gives her first name to the salesperson and asks for their name. When they give her their name, she says she plans on possibly buying something but needs some time to browse the floor for a while. She thanks them for their help and tells them she will find them if she needs any assistance. So tactful… I love her. I’m afraid I’m more direct.

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