Credibility Archives - Dr. Ivan Misner®
VCP process

The Three Phases of Networking: The VCP Process®

I have written about this concept in many of my books but I’ve never done the full description here on my blog.  So – for the first time, here’s a thorough description of the three phases of networking: 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®.

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.

Visibility

The first phase of growing a relationship is visibility:  you and another individual become aware of each other.  In business terms, a potential source of referrals or a potential customer becomes aware of the nature of your business – perhaps because of your public relations and advertising efforts, or perhaps through someone you both know.  This person may observe you in the act of conducting business or relating with the people around you.  The two of you begin to communicate and establish links – perhaps a question or two over the phone about product availability.  You may become personally acquainted and work on a first-name basis, but you know little about each other.  A combination of many such relationships forms a casual-contact network, a sort of de facto association based on one or more shared interests.

The visibility phase is important because it creates recognition and awareness.  The greater your visibility, the more widely known you will be, the more information you will obtain about others, the more opportunities you will be exposed to, and the greater will be your chances of being accepted by other individuals or groups as someone to whom they can or should refer business.  Visibility must be actively maintained and developed; without it, you cannot move on to the next level, credibility.

Credibility

Credibility is the quality of being reliable, worthy of confidence.  Once you and your new acquaintance begin to form expectations of each other – and the expectations are fulfilled – your relationship can enter the credibility stage.  If each person is confident of gaining satisfaction from the relationship, then it will continue to strengthen.

Credibility grows when appointments are kept, promises are acted upon, facts are verified, services are rendered.  The old saying that results speak louder than words is true.  This is very important.  Failure to live up to expectations – to keep both explicit and implicit promises – can kill a budding relationship before it breaks through the ground and can create visibility of a kind you don’t want.

To determine how credible you are, people often turn to third parties.  They ask someone they know who has known you longer, perhaps done business with you.  Will she vouch for you?  Are you honest?  Are your products and services effective?  Are you someone who can be counted on in a crunch?

Profitability

The mature relationship, whether business or personal, can be defined in terms of its “profitability.”  Is it mutually rewarding?  Do both partners gain satisfaction from it?  Does it maintain itself by providing benefits to both?  If it doesn’t profit both partners to keep it going, it probably will not endure.

The time it takes to pass through the phases of a developing relationship is highly variable.  It’s not always easy to determine when profitability has been achieved – a week?  a month?  one year?  In a time of urgent need, you and a client may proceed from visibility to credibility overnight.  The same is true of profitability; it may happen quickly, or it may take years – most likely, somewhere in between.  It depends on the frequency and quality of the contacts, and especially on the desire of both parties to move the relationship forward.

Shortsightedness can impede full development of the relationship.  Perhaps you’re a customer who has done business with a certain vendor off and on for several months, but to save pennies you keep hunting around for the lowest price, ignoring the value this vendor provides in terms of service, hours, goodwill, and reliability.  Are you really profiting from the relationship, or are you stunting its growth?  Perhaps if you gave this vendor all your business, you could work out terms that would benefit both of you.  Profitability is not found by bargain hunting.  It must be cultivated, and, like farming, it takes patience.

Visibility and credibility are important in the relationship-building stages of the referral marketing process.  But when you have established an effective referral-generation system, you will have entered the profitability stage of your relationships with many people – the people who send you referrals and the customers you recruit as a result.

 

VCP process

The VCP Process with Tiffanie Kellog

We simply can’t achieve success at networking without strategically building VCP = visibility, earning credibility, and then ultimately gaining profitability.

VCP is a referral process, not a sales process. If the majority of your clients aren’t giving you referrals, then you are only at Credibility with your clients, not at Profitability. It’s possible that you can have a lot of Visibility and a lot of Credibility, but NOT have Profitability. Rather than a formula, VCP is a continuum. Before you can refer to someone, you will need to know, like, and trust them.

In this guest video blog, Tiffanie Kellog, a trainer for Asentiv Florida, explores the three stages of the VCP process. Click here to watch.

In short, your goal should be to first enter Visibility with people, then perform activities that will help you build trust and Credibility with them, and finally through time and the strengthening of that relationship, they will most likely pass you consistent referrals in the Profitability stage.  After all, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

10 Questions to Ask When Meeting Someone for the First Time

When meeting someone for the first time, do you ever find yourself getting tongue-tied or feeling lost when it comes to knowing what questions you should ask to get a conversation going? Help is here!

Below, I list 10 questions that I personally use when I’m meeting someone for the first time.  Most of the questions shouldn’t be too surprising to you because what you’re trying to glean from an initial conversation with someone is usually pretty standard.  However, there are two questions that I really, really love.  One of them will allow you to get an idea of what someone is truly passionate about when it comes to their business.  The other will create a powerful opportunity for you to make a real connection and begin building a lasting, mutually beneficial relationship.

Here are ten great questions to ask someone while networking that are then likely to be asked of you in return. These would be great questions to pose during your next one-to-one meeting.

1. What do you do?

2. Who’s your target market?

3. What do you like most about what you do?

4. What’s new in your business?

5. What’s the biggest challenge for you and your business?

6. What sets you apart from your competition?

7. Why did you start your business?

8. Where is your business located?

9. What’s your most popular product?

10. How do you generate most of your business?

In his book Endless Referrals, my good friend Bob Burg posed what may be the single best question we’ve heard to ask someone about what he or she does. Bob writes that the question “must be asked smoothly and sincerely, and only after some initial rapport has been established”. The question is this: ‘How can I know if someone I’m talking to is a good prospect for you?” Bob is right on the mark with this question. It separates you from the rest of the pack; it’s a question that the average person doesn’t ask. And it demonstrates one of the top ten traits of a master networker: helpfulness

Please think about what questions you ask people during an initial introduction.  Do you have any different or unusual questions which you’ve found to be particularly helpful in your conversations?  I’ve told you what questions I use and I’m very curious to hear what questions you’ve had success with, so please take a moment to share in the comment forum below.

Strategies

More Strategies to Stay in Touch

 

Last week I shared four ideas for staying in touch with people. I discussed sorting through you list then using the system they use. I recommended using social media and old-fashioned stamp and envelope snail mail.

Here are 3 more strategies that will help you improve how you can stay in touch with others.  If you can’t do them all – do what works for you.

  1. Online chat/Skype or other instant message systems. I’m not a big fan but – it’s not about me, it’s about the other person.  What are they using?  I see many people using messaging systems online?  If you want to stay connected, connect where they are.
  2. Periodic phone calls. I know, crazy idea, actually talk to people.  Your smart phone has a green button – use it.  If appropriate, set up regular calls.  My wife and her sister have done that for many years.
  3. Face to face. Don’t be a “cave dweller.”  Nothing beats actually meeting someone face to face and having a conversation.  You have to eat breakfast and lunch every day, so why not do this a few times a week with a good referral partner? You can kill two birds with one stone by strategizing with your referral partner about how to help each other over a meal.

Benign neglect is a horrible thing when it comes to building social capital.  Start today to stay in touch. Pick a few of the techniques I listed above and “touch” someone.  Hey now, keep it appropriate.

Your Business is Not an Ugly Baby

When was the last time you heard someone say, “Wow, your baby sure is ugly!” If they’re smart, probably never.

How about this one? “Your clothing, marketing message and overall business image are not referable?” Ouch.

We occasionally think this about people we meet, but will rarely say it out loud. Which is why you are responsible for making sure your business, your “baby”, is in the right condition for receiving referrals.

I’ve seen thousands of people join networking groups and focus heavily on building their network but forget to take a good, hard look in the mirror, both at your self and image and your businesses. I’m challenging you to make an honest appraisal of yourself and your business and ask, “Am I worthy of business referrals?” If you’re not sure how to start, here are five ways to get you going.

 Five ways to help you examine your personal brand.

1. Define your Emotional Charged Connection (ECC): If you are asked seven times this week, “What do you do for a living?” do you respond with seven different answers? Your marketing message should be clear, concise and consistent; it should also tug at the heart strings a bit and have some ECC. This combination will leave a lasting impression and, most importantly, give others a clear way of explaining your message to others.

2. Walk your talk. Do what you say in less time than promised. Be on time for meetings, don’t check your phone while others are talking to you–and follow up with everyone and everything.

3. Dress for success: If you’re a mechanic and you wear a three piece suit to a business meeting, one might assume you’ve just come from court. Whatever people in your profession typically wear–uniform, polo shirt and khakis, suit and tie, dress and heels–just be sure to wear it well. You don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on a new wardrobe, but make sure what you wear is clean, wrinkle-free and tucked in. You want to look sharp, because your first impression when you walk into a meeting is a lasting one. If you’re messy or too casual, people might assume you have the same attitude about your business. board man

4. Be self-aware: Eighty percent of someone’s perception of you are based on your nonverbal cues, including eye contact, facial expressions and mannerisms. Ask someone you trust to simulate a meeting or pitch with you and have them point out what they think is working–and what’s not.

5. Keep your social media presence professional: It’s vital to remember that your professional image exists on and offline. That’s not say you can share a funny joke or have fun on social media, but be aware that people are judging you by your online behavior. Two of every three posts should be about something personal, but don’t make controversial statements or divulge every intimate detail about your life. In this digital age, if you are what you say, you are also what you post.

Your baby is not ugly, it’s beautiful. Your business image is not ugly, it’s also beautiful and worthy of referrals. But nothing else will matter unless our personal brand and referability are in order. After all, we are our biggest advertisement.

Building Up Your Power Team

ID-100223937How do you increase the number of referrals your networking contacts are helping pass to you? One way, of course, is to educate your contacts on how to best get referrals for you. Another easy way to increase your number of referrals is to create relationships with people who, based on their professions, are most likely to pass quality referrals to you. These ideal referral partners are broken up into two groups: Contact Spheres and Power Teams.

The difference between the two is minor, yet impactful. Your Contact Sphere is all the possible professions you can team up with, while your Power Team is the group that you have actually teamed up with. Often times, these groups will be made up of professions that work together symbiotically, and are naturally inclined to refer business to one another. Think somewhat related, but non-competing, businesses.

To build your Power Team, you’ll want to take some time and map out your ideal Contact Sphere. What professions could you work well with, if only you knew someone who worked in that field?

Once you’ve built your Power Team, your work isn’t done. You must always be looking for ways to pass a referral to your Power Team. Over time, you’ll develop trust and your Power Team partners will pass significantly more referrals to you.

Additionally, one thing that I have seen work well for Power Teams is a weekly meeting, or at a minimum every other week. These meetings should be outside of your regular networking events, and should be smaller, more intimate gatherings with your Power Team. To keep your meetings running smoothly, have a chairperson to lead discussion. Each member of the Power Team should discuss their ideal referral, and perhaps dedicate some time to brainstorming places to find these referrals. As a group, you may also discuss potential other professions who would fit well in your Power Team.

Common mistakes I’ve seen with Power Teams include:

  • Confusing them for Contact Spheres. Contact Spheres are a broad list of professions that could work well with you, while your Power Team is only those that you are actively working with.
  • Not dedicating time to them. Just forming a Power Team will not build up referrals for you. Like with any other relationship, you need to build up trust, learn the wants and needs of the other members of the team, and establish best ways to help everyone in the group meet their business goals.
  • Not building the right team. If you have someone in your Power Team who isn’t passing referrals to you, whether that be because they are having your services done in house or any other reason, they shouldn’t be in your Power Team. While you may not be able to avoid having them in your networking group, you are able to partner with someone outside of your group. There is nothing wrong with having multiple networks.

So You Want to Network Up?

Earlier this week, I appeared on Copy Chief with Kevin Rogers as a special guest to talk all about referral marketing. If you missed it, you can check out the whole podcast here, but today I would like to specifically elaborate on one segment from the podcast.

tam-48-ivan-misner-copy-chief

Around the 20-minute mark, I tell a story about a man named Mark who invested a lot of time and energy to develop our relationship. By the time he turned around and asked me for a favor, a least a year after we had met and begun our relationship, I was so appreciative of everything he had done for me that I was willing to do whatever favor he asked for.

You need to be interested, not interesting. People don’t want you to sell to them, they want you to be interested in investing in them. If you’re networking up, or trying to network with someone very successful, you need to find a way to stand out. You need to make that powerful person want to help you, by expecting nothing in return.

So how do you do that? It isn’t one of those things that you can just do overnight, or wake up one day and decide you’re going to develop a relationship with someone.

First and foremost, you have to have an idea. A great idea. An idea that you can implement and it will positively impact the person you hope to build a relationship with. Something helpful, something that that person cannot do themselves. This idea should set you apart, and should be unique to both you, and to your future contact.

Once you have developed your idea – and I mean fully developed; you can’t go to someone with a half-baked plan in your head – you need to reach out to the person that your idea benefits. Handwritten notes can make you stand apart. Emails and social media messages can work, but often will not help you stand apart, and depending on the person they may not be managing their own accounts. A well thought out handwritten note may be your best bet.

From there, your strategy relies strongly on your idea and the person you are working to help. To hear me discuss some other related topics, check out the podcast with Kevin Rogers on Copy Chief here.

Are You Prepared to Enhance Your Credibility?

The VCP Process is the foundation of building a referral-based business.    While this general business-building philosophy isn’t going to automatically increase your business, there are plenty of benefits to increasing your visibility and your credibility.

credibilityVisibility is usually pretty easy for businesspeople to get on board with. You attend extra networking events, look into other forms of marketing, reach out to new client bases. Credibility is where, time and again, we see more people struggling to build up that quality reputation of being credible.

There are a few simple items other than business cards that you should try to have at your disposal to help you develop that word-of-mouth campaign and show off your credibility to potential new clients or business networks. Try to always have access to at least one example of the following simple items:

  • Photos of yourself and your office facilities, equipment, and products;
  • Your letterhead and stationary;
  • Your annual report and capability statement;
  • Advertisements you’ve run;
  • A list of your memberships and affiliations;
  • Articles on trends affecting your target market.

Most business professionals will have these few simple items at their disposal at any given point, and many won’t realize what a vital tool to building credibility these can be! You can really up your game by having a couple less common items at your disposal as well:

  • Articles in which you or your business are mentioned;
  • Product catalogs you use;
  • Client or customer proposals and bid sheets;
  • Marketing letters you wrote to clients;
  • Posters, banners, and display materials used at trade shows;
  • Photos of awards and certificates you and your staff have earned.

Got all that? Great! You can never have too many credibility-building items at your disposal, so the following are great additions, as well. Just make sure not to throw all of your items at potential contacts at the same time. You don’t want to overwhelm anyone, though it would be incredibly easy to do so. Look to have these on-hand in case someone requests them:

  • Testimonial letters from satisfied clients;
  • Photos of key customers;
  • Unpublished articles;
  • Any of your new-product announcements or press releases;
  • Question-and-answer sheets;
  • A one-page, faxable flyer.

With a little foresight, it can be incredibly easy to get all of the basic supplies you’ll need to prove your credibility and increase your word-of-mouth marketing campaign.

What items do you use on a regular basis to show your potential clients and business networks that you are a credible candidate to help them with their needs? Let me know in the comments below!

Networking is a Contact Sport

Networking is a Contact SportMany entrepreneurs belong to networking organizations, but they simply don’t know how to effectively get a return on that investment of time.  Thoughtful engagement is the answer.  Engagement is an absolutely critical step in the networking process.  It involves a promise and an action.  In order to achieve success with your networking partners, you must promise to support one another, and then you must take the action necessary to fulfill that promise.  The only way to do that effectively is to connect on a deeper level than you do with most of your business contacts.

There are several ways that you can become more engaged with your networking partners:

  1. Have you taken the time to regularly meet with the people in your network on a one-to-one basis?  This means setting up times outside the context of any normal meetings and getting to know them on a deeper, professional level.
  2. Have you taken the time to educate them regularly on the key elements of your business, so that your products or services will be top of mind in the event they meet someone with a need for what you do?
  3. Have you taken the time to become educated on the key elements of your networking partners’ businesses, so that you can do the same for them?
  4. Have you visited their offices to get first-hand understanding of their services?
  5. If possible, have you used their products or services to get first-hand knowledge of the quality their products or the services they provide?

Networking truly is a “contact sport.”  It involves full engagement in order to get solid results. In fact, research has shown that reciprocal engagement in a business relationship results in higher productivity.  According to Psychology Today, people who are “actively engaged” in a business environment are “43% more productive” than those who are not.  Furthermore, they say that engagement includes “regular dialogue, quality of working relationships, perceptions of ethos and values… and recognition.”   Effective networking is all about building meaningful relationships that include most, if not all of these characteristics.

Every time I hear someone talk about how networking didn’t work for them – I discover it’s because they have never done a deep-dive on the relationship building process relating to their networking.  Most of their networking activities were very superficial.  Or worse yet – it mostly involved an attempt at direct selling.  Networking is not a face-to-face, cold-calling opportunity!  When it’s done right, it’s about building long-term meaningful relationships.  In fact, networking is more about “farming” than it is about “hunting.”  It’s about the slow process of cultivating long-term, professional relationships.  Over time, this long-term process gives you the opportunity harvest a substantial amount of business, but it only happens with full engagement in the relationship process.

Spend some time thinking about new ways you can support your networking partners.  This will help you promote engagement with them in the various networking groups to which you belong.  You will find it is time most well spent.

The VCP Process®: V + C Does Not = P

Lately I have seen a lot of people who have been using the VCP Process® (Visibility, Credibility, Profitability) like it’s a formula: Visibility + Credibility = Profitability.

The fact remains, however, that VCP is a referral process, not a sales process. If the majority of your clients aren’t giving you referrals, then you are only at Credibility with your clients, not at Profitability. It’s possible that you can have a lot of Visibility and a lot of Credibility, but NOT have Profitability. Rather than a formula, VCP is a continuum.

Once you achieve Credibility (and not before), you then need to start asking for referrals in order to achieve Profitability. Profitability does not result automatically from Visibility and Profitability.

If you were previously unfamiliar with the VCP Process and have questions about it, please ask them in the comment forum below.  I believe that VCP is the single most important concept in networking and I’m more than happy to answer your questions.  Also, if you’re familiar with VCP and you’ve been using the process for a while, please share some of your experiences–I’d love to hear them.

The Number One Way to Totally Fail at Networking

Who spends countless hours networking hoping to fail and see no results from their efforts?  That’s right, no one!  So, it blows my mind that I commonly see people single-handedly sabotaging their success–they guarantee their own failure by failing to follow up with the contacts they make.

Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

There’s a story I was once told by one of my employees which perfectly demonstrates this and I’d like to share it with you here . . . (Note: The names in this story have been changed to protect the innocent . . . and the guilty.)

My employee, whom we’ll call Winnifred (since she’d like to remain anonymous and it’s the most unfitting name for her that I can think of . . . well, aside from maybe Gertrude ;-)), was in need of a graphic designer to assist her with the creation of a website for her father’s business. She attended a local networking mixer where she met a graphic designer, “Blake,” who seemed excited about the project and claimed he could accomplish exactly what she needed at a very reasonable price.

They exchanged contact information and connected the next week by phone to discuss the project in further detail. Winnifred was pleased with Blake’s ideas and liked the examples she’d seen of his work. She told him he seemed like the perfect person to help her with the project and that she’d like him to send her a price quote as soon as possible.

A week went by and Winnifred heard nothing from Blake.  When she called him, he said he was working on a quote and gave some lame excuse about being busy. Another week went by and, again, nothing from Blake. Frustrated, but willing to give Blake another chance because she really did like his work, she sent him an e-mail and left him a voicemail saying that she would love to give him her business and was really anxious to hear back from him.

After two weeks went by without hearing back from him, Winnifred found another graphic designer. To this day, Blake has never responded.

Here is what floors me . . . I know for a fact that this guy, “Blake,” is still frequenting local networking mixers (which cost money to attend, by the way) trying to drum up more business. Yet when he had money practically sitting on the table in front of him, he failed to follow through. No matter what his reason was for not getting back to Winnifred–being too busy, too lazy or whatever else–he shouldn’t be out there networking if he can’t follow through on what he claims to be able to deliver. He’s wasting his time (and money) and, more important, he’s wasting other people’s time–which is earning him nothing more than a bad name.

The moral of this story: If you aren’t prepared to follow through, networking is no more than a big waste of time.

If you have a “Blake the Flake” story of your own, I’d love to hear about your experience. Please feel free to share your story in the comments section.

Networking Is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The fact is, networking truly is a marathon of an endeavor–it’s most definitely not a sprint.  I have met so many people who practice what I call ‘hyperactive networking’ and they mistakenly approach networking at the speed of an all-out sprint–they want to be absolutely everywhere and meet absolutely everyone and they go, go, go ALL of the time until they soon inevitably burn out, ‘collapse,’ and give up.

It’s a real shame because if these people would, from the beginning, just slow down and take the time to develop a networking strategy and understand that networking takes time, patience, hard work, dedication, commitment, and endurance, they would be reaping great rewards from their networking efforts instead of exhausting themselves with nothing to show for it in the end.

Networking at its core is about taking the time to build genuine, trusted relationships.  Sure, visibility is important, but without building trust right along with it, visibility won’t get you very far in the long run.  You can run around all day long going to networking events and shaking people’s hands, but if you’re not spending time following up and developing trust with the people you meet, then you haven’t really achieved much of anything that will actually give you results from your networking efforts–do not confuse activity with accomplishment. 

So, what are your tactics for pacing yourself in the marathon of networking?  What actions do you take to strategically build relationships?  I’d love to hear from you so please share your thoughts and ideas in the comment forum below–thanks!

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