Achieving Excellence in a Networking Group

During a recent interview, I was asked what my thoughts are on why my networking organization, BNI, has become so successful. Well, I’ll be the first to admit that success didn’t happen overnight. It took me 23 years, and a lot of bumps along the way, to learn what it takes to operate a successful networking group anywhere in the world. But as I told the interviewer, I attribute BNI’s success to some key steps that are sure to move any networking group toward achieving excellence. I’d like to share some of them with you here:

1. Education, education, education. Take advantage of the staggering amount of resources on networking that are available. Some examples are:
SuccessNet archives, networking articles at Entrepreneur.com, networking books, Audio CDs, etc., etc.

2. Choose quality business professionals to join your networking group. Don’t take the first person with a pulse and a check.

3. Follow the system! When a system is proved to be successful, there is a reason it works. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

4. Pass quality referrals. The only thing more important than passing a lot of referrals is passing quality referrals. Both are important, but quality must lead the way.

5. Attendance is key to a group’s success. Networking groups that have poor attendance always end up having problems down the road. Have you ever gotten a haircut over the phone? Of course not. We’ve learned that you cannot get or give referrals if you don’t show up.

6. Pick great leaders! Don’t settle for who’s willing, but select who’s best! Leaders can make or break a group. It happens all the time.

7. Keep positive people with a solutions-focused attitude in your group. OK, here’s another way to say it–move out the constant whiners! Some people complain as though there were an award for it. Replace them. Find people who focus on building something great rather than complaining as though it were an Olympic event. Seriously, why accept mediocrity when excellence is an option? People, just like water, tend to seek the path of least resistance. The problem is that the path of least resistance may not be the best path. If you expect the best from your fellow networking group members, you will get it. If you expect less than the best from your members . . . you will get it. Expect the best. You’ll get better results, really.

After all, if following these steps could build BNI into an organization with more than 5,000 thriving chapters in more than 36 countries, then I’d say it’s worth giving them a try!!

Twilight Zone Management

Someone recently asked me about some of my more unusual moments in business, and that took me back to a short stint I did working as the general manager of a light-manufacturing plant in Los Angeles.

This story actually begins many years earlier when, as a young boy, I stayed up late watching old Twilight Zone episodes with my mother. There was one in particular that I loved about a little boy named Anthony who had incredible powers and completely controlled a small town. He would do horrible things to people and animals with his mind, and then his family would beg him to send the misshapen or deformed beast to the “cornfields.” As soon as he’d done it, one of the townspeople would inevitably utter the infamous words . . . “It’s a good thing you done that Anthony, it’s a real good thing you done that.” Then everyone would nod their heads in agreement in total fear that Anthony might do it to them next. This made for great science fiction and, because I love science fiction, it stuck in my mind for many years.

Fast forward some 15 years later when I worked as the general manager of a light-manufacturing plant. There, I had the misfortune to work for the absolute worst, most dysfunctional team of people I have ever seen. It was headed up by Sally, the co-owner, whose idea of good management was yelling at everyone who didn’t do what she said–immediately. This woman was Genghis Khan in female form.

As soon as I started the job, I realized it was a horrible mistake and I dreaded coming to work almost every day. Finally, after three months, it happened. “It” being the most surreal experience of my management career. I was in the middle of a meeting with some employees from the production department along with “Ms. Khan” when she went into an absolute tirade, screamed at an employee and then summarily threw the young lady out of her office.

At that moment, one of the horror-stricken production employees remaining in the room looked solemnly at The Khan, nodded, and said . . . “It’s a good thing you done that, Sally, it’s a real good thing you done that.” I couldn’t believe it! It was at that very moment that I thought, “Oh , my God ,  I’m in the Twilight Zone! I’m THERE . . . this is it . . . the cornfields have to be next!! I AM OUT OF HERE!” The very next day I gave my notice.

I have never regretted leaving the company. It was the experience that prompted me to start my own business. Leaving there and starting my own company was the best decision I ever made, and I’ve never looked back (except to chuckle from time to time).

Do you have a Twilight Zone Management experience? If so, please share it with us.

Six Essentials for Networking

Recently, I was handed a copy of a book called Rules for Renegades: How to Make More Money, Rock Your Career, and Revel in Your Individuality by Christine Comaford-Lynch.

In the book, she names six networking essentials that are not necessarily the ones people might traditionally think of as the keys to networking success, but I think they can be of significant value–especially her advice on equalizing yourself with others. So I’d like to reprint them for you here, and I invite you to leave comments. Here’s Comaford-Lynch’s list:

1. Practice “Palm Up” Networking. When you network, are you giving or grasping? Palm up networking embodies the spirit of service, of giving and wanting nothing in return. When you network “palm down,” you’re grasping for personal gain. Palm up = heart-oriented interaction. Palm down = greedy grasping. Give to others; it’ll all come back to you in time.

2. Exercise Daily Appreciation. Appreciate at least one person daily. Sometimes I do this via e-mail so I can be thorough. And often, to my delight, the recipient will tell me that they are saving the message for when they need a pick-me-up. You can also express appreciation over the phone or in person. Simply tell someone how much you appreciate who they are or what they do–whatever about them moves you. They’ll be flattered, and you’ll feel great.

3. Equalize Yourself with Others. I believe we all have one unit of worth: no more, no less. No one can add to it; no one can take it away. We’re all equal. Just because someone is powerful, rich and famous doesn’t mean they are better than you. Practice equalizing yourself with others. This will enable you to more comfortably interact with others and to reach out to people of all walks of life.

4. Rolodex Dip. This is a fun practice when you want to connect with someone but aren’t sure whom. Flip through your contact database and pick a name. Then think of all the things you like about them. Now call them up to see how they are doing. They’ll be surprised and delighted.

5. Pick a “Sensei of the Day.” Each day I pick a sensei, a teacher. This is someone or something that has taught me a lesson or reminded me of what’s important in life. Your sensei can be a person, a pet, a plant; it doesn’t matter. The important thing is to acknowledge that there is much to learn and you are being offered valuable lessons constantly.

6. Do the Drive-By Schmooze. Parties and conventions–groups of all sorts–are great opportunities to network. But sometimes you’ll be tired, not in the mood or have too many events in one evening (like during the holiday season). This is when you’ll want to use the Drive-By Schmooze. Here’s how:

a. Timebox your networking. Decide that in 30 minutes you’ll do a check-in to determine if you need to stay any longer.

b. Set your goal. Determine the number of new connections you want to establish. Remember, your goal is meaningful connections, not simply contacts.
c. Let your intuition guide you. This may sound flaky, but it works! Stand near the door, in a corner, out of the way. Stop your thoughts. Internally ask to be guided to the people you need to connect with. Then start walking. You’ll be amazed at whom you meet.
d. Connect. You’ll always resonate with someone at an event. When you do, ask questions about them, such as: How did you get started in your field? What’s your ideal customer? We all love to talk about ourselves, and these questions will not only help you form a connection with this person, but will also tell you how to help them.
e. Offer help and follow through. If you can provide help, jot down ideas on the back of their business card, commit to follow up, and then do it. If you’ve had a fruitful conversation and want to take it further, offer to meet for lunch or coffee. People say life is 90 percent about showing up. Nonsense! Life is 90 percent about following through!

For more information on Christine and her bestselling book, Rules for Renegades, please visit: www.RulesForRenegades.com.

I ‘Absolutely’ Refuse to Participate in a Recession!

Last month I wrote a blog article headlined: “I Refuse to Particpate in a Recession.” It clearly resonated with many entrepreneurs. A lot of people posted responses to this blog with a clear understanding of how to apply this idea. There were, however, some who e-mailed me directly with a bad case of the “Yeabut Syndrome.” It goes like this, “Yea but” Ivan, things are different for me or different in this area or different in this business or different in my situation or different in my alternate universe, etc., etc.

Sometimes I feel like saying to these people, “Yes, you are different than the people I am talking about. You will fail; they will not” (oh, sorry, gotta remember–must keep that as internal dialog).

I’ve been through three recessionary periods in my business. I don’t need a crystal ball; I have history. Here’s what my history tells me: People with a strong network will survive and even thrive during downturns in the economy. I’ve seen this repeated over and over. Here’s how it plays out in my networking organization, BNI .

[Cue music and fade away to a vision of the past].

The first three to four months of all the past recessionary periods, membership tends to slow. Not as many people join. They say things such as, the economy is bad, I can’t afford it, things are different in my universe, etc., etc. Then something amazing happens. People start to realize that they better do something and do it quickly! They finally recognize that a recession is here and their business is going to “hell in a handbasket” right before their eyes. At this point, the magic happens. They get “networking religion.” They realize that they better get out of their cave and really, really network to build their business and that they’d better do it quickly. Then we start getting more and more people trying to join the organization (some can’t join because they waited too long and their profession is already taken)!

[Cue music and fade back to today].

So here we are today. It looks like we are in the beginning of an economic downturn. You have a choice to make. Are you going to wait six months, like many of the people I’ve seen in the past–or are you going to take control of your business and get a head start on your networking efforts? Only the strong, smart, and “networked,” suvive a recession.

You still have time to start and/or improve your existing personal network. If you’ve been active in networking, now’s the time to get back to basics and reintroduce yourself to the fundamentals. If you’ve done some networking but need to really expand it, take yourself to networking school. Immerse yourself in materials that will help you. Here’s a good place to start for almost 80 free articles on networking: Entrepreneur.com Networking column archive. If you haven’t done much to build your personal network, what are you waiting for? The recession to be over? By that time, your business will be over! Start now!

There’s an old Chinese proverb: When is the best time to plant an acorn? The answer is 25 years ago. When is the second best time? The answer is today.

So, share with me–what are you doing to improve your network today?

Entrepreneurial Excellence

A good friend of mine, Frank De Raffele Jr., recently launched a radio program called “Entrepreneurial Excellence.”  I wanted to take a minute to let everybody know about it because not only is it an excellent educational resource for entrepreneurs and businesspeople alike, it is also accessible from anywhere in the world because it is broadcast online.  Even if you miss a broadcast, the shows are all archived and available to download at any time.

I listened to the show’s premier last Monday and I am very impressed with the quality of the insights presented on how to start and run a successful business. A lot of the information that Raffele is giving for free on his show wouldn’t even be given to you if you paid a bunch of money to attend classes on this stuff. 

Besides the educational forum, the show features a series of entrepreneurial tips on legal matters, tax savings, marketing, web/internet, employee benefits and human resource issues, plus interviews with some of the world’s top entrepreneurs and authors such as Zig Ziglar, Jay Conrad Levinson, Harvey Mackay and Stephen Covey. 

But forget those guys . . . the best thing is that Raffele managed to land an interview with the most exciting guy on the planet—yep, you got it, I’m talking about yours truly! All joking aside, though, Raffele has managed to assemble quite the panel of experts, and I think that gaining access to the expertise of top entrepreneurs for free and from anywhere in the world is an opportunity nobody should miss.

For more information, to listen, and/or to download past shows, go to: www.EERadioShow.com.

Why Make Mistakes When We Can Learn From Others?

This week, I was having a conversation with one of my employees about a guy who was exposed as a total con artist on national television, yet somehow he still manages to get people to send him millions of dollars in donations each year for his supposed “good cause”–which is, in reality, a complete joke. My employee said, “I just don’t get it! Why in the world are people still sending this guy money when they’ve been told about the thousands of other people who made the mistake of believing him and got ripped off?”

This brings up a good point. Why do we sometimes ignore the lessons we can learn from others’ mistakes and doom ourselves to making the same bad decisions? People in business and sales do this all the time. There are “tried-and-true” sales techniques that are so simplistic it doesn’t seem as though they can be really effective. Many times, we try to re-evaluate, improve upon and complicate them. Oftentimes we end up making things harder than they really are.One of the biggest mistakes that people in business (and especially in sales) make is not listening to the people who have experience. For some reason, they assume that they have to know better . . . and the truth is, they don’t.There is nothing like experience. It beats education every day of the week. The only thing better is a combination of education and experience . . . or a willingness to learn from other people’s experience. There are many basic sales techniques that any good salesperson knows to be effective. They don’t look for something more complicated or involved because they know from their own experience, as well as the experience of others, what works in sales and what doesn’t work in sales.

If you’ve read my book, Masters of Sales, you may have read things that seemed too simple to be effective or you may have seen ideas that you’ve heard before. Instead of being dismissed, these tactics and ideas should be embraced. Masters of Sales learn from other people’s success. Learn from other “Masters” that sometimes the simplest ideas can have the biggest impact.

For more info on Masters of Sales, please visit: www.MastersBooks.com

Are You ‘Really’ in Business?

I was speaking at a conference for small business owners last year where the following list was given to all the businesspeople in attendance. The speaker said; “If you don’t have all these things in place, you’re not really in business!”

  1. I have business cards for myself and my team.
  2. I have a distinct phone line specifically for my business.
  3. I have a registered domain.
  4. I have a current website.
  5. I have an e-mail that corresponds with my business domain.
  6. I have a dedicated office or business space (even if it is home-based).
  7. I know what my target market is.
  8. I have a contact database system in place to communicate with my prospects.

As obvious as this list seems, half the participants did not meet all the requirements. I spoke there again this year, and I’m glad to report that virtually all of the participants this time around met the above requirements (and more).

So here’s my question for you: Are you really in business?

[For those of you who are really in business, what would you add to this list, if anything?]

Customer Service Alone Won’t Ensure Referrals

This past weekend I found myself explaining BNI to the father of one of my son Trey’s friends. After I gave him the basic rundown, he said, “That sounds like a great concept. But I’m known for giving excellent customer service, so I don’t really think I need to go out of my way to get referrals.”

I wasn’t at all shocked to hear him say that because I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard others assert that giving good customer service will guarantee that people will refer business to them. This is a common misconception, but it is not based on reality.

Many, many business owners believe that good customer service is the number-one way to cultivate word-of-mouth marketing and referrals. It’s not. It’s a good policy–one that’s vital to the health of your business–but it’s not at the core of building a referral-based business.

People have come to expect good customer service. In fact, they demand it in today’s marketplace. When considering customer service and its role in the referral process, it unfortunately works much more effectively in reverse: People are more likely to talk about your business when they’re unhappy with you than when they’re happy with your service.

So if you want to build your referrals, as I told the man I was speaking with on Saturday, you have to actively cultivate your referral sources and not rely on good customer service alone.

 

Referral Marketing A Risky Business

During a recent radio interview I did, the host of the program asked me whether I consider referral marketing the safest form of advertising. Without the slightest hesitation, I confidently answered, “By all means, no.” Based on his response, I’m sure he was shocked by that answer.

I went on to explain that I believe very strongly in the tremendous benefits that word-of –mouth marketing can bring. However, there are unique risks associated with referral advertising that are not an issue in commercial or other forms of advertising.

When you give a referral, you give a little of your reputation away. If the business you’ve referred someone to does a good job, it helps your reputation. But if it does a poor job, your reputation may be hurt.

As I said, the payoffs of referral marketing are immense—when it’s done correctly. But referral marketing involves a really big risk: giving away a piece of your reputation every time you give a referral to someone. When you tell a valued customer that a friend of yours is going to take good care of them, you must have confidence in that friend.

But what happens if your friend lets your customer down? It comes back to haunt you. Your customer begins to lose faith in you and, because of that loss of faith, you just might lose that customer down the road. This is why it’s so important to develop strong relationships with those to whom you’re referring business and vice versa. Once those strong connections are forged you can rest easy, knowing when you tell someone a business associate or a networking partner is going to take good care of him or her, that’s what will happen.

Sales Quenchers

I recently became aware of a new sales training system called Sales Quenchers that I am very impressed with. Since networking and sales go hand in hand, I think this program will be an extremely beneficial resource for many entrepreneurs and salespeople eager to hone sales skills and increase sales. I’m always keeping an eye out for new and different resources that can help take business to the next level, and Sales Quenchers is the first system I’ve come across that is fully trackable and provides both online and mobile, on-demand sales solutions. This is great because no matter where you are, provided you have the appropriate technology at hand, you have instant access to advice from 25 of the world’s top business and sales experts including Brian Tracy, Zig Ziglar, Bob Burg and… OK, I’m now on it, too.

I strongly encourage anyone involved in sales to visit the Sales Quenchers website and browse through the pages. I don’t doubt that you’ll be as impressed as I initially was (which is why I chose to become involved with the program).

I Refuse to Participate in a Recession!

Many economic gurus are saying the “R” word …. recession.For the most part, the U.S. economy has been strong and business has been good for the past decade.However, the economy goes through cycles. Even if we don’t see a full-blown recession, business is slowing for many people.

Unfortunately, every time the economy takes a downturn, the fallout is felt strongly by salespeople, business owners and professionals alike.Successful business professionals learn from the past.For some, this will not be our first recession.

So what did we learn from previous economic downturns?In the early ’90s, right in the middle of a nasty recession, I was at a business mixer in Connecticut meeting many local business professionals.It seemed that everyone was feeling the crunch from the slow economy.Throughout the entire event, the favorite topic of discussion was how bad the economy was and how things were getting worse.The whole affair was depressing because nearly everyone was obsessed with the problems of the economy and its impact on his or her business .

I was introduced to one of the many real estate agents attending.Given the decrease in property values in the state, I was leery of asking this gentleman the standard “How’s business?”question.He shared with me, though, that he was having a great year.Naturally, I was surprised and asked, “You did say you were in real estate, didn’t you?”
Yes.”
“We are in Connecticut, aren’t we?”
“Yes,” he said with a slight grin.

“And you’re having a good year?”I asked.

“I’m actually having my best year ever!” he said.

“Your best year!”I said in amazement.

After thinking for a moment I asked him, “Is this your first year in real estate?” “No,” he replied with a laugh. “I’ve been in real estate for almost 10 years.”I asked him how he was doing so well, given the conditions of the economy and the stiff competition.He reached into his pocket and pulled out a badge that said:

I AbsolutelyRefuse to Participate in a Recession!

“That’s your secret?”I asked.”You refuse to participate in the recession, so business is booming?”“That’s correct,” he said.”While most of my competitors are crying the blues about how bad business is, I’m out drumming up a ton of business networking with my contacts and generating referrals.”

Considering what he said, I looked around the room and listened in on people for a whileas they complained about how bad business was.While nearly all were commiseratingwith one another, I concluded that very few were actually networking and working on seeking new business.As a result, very little business was actually being accomplished.If you want to do well in business, you must understand that it does absolutely no good to complain to people about tough times.When you complain about how bad business is, half the people you tell don’t care and the other half are glad you’re worse off than they are.

While you cannot control the economy or your competition, you can control your response to the economy.Referrals can keep your business alive and well during an economic downturn.During the last recession, I watched thousands of businesspeople grow and prosper.They were successful because they consciously made the decision to refuse to participate in a recession.They did so by developing their networking skills and learning how to build their business through word of mouth.

Don’t let a bad economy be your excuse for failure.Instead, make it your opportunity to succeed.While others are looking at the problems, those of us looking for opportunities will not only get through a bad economy but will prosper.

Taking a Poll of Your Audience

Many times, as I am speaking to entrepreneurs all over the world, I will “poll” the audience for answers to some questions. It is a simple tactic that gives me a ton of great information. Asking questions of my audience gives me stats that can be very useful. For example, I’ve found that almost 90 percent of the entrepreneurs I’ve talked to love their work, but only about 15 percent enjoy doing the marketing it takes to get that work.

This type of information can be very powerful when I use it in my presentations. In fact, I was speaking with Dawn Lyons (a director with BNI and a Referral Institute franchisee), recently, and she described a poll she did at a  Behavior Styles training event in Wisconsin. A participant was telling her how his boss always receives referrals “on the spot” from brand new clients, and how that strategy has never worked for him. He was actually wondering whether something was wrong with him.

Lyons decided to poll the audience. She asked, “How many of you have been taught that you should meet with a client, close the deal and then on the spot ask them for additional referrals?” The answer was a resounding yes from the crowd. Then she broke it down to this: “How many of you have been incredibly successful with this approach?” Not one hand was raised in the audience. Her next question was, “How many of you have been moderately successful with this approach?” Again no hands were raised. “How many of you have had a decent amount of success?” No hands again! “OK, how many of you have had at least one person give you referrals on the spot?” Finally one gentleman, a sales consultant, raised his hand out of the entire group.

Dawn turned to the original gentleman who asked her the question and simply stated, “It’s not you. See, many times we are taught techniques that simply don’t work for the majority. Maybe your boss is fantastic at it because he has 25 years of experience. Maybe it is because he works from 100 percent referrals.”

So you see, polling your audience is a great way to collect information instantly and even be able to give a great lesson from it. Try using it in your next presentation.

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