Generate More Business by Offering Value-added Advice

It’s no secret that we all want to do business with people whom we know and trust.  So, how do you build rapport and create trust with new contacts at networking events?  By offering value-added advice–solid, helpful information provided out of a genuine concern for another person.

Let’s say you’re a real estate agent talking with someone at a networking event who, although not ready to buy a home today, is heading in that direction.  You could say something like this:

Well, I know you’re not interested in buying a home right now.  But, when you’re ready to start looking, I highly recommend checking out the north part of town.  A lot of my clients are seeing their homes appreciate in the 10 to 20 percent range, and from what I understand, the city is thinking about building another middle school in that area.

See how it’s possible to offer some value-added advice without being too salesy?  A statement like this acknowledges that your prospect is not currently in the market (first sentence) but still demonstrates your expertise, so he will remember you when he’s ready to move.

This model works for consultants, CPAs, accountants, financial planners, coaches–just about anyone in a service-based industry in which knowledge is the main product. If you’re concerned about giving away your intellectual capital for free, look at it this way: few people are going to sign up to do business with you if they’re not sure you can do the job.  In the absence of a tangible product, you have nothing but your technical expertise to demonstrate that you have the goods.  And when you think about it, that makes sense.  Whenever you’re ready to buy an automobile, it doesn’t matter how much research you’ve done on a particular model, you’re probably not going to write your check until you’ve taken the car for a test drive.

The same is true for your prospects.  Give them a little test drive to show how it would feel to do business with you. If you’re a marketing consultant, give them a couple of ideas on how they can increase the exposure of their business.  Don’t go overboard; maybe offer a technique you read in a magazine or tried with one of your clients.  Just give them something they can try on to see if it works.

Not only will this open up a good conversation with new contacts while you’re out networking, if you play your cards right, whom do you think they’ll go to when they’re in need of your kind of service? 🙂  When it comes to building rapport and creating trust, nothing does it better than offering value-added advice.

The Networking Disconnect

I was at a big networking event with more than 500 people in the UK this summer, and the person who spoke before me asked the audience: “How many of you came here hoping to do some business–maybe make a sale?”  More than half the people in the audience raised their hands. He then asked, “How many of you are here hoping to buy something?”  No one raised a hand–not one single person! This is the networking disconnect.

If you are going to networking events hoping to sell something, you’re dreaming. Don’t confuse direct selling with networking. Effective networking is about developing relationships. I know, I know . . . there’s always someone out there who says, “But, Ivan, I’ve made a sale by attending a networking event!”  OK . . . I’m not saying it doesn’t ever happen–it does.  I’m just saying it happens about as often as a solar eclipse. Face it, even a blind squirrel can find a nut. Any businessperson can stumble on some business at a networking meeting from time to time. However, when you have most of the people at an event trying to sell and virtually no one there to buy, you’re crazy if you think the odds are in your favor to “sell” at a networking event.

So why go?  You go because networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. It’s about developing relationships with other business professionals. Sometimes you go to a networking event to increase your visibility, sometimes you go to establish further credibility with people you know, and sometimes you may even go to meet a long-time referral partner and do some business. In any case, the true master networkers know that networking events are about moving through the VCP Process and not about closing deals.

I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Yeah, But I’m Different

An old friend of mine, Don Osborne, shared with me some material he wrote many years ago about how many of us use the “I’m different” syndrome to simply avoid doing something we don’t want to do. I’ve revised it a bit and am sharing it with you here today.  I hope you find it interesting.

When it comes to ourselves, we’re always the exception.  Everybody else should do what’s been proved to work. Personal development works as soon as we stop treating ourselves as the exception. True, everyone is unique–but not different when it comes to self-development. 

 Perhaps it’s only procrastination that leads us to declare that we’re “different.” Or our “circumstances” prevent us from agreeing to follow proven methods of self improvement. Maybe it’s the fear of success or failure in making changes. There are all kinds of legitimate concerns, but none is an adequate excuse for not engaging in self-development activities. There is no good excuse for not following the basics. 

Everybody who has achieved success has succumbed to the basics. In fact, many success stories talk about fighting the urge to reinvent the wheel and sticking to what’s been proved to work. Why we fight city hall on “I’ll succeed without doing what’s been proved,” I don’t know. But it’s a fight you’re going to have to lose if you want to win the battle for an improved lifestyle.

It shouldn’t take a tragedy or a major event to send you down the road of self-development.  True, most of the success stories we hear about or grab the headlines are like that. You could wait for, or create, a spectacular situation to spur you on. Most stories of success go untold because they weren’t born out of tragedy. Rather, they were born out of frustration, and being sick and tired of being “sick and tired.”

The reality is that most of us are living out our own story in quiet desperation. A story sufficient enough to make you different. The kind of different that qualifies you as unique and, therefore, a candidate for the tried-and-true methods of self-development.

Stop hiding behind the excuse of “I’m different.” Accept what all who have succeeded know: The basics work, no exceptions.

How Soon Should You Expect Profitability from a Relationship?

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve written a few blogs on the VCP Process® of networking and, since I’ve already covered visibility and credibility in detail, today I’m going to tell you what you need to know about profitability, the third and final phase of the VCP Process.

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 best piece of advice I can give you in regard to when to expect to get to profitability is to be patient. 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? A 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, but most likely it will be somewhere in between. It will depend on the frequency and quality of the contacts and especially on the desire of both parties to move the relationship forward.

Shortsightedness can impede the 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. It’s an essential part of successful relationship marketing and networking.

Moving from Visibility to Credibility

In last Thursday’s blog, I explained that visibility, the first phase of the VCP Process®, brings the opportunity to build credibility and that credibility is what will ultimately get you to profitability, where you’ll actually benefit from your networking and relationship building efforts.

So how do you move from visibility to credibility?  Well, once you and another individual achieve visibility with each other, meaning you’re aware of each other and the nature of each other’s business, you begin to form expectations of one another; once those 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 is the quality of being reliable, worthy of confidence.  Credibility grows when appointments are kept, promises are acted upon, facts are verified, and services are rendered.  The old saying that results speak louder than words is true.  Failure to live up to expectations–to keep both explicit and implicit promises–can kill a budding relationship before it breaks the surface of 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 or perhaps has done business with you.  So, how credible are you?  Would the people in your network vouch for you by saying that you are reliable and honest, your products and services are effective, you keep your appointments, act on your promises, deliver results as expected, and can be counted on in a crunch?  If you’re not sure, now is the time to make a strategic effort to build your credibility; without credibility, you can forget about achieving profitability.

If you’re interested in learning more about profitability (If you’re in business, it’s safe to assume you’re very interested. ;-)), the third phase of the VCP Process®, and when you should expect to achieve it with your contacts, be sure to come back and read this Thursday’s blog.

The First Phase of the VCP Process–Visibility

Last week I wrote a blog explaining the VCP Process, which is a huge part of the foundation of networking. Because this process is so crucial to effective networking, I promised to write a blog entry for each of the three phases (visibility, credibility and profitability), and today I’m going to talk about why it all starts with 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, because of your social media presence 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 or via e-mail messages 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.

I’ll talk more about credibility next week, but it’s important to understand that visibility brings the opportunity to build credibility, and credibility is what will get you to profitability, where you’ll actually benefit from your efforts. So many times people try to jump straight from visibility to profitability, and that’s not real networking; it’s just an obvious ploy to get something from your new contacts. That’s nothing more than a bad attempt at direct selling and a big waste of time.

So, how do you go about creating more visibility for your business? What are some strategies that have really worked out well for you?  I’d love to hear your comments.

What is the VCP Process?

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

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

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

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

7 Ways to Connect with Networking Partners

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6 Simple Actions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strengthening Relationships with Referral Sources

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brand "You" by Writing

I just found out this week that my most recent book, Masters of Sales, hit the New York Times Bestsellers list.  Of course I am ecstatic about this, but it also got me thinking about what an amazingly powerful advertising and branding tool it is to be a an author.  With each article and each book that I write, I am building brand recognition for me and for my business.  This is a technique that has worked well for many people I know.   For years I’ve recommended that people write as a way of developing personal and professional credibility in their business.  I’m always amazed at how many people say it’s a great idea but then don’t actually do anything about it.

Recently, I’ve formed a small mentoring program for people within my business to brainstorm and talk about writing and how to get published.  Since then, many of these people have published dozens and dozens of articles.  As a result, I thought I would share some of my thoughts on how “you” might like to begin this process.

Let’s be real here—most business people certainly do not have time to sit down and write an entire book, but writing articles are something that most people could find time to do at least once a month.  Writing articles consistently and for an extended period of time is a plausible, virtually costless way to brand yourself and your business by increasing visibility and enhancing credibility in the community—it’s just an idea that most people are simply too lazy to implement.

But for those who are willing to step up to the task, here is my best advice:

• Think about the things you know and understand best, pick out the elements of that knowledge that might be of interest to the general public, and then review the types of media outlets that write for that audience.

• Either by phone or letter, tell an editor why readers will be interested in the feature idea you have or why it’s newsworthy (or better yet, use your network to connect with the editor).

• Stick with it and remain consistent in submitting articles and before you know it, you will be well on your way to branding yourself as a local expert through being a recognized, published author.

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