Welcome to International Networking Week® 2015!

This week marks the 9th annual celebration of International Networking Week® which is recognized each year by thousands of people around the world.

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

International Networking Week has been acknowledged by many governmental organizations (including a joint resolution of the California State Assembly and Senate) and is celebrated in many countries across the globe.  Start the new year out with more business by using this week to build your networking skills and expand the opportunities within your reach.  If you belong to any networking groups, be sure to tell them that this is International Networking Week (Feb 2-6).

Please feel free to share this video with others and show it at your networking meetings this week.

For more information and a list of worldwide events, please visit www.InternationalNetworkingWeek.com.

So what have you already done and/or what will you be doing to recognize International Networking Week?  Please share your plans in the comment forum below–thanks!

 

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!

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!

 

Can You Pinpoint the Benefits of Your Product or Service?

Sales training often teaches us that customers make buying decisions based on (1) their emotions (“Sell the sizzle, not the steak!”) and (2) the value the product or service brings to them.  Marketing specialists capitalize on customers’ emotion-based buying habits.  Customers choose a product or service based on its benefits, not its features.  The features are simply the bare-bones facts–the elements or significant parts–of the product or service.  The benefits are its value to the customer–how it will solve their problems, eliminate their pain, and make life glorious.

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

To understand the difference between features and benefits, let’s think about a car:

Features of a car

  • V-6 engine, dual exhaust, front-wheel drive, sunroof, significant interior legroom, heated seats, heated glass

Benefits of those features

  • V-6 engine–ability to pull onto the highway without hesitation (and to impress your friends)
  • Dual exhausts–higher fuel efficiency and more power (and it sounds groovy and also impresses your friends)
  • Front-wheel drive–more interior room because of the lack of a driveshaft tunnel
  • Sunroof–the open feel of a convertible with the safety and security of a sedan
  • Legroom–greater comfort while driving long distances and more room for your growing family
  • Heated seats–cozy motoring on frigid days and nights; greater back comfort on long-distance trips
  • Heated glass–the convenience of not having to scrape icy windows in the winter

The more perceived value a benefit offers, the higher it gets ranked in your decision to purchase.  Objectively, a sunroof is not a significant feature, but if it makes you feel a bit like a race car driver, perhaps that benefit raises its value for you.  Heated seats are nice too, but they might not rank high in value for to people who live in a warm climate and wouldn’t strongly influence their buying decision.  The benefits of dual exhausts, however, might have perceived value for all buyers–better fuel efficiency, more power, and a sound like your beloved but departed ’57 Chevy.

What does all this have to do with your referral marketing message?  Simply this:  Most businesspeople, without thinking about it, talk in terms of features.  As professional experts and salespeople, that’s what they’re most familiar with.  They’re not accustomed to looking at their products or services from a customer’s perspective.

In formulating the message you want your networking partners to convey, your challenge is to put yourself in the customer’s place.  What are the benefits of your product or service?  How will it make the customer’s life or business easier, more comfortable, more satisfying, more profitable?  How can you shorten and simplify your message so that others can communicate these benefits more clearly and surely?

Now that you have a good understanding of the difference between features and benefits, I hope you’ll come back next week to read the follow-up blog post I’ll be doing which will teach show you exactly how to zero in on the benefits of your business.  Until then, if you have any questions about features vs. benefits or any thoughts you’d like to share regarding this post, please leave a comment in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

The Power of Being Specific

In this video, I explain a great technique for getting your referral partners to really hone in on and start passing you more and more of the exact type of referrals that you ideally want. The technique is simply to focus on being as specific as possible.

In order to demonstrate just how powerful specificity can be, I take you through two 10-second exercises which clearly convey how results can be significantly greater when we take care to be specific. You’ll need a pen and a piece of paper to participate in the exercises so be sure to grab those two things before watching the video and please feel free to leave a comment sharing your thoughts on this video and/or any effective strategies you may have which help you focus on specificity with members of your network.

Using Social Media—“Navigating the VCP Process® to Networking” Series

TR Garland (pictured with me in the photo below) is a friend of mine and co-author of one of my most recent #1 best-selling books called “Building The Ultimate Network.” 

TR-and-Ivan-Blue-Backgrou

For some time now, we’ve both observed a need to drill down on one of the most important and foundational concepts to networking – The VCP Process®.  A while ago, we started a much-anticipated 12-part series of blog posts which addresses this and contains some very timely information for networkers across the globe. Today, we’re proud to share with you Part 12–the final post in this series. Enjoy.

TRBlog1VCPpic1

Using Social Media to Navigate the VCP Process®
(Part 12 of the “Navigating The VCP Process® To Networking” Series)

In Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 , Part 4, and Part 5 of this series, we introduced and re-introduced the concept and steps of The VCP Process® to Networking for our readers through brief anecdotes, relevant comparisons, and sometimes even humorous situations. For Parts 6and 7 we even shared with you video trainings from the both of us.

In Part 9, we suggested some behaviors that you can use on a weekly basis to increase the number of referrals you receive. And, as a result, we got a couple phone calls complimenting us about how that particular blog post clearly outlined what type of behaviors a successful networker should be practicing on a weekly and monthly basis – and we were asked to provide more. We fulfilled that request.

In Part 10, we addressed that ‘Mindset’ has as much to do with your success in networking as ‘Skillset’. And in Part 11 we addressed how to deliver effective Introductions & Short Presentations when Navigating The VCP Process® To Networking. And therefore, in this final installment of the series, we found it relevant to address “The Elephant in the Room” – Social Media.

Yes, as experts on Business Networking and Referral Marketing, we’ve been asked time and time again to provide our opinions on how Social Media fits into one’s own Business Networking Plan (…if at all).

So, today, let’s address this “The Elephant in the Room”. Let’s bring out into the open the question that still may be on the minds of many of our readers.

When asked about the topic of Online Networking versus Offline Networking, you may have already heard Ivan share his philosophy that “…it’s not either/or, it’s both/and when addressing this topic”.

Today, let’s dig a little deeper and give you a clearer picture on what’s meant by this, as well as deliver you actionable steps for you to take (as the title of this blog insinuates) to use Social Media to navigate the VCP Process® to networking.

Let’s get started.

An often overlooked tool to navigating the VCP Process® is using Social Media effectively. And, more specifically – Facebook.  Now please allow us to clarify. We didn’t say Facebook is overlooked! Lol.

ENTERTAINMENT vs. EXECUTION

We happen to believe that many people are actually addicted to Facebook and spend way too much time using it for ENTERTAINMENT. Whereas, they could actually be using it for the EXECUTION of a well thought out strategy.

Let’s face it. There are professionals out there who you want passing you referrals that are on many of the same Social Media platforms that you’re on. Yet, do you have a Business Networking Plan that addresses this?

Well, would you like to grasp a really quick concept that will help you address this?

For example, let’s assume an ideal referral partner for you is a CPA. And, you recently met a CPA at a monthly networking event such as a Chamber of Commerce mixer. What typically happens is that “life happens” immediately after that event and 30 days go by before you see that CPA again.

From our perspective, it’s going to take a long time to dig deep and build a quality, meaningful relationship and move through the VCP Process® with this person when you only see this CPA twelve times a year.

Therefore, today, we’re recommending you use Social Media to compliment your in-person, face-to-face networking efforts. Yes, if you take action and plan to make strategic “Touch Points” during the time between those mixers, you’ll actually be able to expedite the VCP Process®.

And, who doesn’t want to shorten the cycle from first meeting someone (i.e. Visibility) to building trust with them (i.e. Credibility) to finally getting an actual referral from them (i.e. Profitability)?

Yes, too many people are spending too much time on Social Media for ENTERTAINMENT purposes versus the successful EXECUTION of specific tactics of an overall strategy that will help them drive revenue to their business.

Today, we’d like to make a pretty good case that Social Media shouldn’t be ignored either. Social Media should be considered an intricate part of successfully following your particular Business Networking Plan.

HERE’S ONE SPECIFIC TACTIC YOU CAN USE IMMEDIATELY

Let’s assume an ideal referral partner for you is a CPA as noted above. By connecting with this person on Facebook immediately after meeting them and strategically LIKING or COMMENTING on some of their posts – you will create additional Visibility so that the next time you see this CPA it will actually FEEL like you’ve known each other longer.

Does this make sense?  We would love for you to leave your thoughts in the comment forum below.

 

What Makes Someone Referrable?

I had a great conversation a while back with my business partner in the Referral Institute, Mike Macedonio (pictured to the right).  He was explaining why he feels there are only a few criteria that must be met to make people referrable by him.

The first criterion is that the individual must be an expert at what he or she does.  He looks for people who have invested in learning their trade and continue to invest to master their trade.  Do they specialize in a certain area?  What achievements have they attained in their area of expertise?

Another one of Mike’s requirements is that the person is passionate about what he or she does.  This especially makes a lot of sense to me because if you’re not passionate about what you do, how can you expect other people to get excited about working on your behalf?

Mike’s last criterion stipulates that the person he is referring understands and honors the referral process.  More specifically, Mike wants to ensure that the person receiving the referral understands his or her number-one responsibility.  To quote Mike, “The number-one responsibility when you receive a referral is to make the person who gave you the referral look great.”  As long as the people Mike gives referrals to are doing this for him, Mike can remain confident that his reputation will be protected.  It also compels him to continue giving these people referrals.

Mike’s list of qualifications that make a person referrable is short, yet very powerful.  After discussing it, we both agreed that we should expect others to evaluate our referrability by these same criteria.  Are we invested experts, and do we continue to invest in our trade?  Are we passionate about what we do?  Are we practicing what we preach?  Do we make our referral sources look great?  I’m glad to say that I’m confident we both do all of these things.

So what makes people referrable by you?  I’m sure many of you have some great ideas in response to this. I’d love to hear them, so please feel free to leave a comment.

Networking Is Not a Short Term Strategy

In this video, I talk to my friend, French networking expert Marc-William Attie, about why networking is not a short term strategy and also why the long term commitment that goes along with networking is well worth your while.

Marc demonstrates the value of putting effort into networking by telling the story of an architect who spent three years building relationships with fellow networkers without receiving any significant referrals and then received a referral worth $300,000.00 . . . a payoff that was definitely worth the wait!

Do you have any stories about how your networking efforts have paid off in big ways?  Is so, please share them in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

How to Get People to Refer Business to You

Over the years, I’ve run into countless people who believe that joining groups and organizations and becoming active by volunteering, taking on responsibilities and working side-by-side with other people on a common goal will cause people to get to know them and refer business to them.  However, this is not how things work.

(Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

(Image courtesy of stockimages / FreeDigitalPhotos.net)

Granted, it’s easy to think that if you rub elbows with someone long enough he or she will spontaneously start sending you business opportunities. But that’s really nothing more than an entitlement mentality.

Getting referrals usually takes three things: visibility, credibility and profitability.  Ordinary participation in an organization, even a strong-contact referral group, will get you visibility and perhaps some credibility; it won’t automatically get you profitability.  That takes a much more focused approach, along with some explicit talk about the kinds of referrals you want.

By nature, referral relationships are rewarding and valuable when they are created purposefully and by design. If you are assuming that the idea of giving you referrals is going to pop into someone’s head spontaneously if you hang around long enough, you are definitely misunderstanding what a referral relationship is supposed to be.

Woody Allen once said that “90 percent of success is just showing up,” but he wasn’t talking about referral marketing.  “Just showing up” will get you a seat at the table, but you have to pass the food to others and snag your own steak whenever it comes around.  It’s not “netsit” or “neteat“–it’s network!”  If you want to build your business through referrals, you have to learn how to deliberately work the networks to which you belong.

You see, participating in a group is one thing; performing is another.  To get referrals, you have to perform.  If you don’t perform–talk specifics about your business, your specialties and your ideal referral, and refer business to others in your group–how are they going to know what you do and what you need?  You have to take specific actions to let people know how they can refer business to you.  Being a good citizen is the right thing to do, but it’s not enough to get you the referrals you need to run your business by word-of-mouth marketing–you need to actively feed and water your referral relationships, so to speak, in order to significantly grow your business through referrals.

So, what specific actions can you take this week to let people know how to refer business to you?  I’d love to hear your ideas–please share them in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

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