Is Networking Worth It If You Work for Someone Else?

Photo courtesy of patpitchaya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of patpitchaya at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Whether you’re self employed or you work for someone else, it is definitely worth your time to start looking for networking groups that can refer you new business.  If you work for someone, take steps to persuade your employer that you will get business by working with these groups.  I’d like to share with you a true story which demonstrates how this can greatly benefit you.

I met a bank manager several years ago who worked hard at persuading his supervisor that participation in a BNI® chapter would yield substantial results for his branch.  The supervisor reluctantly agreed to let him join on a trial basis.  The manager began getting referrals soon after joining.  After several months, another member gave him a particularly good referral–a man who was disgruntled with the level of service at his current bank.  The manager decided to visit the man at his company.  The man told the bank manager that he felt he was not getting personal service from his bank.  The manager assured him that his bank prided itself on service.  He gave the man his personal mobile and home phone numbers and told him that if there were a problem he could be reached any time of day, at home or at work.  The man thanked him for coming to his office and told him he would get back to him.  

Two days later, at 9:00 a.m., the man was standing at the bank door with several savings and checkbooks in hand.  The manager met him at the door and thanked him for coming to the branch.  The man said he was impressed with the way he was handled by the manager and that he had decided to transfer his accounts to the manager’s bank.  To the astonishment of the bank manager, the new customer handed over checking, savings, and money-market accounts totaling over $950,000!  After everything was completed, the man told the manager how glad he was to be referred to him by their mutual friend.

I first heard this story when my office (BNI Headquarters) started getting phone calls from every branch manager in Southern California who worked for that bank.  Each of them wanted information about local chapters of BNI.  When the bank manager who got the $950,000 referral told his supervisor where he got the referral, the supervisor (Remember him?  The reluctant one?) called all his other branch managers and told them to join a local chapter of their own within the next two weeks.

If you work for someone else, the lesson here is to persuade your supervisor.  Not long ago, I spoke to an individual who wanted to join a networking group but was told by his boss that the company wouldn’t pay for it.  This savvy salesman asked his boss, “If I front the money myself and get two referrals that turn into sales within the next thirty days, would the company pay for it then?”  The boss said, “Sure, if you come in with two sales, I’ll see to it that the company pays for the membership.”  Well, guess what?  This salesman, thus highly motivated, closed three sales and was working on four others at the end of the first thirty days.  He told me that his boss “gladly payed for the original membership, and recently paid to renew it.”  Whether you are self-employed or work for someone else, start looking for groups that refer you new business.

Do you have any stories about lucrative referrals you’ve received through joining a networking group?  If so, I’d love to them–please share in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Who Cares about Your Business?

Do you know who really cares about your business and wants to help you?  Realistically, there are only a few basic ways of motivating people to care about and help build your business.  Basically, it comes down to relationships and rewards.  

Photo courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Some folks, usually friends or family, will simply want to help because they like you and want you to do well.  These people will be motivated by the relationship itself.

But in most other cases, the long term motivation to build your business is not based primarily on whether or not the other person likes you.  Business partnerships, including referral relationships, almost always include some form of mutual reward; typically in the form of social or financial gain.  Both you and your networking partner have something to gain, and you are both eager to help each other achieve it.

Some people are motivated by the potential for business referrals you can send, while others are motivated by the prestige and opportunities created by having a relationship with you.  Regardless of the underlying motivation behind them, relationships can take time to prove profitable in a substantial way, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth cultivating.  Ultimately, strong relationships will steer back opportunities because of the nature of networking itself and of the endless variety of products and services to which it can lead.

I firmly believe that most relationships will probably prove rewarding in the long term, even in cases where you don’t receive referrals in return.  There are a few super successful people to whom we send referrals who’ve never reciprocated with a referral back.  We’re motivated to continue helping them in any way we can simply because they will work with people we refer to them.  That makes us look good, because it’s very difficult for the average person to start a working relationship with these very successful, very busy people.

If we refer someone, it opens a door that might never have otherwise opened.  The new person that we are referring to our very busy friends or associates is the one who now goes out of his way to reciprocate.  That’s our motivation; helping our networking partners achieve their goals.  And, of course, in one form or another, it winds up coming back in some way.

What are some experiences you’ve had in which you’ve benefitted in some way or another as a result of truly caring about others’ businesses and helping them to grow and achieve their goals?  I’d love to hear your story/stories so please share your experiences in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Follow the Money Trail

How many businesses would you say you’ve supported over the years by being a loyal customer?  Think about it, you could have been solely responsible for the new wing your veterinarian added to her office last year, just from all the money you’ve invested in your pet’s care over the last ten years.  For some businesses, not only may you have been a customer–you may also have recommended them to other people.  When was the last time those businesses returned the favor and helped your business succeed?  There’s a strategy I like to call “following the money trail” which shows you how to leverage the law of reciprocity with the businesses you have financially supported.

Before you read on and get deep into this strategy, go find your checkbooks–both personal and business.  I’ll wait . . . There, now that you have your checkbook(s) in front of you, it’s time to follow the money trail.  Scan your checkbooks for local businesses that you have paid.  You may notice regular expenditures, such as your hair stylist, veterinarian, physician, lawn care service, housecleaning service, dry cleaners, day care, pet resort, or grocery store.

First, let’s put this money trail into perspective.  Start by analyzing just how much you have invested in these businesses.  Get out a piece of paper and draw a table like the one shown below.

29PercentGraphReviewing these figures will help you realize just how much you’ve invested toward the success of some of your favorite businesses.  Staggering, isn’t it?  Now, what can you do with this information?

The law of reciprocity states that if I help you, you will, in time, help me in return.  I would venture to guess that most of these establishments have never been approached by their customers with a request of reciprocity.  What would you say to them?  How would they react?  Why bother?  You might wonder: What could a hairstylist do for me–or for a financial planner–other than style hair?

Seeking reciprocity begins with your willingness to ask the question.  Your request needs to be specific and needs to be supported by how much you have invested in their business over the last year or so.  Are you willing to approach your favorite businesses and ask them to support your business in some way?  If yes, let’s start with the example below and then consider what you could do for your business.

Example: Financial Planner Seeks Reciprocity from Hairstylist

First, the financial planner needs to take the hairstylist–let’s call her Joan–to lunch or coffee and engage her in conversation.

Financial planner:  Thank you for joining me for lunch.  I wanted to get some time with you away from the salon so I could talk with you about your business–and to ask for some help with my own business.  I’ve enjoyed being your client for the last five years, and I’m glad I was able to refer four other people to your salon who have become clients.  I wanted to ask if you might be willing to help support my business as well.

Joan:  I have very much enjoyed you as a client, and I really do appreciate your referrals.  What do you have in mind?

F.P.:  As a client, I receive your quarterly newsletter.  I see that you often have advertisements from community businesses.  Would you give me space in your newsletter for an ad for one year?

J:  Sure, but that would cost about $500 for the year.

F.P.:  I was hoping that you would give me the space for no charge in return for my past referrals and for being such a loyal customer, even after moving twenty miles away.

J:  I see your point.  No one has ever asked me to do anything like this before.  But it makes sense to me since you are actively supporting my business.  The least I could do is give you ad space.  Sure.  I’d be happy to help you.  Is there anything else you’d like me to do?

F.P.:  As a matter of fact, there is.  Could you leave one of my newsletters in your waiting area for your patrons to read while they wait?

J:  Of course–that would be no problem.

In this example, Joan was willing and able to help the financial planner expand her visibility.  Most people, once it’s pointed out to them, understand that the law of reciprocity goes both ways.  If they seem reluctant to help you, it’s time to reconsider your loyalty.  Should you continue to support someone else’s business when he or she flatly refuses to help your business in return?

As a client, you’re giving a lot to someone else’s business.  It’s not unreasonable to ask for something that supports your business in return.  Now think about your business and the businesses you support.  What can you ask of them?  Can you contribute to their newsletter?  Will they display your pamphlet?  Will they post your business announcements?  Can you leave a stack of business cards on their coffee table?  Will they pass out your business’ coupons to their customers at the register?  Will they sponsor your next event?

Make it a point this week to approach at least one establishment for help with promoting your business.  After all, when you follow the money you’ve spent on other people’s establishments, isn’t it about time some of it came back around to you?  Also, I’d love to hear about your experiences with this so please come back and share your thoughts and experiences in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

 

 

Referral Marketing Is Risky–It’s Also Rewarding

In a radio interview I once 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.

Photo courtesy of Zuzzuillo at FreeDigtalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Zuzzuillo at FreeDigtalPhotos.net

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.

Do you have a story others might learn from about a time when referral marketing really paid off for you, or a story about how you experienced the unique risks associated with referral marketing firsthand?  Please share your experiences in the comment forum below.  I’d love to hear from you–thanks!

 

‘More Money Mondays’–FREE Referral Tips to Shorten Your Work Week

At a recent Referral Institute® Conference, I had the opportunity to talk with my good friend (and partner in the Referral Institute), Mike Macedonio, about a fantastic new (and completely FREE) service which is available to businesspeople and networkers across the globe.  It’s called ‘More Money Mondays’ and by signing up for the service you get weekly referral marketing tips delivered to you via e-mail each Monday which will help you learn how to simultaneously build your business and make your work week shorter and more enjoyable.

Watch the video now to get all the details on this exciting new service and CLICK HERE or go to www.MoreMoneyMondays.com to sign up for your FREE weekly referral marketing tips.  If you’re already utilizing ‘More Money Mondays,’ I’d love to hear what you think of the service it provides–please leave your thoughts and feedback in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Build Business with This Networking Trick

One of the most common networking questions I get asked is, “How do I generate referrals for other people?”  Well, this same question is exactly what I was asking myself in the early ’80s when I was just starting my consulting business. I came up with a technique that had a huge impact on my ability to provide quality referrals to others–which, of course, led to me getting referrals.

Photo courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I realized that I needed to be the person whom people came to if they needed a referral for anything–the “gatekeeper” of referrals . . .  the “go-to guy.”  So I composed a letter that I sent out to my client list several times a year.  Today you could send out a quick e-mail to your database, but you should send it at least once a year as hard copy just to stand out from everybody else who’s e-mailing your clients.  Here’s a sample letter:

Dear________:

I really believe in the process of referrals, so part of the service I provide is to be sure to refer my clients and associates to other qualified businesspeople in the community.

Attached is a list of areas in which I know very credible, ethical and outstanding professionals.  If you’re looking for a professional in a specific area I’ve listed, please feel free to contact me.  I will be glad to put you in touch with the people I know who provide these services.

Sincerely,

Dr. Ivan Misner

Notice when you read this letter that I just listed professions; I didn’t list names and phone numbers.  I wanted my clients to contact me so I could put the referral and the contact together–so I could build business relationships through being the go-to guy.  What began to happen was that others would ask someone on my client list, “Whom do you know who does XYZ?”  If they didn’t know anyone, then they would send that person to me.

The importance of becoming a gatekeeper is huge for anyone seeking to grow a business with word-of-mouth marketing.  It’s a strategy that gets people not only to contact you for a referral, but also to open up a dialogue with people about what your business is all about and how you can help them.  This, in turn, leads to more business with existing clients and new business with prospects.

Allow this to open the door for reciprocal sharing and giving.  You’ll be amazed at how much more business you’ll find you’re able to do as a result.

Why Wait for Business? Go out and Get It!

Photo courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The best referral efforts I’ve seen happen by design, not by accident or wishful thinking.  Many business people view referral generation somewhat like the weather: “Sure, it’s important, but what can I do about it?”

Referrals and business networking efforts can be planned and nurtured.  Anyone, including business owners, entrepreneurs, sales representatives, staff employees, even individuals serving in a volunteer capacity in any field, can accomplish plenty with a well-structured and systematically executed referral plan for a business.

All too often I have seen business people waiting for business to walk through the door.  They think because they are good at what they do, people should be flocking to them. I’m afraid the truth is, it doesn’t work that way! You have to take charge, no matter what business you’re in or how good you are, and bring the business in to you.

I once saw a cartoon strip of two large, ravenous-looking vultures perched on a tree limb, overlooking a dry desert plain. After quite a while, one vulture turns to the other and says, “Wait for something to die? Hell, let’s kill something!” So it is with referral marketing. You can’t simply wait for people to come to you. If you do, one of your competitors who also provides good customer service will most likely find them before they show up at your door-step.  If you want to succeed, you have to go get your business, or better yet, have someone else get it for you through referrals.

So . . . don’t wait around.  Do something!  Think of three things you can do this week to actively strengthen your referral marketing efforts and please feel free to share your ideas in the comment forum below–you never know whom your great ideas might help!

In-Person Spamming

At a recent Referral Institute®  conference in San Francisco, one of the organization’s top trainers, Tiffanie Kellog, took a few moments  to chat with me about the concept of in-person spamming. If you’ve ever encountered people who use networking as a face-to-face cold calling opportunity, so to speak, then you’ve been the subject of in-person spamming.

Watch the video now to learn why Tiffanie sometimes compares networking to speed dating and to get our combined take on the real point of networking, where people tend to go wrong in their networking approach, and how to know when it’s appropriate or inappropriate to give another person your business card.

If you’ve had an experience with in-person spamming, please share your story in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

How to Uncover Referral Opportunities by Reading the Newspaper

Most people read the newspaper to gain insight into local and world events and news–and that’s all.  I’m suggesting that you try reading the paper a little differently–to look for opportunities for referrals.

Photo courtesy of njaj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of njaj at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pick up your local newspaper and scan the front page. Turn to the local section, then the business news, and then the lifestyle section. The paper is teeming with opportunities for you to act as a gatekeeper for the people in your network. Every page presents problems or significant issues of one kind or another.

What are people saying? Who is talking about problems or changes in her company or industry?  What is happening that could have a direct impact on you or someone in your network?  Who is in need of the services of someone you know?  Where are there networking opportunities for you and your marketing team?

So why not start out by reading the paper this week with referral intent for two people in your network?  Find each of them an opportunity or a lead that they might capitalize on through their network.  Then find your own business a lead or two on which you can capitalize, and begin to ask your network for help in making the connection for you.

Clearly, these are more “leads” than actual “referrals.” However, there’s nothing wrong with telling a business associate about the details you just read about relating to a new company moving into town.  It’s good to show your referral partners you are looking out for them and–you never know–it could turn into something good.

Try this strategy out and then please come back and leave a comment to let me know how it worked out–I’m very interested to see what happens!

Getting to the Referral Stage with a New Contact

People often ask me how to move a relationship with someone they just met to the point where the new contact feels comfortable passing them a referral.

I always say that the best way to get to this next referral-passing stage depends in part on how you came into contact with a person in the first place.  Let’s say you met while giving a brief presentation to a group of people who are in your target market.  Assuming you did a good job, then you absolutely have the possibility of receiving a referral, even though you just met.  Why? Because the presentation moved you from visibility to credibility in the new contact’s mind and now they’re probably willing to risk their reputation and recommend you to someone they know.

Photo Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo Courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

The same thing is true when you’re out networking.  If you have a good conversation with someone and truly add value to the conversation, then moving from visibility to credibility isn’t that difficult, and you’ll be in great shape for getting some referral-based business.  What’s more, it’s not terribly important whether the person is someone you might do business with directly.  Even if your businesses don’t match up, the other person might have information that’s useful or might know other people you’d like to get in contact with.  It’s often worthwhile to develop a networking relationship with people who have little in common with you because they can bring an entirely new network into contact with yours and broaden your business horizons.

 

Just bear in mind that even if there is a strong possibility that you’re going to do business with this new contact, it’s probably not going to happen there at the networking event, where conversations last anywhere from an eye-blink three minutes to a long-winded seven.  Instant business is not likely to be had.  But if you follow up with a quick note a few days later, you can make some one-to-one time and come up with ways the two of you can help each other.  That meeting is where you’ll have your best opportunity for a quick referral.

 

What has your experience been with moving to the referral stage with new contacts–do you have a tactic that seems to be particularly effective?  If so, please share it in the comments section.  Thanks!

How to Communicate Simply and with Specificity

Communication is always a challenge.  If it were easy, there would be no need for research, books, or training programs on the subject, and there would be far fewer divorces–and wars.  But communication is doubly vital in networking.  Your success in marketing your business by word of mouth rests mostly on your skills as a communicator.  The clearer and more concise your message, the more easily it is passed on by your marketing team.

Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Here are three common ways people miscommunicate:

  1.  They talk too much
  2.  They use jargon
  3.  They speak in generalities

Doing any of these things is a mistake that can cause your message to be lost, misheard, or ignored.  Worse, it can create misinformation or confusion, or even turn people against you, causing you greater harm than if you had not tried to communicate at all.  In a networking situation, remember that unless you are speaking with someone else in your industry, you must eliminate the jargon from your vocabulary.  Simplify your message so the average person can relate to what you’re saying.  When someone asks you, “What do you do for a living?” here are some examples of how to best respond:

  •  Instead of saying, “I do IT consulting and system hard drive analysis,” say, “I troubleshoot and tune up computers to keep them free of problems.”  It’s easy to relate to computers that are problem free, but terms like “IT consulting” and “hard drive analysis” are confusing to some.
  • Instead of saying, “I’m a marketing consultant,” say, “I help businesses become known in the community.”
  • Instead of saying, “I analyze telecommunications hardware and systems,” say, “I save businesses money on their phone systems.”

Notice how in these examples, the industry jargon is eliminated and then replaced with a benefit statement.  That is, we went from industry-specific, feature-related terms to less-specific, benefit-related terms.  In networking, it is also important to take care not to speak in too general of terms.  General requests are hard for people to fulfill, because they don’t bring to mind specific people or situations that the listener may know of.

Suppose you ask a realtor what kind of prospect he wants to meet and the realtor says, “Anyone who wants to sell a home.”  The chances of your knowing someone who “wants to sell a home” are slim, and if you do know someone who is putting her house on the market, she’s probably already dealing with a real estate agent.  But if the realtor says, “Empty nesters looking to downsize,” you immediately think of two or three couples whose last child has moved out.  This answer is more specific, and it makes you think of home owners who may be just starting to consider moving to a smaller house.

It may seem odd but the more specific you are, the wider the door opens in the listener’s mind.  To network your business effectively, think of yourself as a profiler.  The more accurately you profile your preferred client and the more specific your message, the better your referrals will be.  Being specific also helps when you ask someone to help you.  Let’s say you’re looking for a personal introduction to the CEO of Company X.  When you ask someone in your network to introduce you, be specific: “John, could you arrange a one-hour lunch meeting for the two of us and Ruth Sinclair, the CEO of Company X?  She’s someone I’d really like to meet, and since you know both of us well, it would be great to have you there.”  This request is specific; it gives John the details he needs to successfully complete the task.

A great way to get used to communicating your message simply and specifically is to practice delivering it.  Here’s the most-asked question in networking: “So, what do you do for a living?”  This week, practice your response to this question, and time yourself until you can answer it concisely and clearly in one minute.  Keep in mind that the question is what do you do for a living, not how you do it.  Another good way to work on your message is to identify ten jargon words that you’ve been using in your networking.  Make a list with two columns–title the first column “Jargon Words or Phrases” and the second column “Saying the Same Thing in Layperson’s Terms.”  A third thing you can do to practice your message is to write out a referral request before presenting it to the people in your network.  Make the request specific by using the name, company, and profile of the person you want to be referred to.  Create a clear image of what the people in your network should be looking for and what you want them to do on your behalf.  As an experiment, show your written request to someone close to you and ask him if it is clear, concise, specific, and devoid of assumptions.  Becoming an effective profiler for your business not only helps you clarify your messages, but it also helps ensure the success of your referral marketing efforts. -s

I’d love to hear about your experiences in practicing your message so please share your thoughts in the comment forum below–thanks!

 

How to Zero in on the Benefits of Your Business

Last week I wrote a blog explaining the importance of focusing on the benefits of your products or services (as opposed to the features of your products/services) when communicating with networking partners and potential customers.

Once you have a good understanding of the difference between benefits and features, you can begin zeroing in on the benefits of your business.  In order to do this, your first task is to focus on your best customers.  What problems were they experiencing before they came to you?  What problems did you solve for them?  How did you make their lives easier?  The answers to these questions will begini to connect you with their motives for buying your products or services.  You provided some value to them that was significant enough to cause them to spend their money.  What was it?

An additional task this week is to create a list of the features versus the benefits of just one product or service you offer.  On a sheet of paper, make two columns–one column with the heading “FEATURE of This Product or Service” and the other column with the heading “BENEFIT of This Feature.”

Once you’ve completed this list, begin to include the language of your benefits in your messages to your marketing team, to prospects, and while networking.  It would be a good idea to eventually complete this list for each of your products or services because the more you can communicate the benefits of your products/services, the more people will see the value of what your business provides.

Come back next week to learn how to simplify your message and make it more specific and, in the meantime, I’d love to hear from you in regard to any questions you may have about benefits vs. features and/or get your thoughts on what you may have learned or realized about the true benefits of your products/services through creating your features vs. benefits list.  Please share your questions/thoughts in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

 

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