Is Ignorance on Fire Ever a Good Thing?

The following video is part of my new “Ivanism” Garage to Global series, hosted by Entrepreneur.com, where I expand on catch phrases I have used frequently over the years.

 

I know, it’s a strange concept: “Ignorance on fire is better than knowledge on ice.”

Most people read that statement and think, someone who’s excited but ignorant can do more harm than good.

I’m here to tell you that the opposite of your intuition is true. That’s right–and you’ll see why below.

 

Counting Your Referrals

Referrals are the backbone of word-of-mouth networking, am I right?

So if you reach out 100 people with a referral and ten reach back, did you give 100 or ten referrals?

Many would immediately assume the higher number, because let’s face it–100 is better than 10. But that isn’t the case!

But WHY is this?

I come to you today with a Vlog (video blog) of this exact question, asked of me during the BNI US Conference in April.

Using Your Unique Selling Proposition

uniquesellingOne of the biggest issues I see or hear when it comes to networking and word-of-mouth marketing strategies comes from the individual businessperson’s mindset. So often, people believe that in order to network successfully and set themselves up for the most referrals, they need to tell everyone who will listen (and some who won’t) everything that their business does. This misconception simply leads many to believe that by talking to everyone in the room, they’ll maximize their referrals.

This is not at all the case. What this actually does is bores your intended audience, and overwhelms them with more information than they could ever possibly remember.

The key instead is to come up with a unique selling proposition for your company, business or service, and use it when you network. Your unique selling proposition will be a brief summary of your business, the key word here being brief. You’ll want to share this description as concisely and as engaging as possible. Not only will your audience walk away understanding what you do, but if you have described your business in a compelling way, they’ll be more likely to remember you because you entertained them and kept them listening.

The biggest indicator of a good unique selling proposition is that it gets people to ask you more about your business, and keeps them genuinely interested in what you do. They should be short, sweet, and to the point, without being vague or misleading. Your goal is to open the door for a conversation, not leave any potential contacts confused.

What is your business’s unique selling proposition? How do you use it to get word-of-mouth referrals? Tell me in the comments below!

What to Do If You Get a Bad Referral

Photo courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Photo courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The best way to avoid bad referrals is to tell people when they’ve given you one.  Tell them tactfully, but tell them!  If you don’t, you’ll keep getting bad referrals and, to be brutally honest, you’ll deserve every one of them.  I continually run into people who say, “Oh, I can’t tell someone that the referral they gave me was no good.”  I say, You can’t afford not to tell them.”  Be direct, and don’t apologize.  They need to know the referral was bad.

Be positive, and make sure they know it was the referral they gave that was bad, and not their effort.  If you expect the best from people, you’ll usually get it.  If you expect less than the best, you’ll usually get that too.  The best way to ensure that you don’t get bad referrals is to teach people what you consider to be a good referral. This differs for each person, and especially for each profession.

For example, some professionals, such as consultants, counselors, and therapists, consider the opportunity to give a speech to a business group a good referral.  Others, such as printers, contractors, or florists, normally don’t.  You cannot assume that everyone knows what kind of referral you’re seeking.  You need to be very specific about what constitutes a good referral for you.

An exceptionally effective way of making sure you get good referrals is to monitor the referrals you get.  This helps you in many ways.  It tells you how often you get referrals, their sources, quality, status, and dollar payoff.  Having this information helps you focus on the groups that are giving you the best referrals and to reciprocate with the people who are giving you the most referrals.

Have you had to talk to someone about a bad referral they passed your way?  How did you handle it?  Please share your experience(s) in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

 

Unexpected Referral Sources

Sometimes good referrals come from sources that you least expect.  Many business people I meet want to network exclusively with CEOs and corporate presidents.  They tell me they don’t want to join most business groups, because top executives aren’t members.  If you’re waiting to find a group exclusively for CEOs and top managers, don’t hold your breath.

Even when you find such a group, it probably won’t help.  You see, they don’t want you!  They’re hiding from you.  Top business executives insulate themselves from those they think might try to sell them products or services.  However, if you develop a word-of-mouth-based business, there’s no problem.  Through word of mouth you can increase your volume of business because you know a hundred people, who know a hundred people, who in turn know a hundred people, and so on.  You are potentially linked to a vast network beyond your own, and you never know who may be in this extended network.

The owner of a drapery business told me about one referral he received in this way.  A friend referred an elderly woman to him because the friend thought that he could help her.  The woman, who was in her late seventies, had sought the help of many drapery companies to no avail.  She wanted to install a pull blind on a small window in the back door of her home; she feared that people going by could look in.  The woman explained that normally her son would take care of this but that he was on an extended business trip.  No area drapery company would help her because it would be expensive to come out and install a small blind like that.  The businessman agreed to help her because she was referred to him by a mutual friend and because she was obviously worried about the situation.

About a month later, the businessman was working in his drapery warehouse/showroom when he noticed an expensive stretch limo pull up in front of his commercial building. Curious, he watched as the chauffeur got out and opened the door for a man dressed in an expensive suit.

The man came into the businessman’s showroom and asked for the proprietor.  The businessman introduced himself and asked how he could help the gentleman.  The man asked whether he remembered the elderly woman for whom he had installed the small blind.  The businessman said he remembered her well.  The man said that he was impressed that the businessman did this job, because he knew that there was no money in it.

Photo courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo courtesy of stockimages at freedigitalphotos.net

The woman, he said, was his mother, and she had raved about how nice the businessman was and how he had helped her when no one else would.  She had instructed her son to use the businessman’s service whenever he could.  The son told him that he had a new, 6,000-square-foot home by the ocean.  He asked the businessman to go out and take measurements, because he wanted to install window coverings throughout the entire house.

The businessman told me that it was the most profitable job he had ever received, and it came from a little, old woman who needed a small blind on her back door.  Ironically, the “great referral” you receive is probably not going to come from a CEO, but from someone who knows a CEO.

An architect in Las Vegas told me about a window washer he met in one of his networking groups.  He said he saw the window washer every week for over nine months before the window washer gave him his first referral.  This one referral, however, was worth over $300,000 to the architect!  You never know where a good referral may come from.  It may come from a little, old lady, or a cab driver, or a window washer.  So don’t ignore the possibilities of the contacts that other people have or can make for you.

Do you have or know of a story about a remarkable referral that came from an unexpected source?  Please share it in the comment forum below–I’d love to hear about it! Thanks!

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.

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!

What Does It Take to Achieve Success through Word of Mouth?

In order to run a successful word-of-mouth campaign, you need to build an arsenal of credibility-enhancing materials.  You should always have these at your disposal to make the most of every networking opportunity

Note: Please keep in mind that this is not a complete list of items needed to market your business.  The items in this list are focused on enhancing your networking activities which will lead to greater word of mouth and referrals.

1-Testimonial letters from satisfied clients

2-Photos of yourself, your office facilities, equipment, and/or products

3-Logos of your key customers

4-A list of your memberships and affiliations

5-Question-and-answer sheets

6-Photos of awards and certificates you and your staff have earned

7-Articles you have published, or in which you’re mentioned

8-A one-page flier

9-New-product or service announcements or press releases

10-Current brochures, circulars, and data sheets, and product catalogs

11-Items that reflect your “brand”

12-Items that help you explain your business to your network

13-Client or customer proposals, bid sheets, or marketing letters you have written to existing clients

14-Articles on trends affecting your target market

For the sake of space,  I didn’t go into much detail here regarding each of the items in this list but I can certainly go into plenty more of an explanation as to what these items entail.

I’ll leave it up to all of you blog readers to weigh in on whether or not you’d like to see a follow up blog explaining each of the items listed above . . . so, leave a comment and let me know–should I write a blog giving the details regarding these items?  Thumbs up, or thumbs down?? . . . Thanks!

 

8 Questions to Ask Yourself When Considering a Sponsorship Opportunity

Local communities and organizations–be they service clubs or professional groups–depend on sponsorships to make ends meet at some of their events.  This is also true for association trade shows and exhibitions.  In most cases, the dollar amounts for sponsoring events of this sort are modest–ranging from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars.

How many times have you been asked to be a sponsor?  How many times have you offered to sponsor a select event in order to help out someone in your network?  Both situations have the potential to give you huge exposure if done well.  In addition, sponsoring an event for someone on your word-of-mouth marketing team enhances the relationship, because you are helping that person meet a goal.

When you consider which people you will network with and where, you’re being selective.  Choose carefully, too, when you’re thinking about sponsoring an event.  Is it a good investment of your time and money?  Whether you’re being recruited or are volunteering, ask yourself the following questions before deciding . . .

  • What is the target market for this event?
  • What kind of exposure do I get for my investment?
  • Can I get this kind of exposure without this investment?
  • Do I get direct access to the audience?
  • Does it make sense for me to be there?
  • Which business or networking goal does it help me complete?
  • Are other sponsors my competitors?
  • How does this enhance my credibility with the person I’m helping?
  • Why wouldn’t I do it?

All of these questions help you determine the value of a sponsorship opportunity.  Now, imagine one day being in charge of putting on a huge event.  Suddenly, someone from your network steps forward to offer you a substantial sponsorship because she heard through the grapevine that your event needed money.  How would you feel about that person?  You can create that same feeling toward yourself in someone else by offering that exact gift.  Be selective, and offer your support in person.  In effect, you are making a tidy “deposit” in your relationship bank account.  This act of generosity definitely comes back to you in time, but for now it simply nurtures the relationship by helping someone in your network meet her goals.

This week, think of the people in your network.  Who do you know that is planning an event–a conference, an open house, a 10K fundraiser–who could use your financial support?  To strengthen your relationship with this individual, offer as much help from your business as you can provide.

Have you sponsored an event in the past?  If so, I’d love to hear about your experience and how it impacted your relationship with the person in charge of the event.  Please share your story in the comment forum below.  Thanks!

Getting a New Referral Is a Done Deal . . . True or False?

When one of your business contacts passes you a new referral, does that mean the prospect is ready to hear a presentation on your product or service?  Repeat after me . . . NO.  Assume nothing.

When an associate passes you a referral, say thanks, then start digging for more information.  Exactly what does the prospect do?  What products or services does he want from you?  Will your offerings truly fulfill his needs?  What is his behavioral style?  What are his business goals?  How large is his company?

Don’t skip steps in your sales process.  Before you approach the prospect, you need to decide on a strategy based on whatever you can find out about him–the same as you would when preparing for any sale.  Just because the prospect was referred to you doesn’t mean the sale is a done deal.  All you’ve really received is an opportunity to approach the prospect with a favorable introduction.  Whether the prospect becomes a client or not depends on how well you convince him that what you offer, at the price and under the conditions that you offer it, will fulfill his needs.

There’s quite a difference between a basic referral and one that’s well developed, and there are many different levels in between.  Listed here from least to most valuable, you should consider which level this referral represents:

  • Name and contact information only–Unfortunately, this is what many of your potential sources probably think the first time you say the word referral to them.  It does represent a certain level of trust in you, but the networking value of this kind of referral is low.  It’s better than nothing–but not much.
  • Authorization to use name–If he says, “Tell ’em Joe sent you,” you can be fairly sure you’ve established a good level of credibility with him.  This gives you some leverage, but the work of developing the prospect still falls on you.
  • Testimonial or letter of introduction–If your source trusts you enough to say nice things about you, try getting him to go a bit further and write you a letter of introduction or recommendation, including background information on you and some words about your product or service.
  • Introduction call–A personal phone call on your behalf, preparing the prospect to hear from you, takes significant time and effort in preparation.
  • Letter of introduction and phone call promotion–A letter that’s followed up by a phone call advocating your business represents a high level of commitment by your referral source and has a great deal of influence on the prospect.
  • Meeting–By arranging and working out the details for a meeting between you and the prospect, your source moves beyond the role of promoter to that of facilitator, or even business agent.  This demonstrates to your prospect a deep level of trust in you.
  • Face-to-face introduction and promotion–Combining an in-person introduction with promotion demonstrates that your source is engaged in selling your product or service rather than just facilitating your sales effort.
  • Closed deal–Your referral source describes the features and benefits of your product or service, then closes the sale before you even contact the prospect.  All you have to do is deliver the goods and collect the money.  This is obviously the best kind of referral you can get.  To get to this level of referral, you’ll have to work with your sources and tell them what you’d like from them.  This takes time and education.

The better your source knows you and is confident of your character and your business, the more often you’ll get the higher-level referrals.  But keep in mind that you need to be making high-level referrals for your sources too.  It really is true . . . what goes around comes around.

What can you do this week in an effort to generate more high level referrals for your referral sources? For those of you who share your ideas in the comment forum below, I’ll send a free copy of my book Masters of Sales to everyone who posts their thoughts by the end of the week (Sunday, 5/5/13).  Once you leave your comment, send your name and your mailing address to erin@bni.com in order to receive your book (Erin is my Communications Supervisor and she will only use your contact information in order to ensure you receive your book–your information will not be shared).  Thanks!

Should Your Target Market Dictate the Networking Groups You Join?

The truth is, if you choose a networking group that focuses entirely on your target market, chances are you’ll be in a group of people who are a lot like you.  Sounds like a good thing, you say?  Well, it’s not.  A group that consists of a whole lot of people like you tends to hang out together in other settings and is likely to have a lot of the same contacts as you.  This limits the size of your network, and the diversity as well.  It’s good to have some people like you in  your group, of course, but it’s important to have  people who are not like you as well.   Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with.  You never know who they know.

 

Even if you share a target market with many others in the group, you can’t really tell from the roster or by collecting business cards at the first meeting how effective they’ll be as referral sources.  You have to be in the group a while before you begin to know who they know and how likely they are to pass along good referrals.  Much of this information comes up in open networking before and after the meeting: “Tell me about some of your favorite clients.  Who do you like working with and why?  What kind of work do you like to do best?”  It takes weeks, sometimes months, to develop the kinds of relationships that bear fruit–and until then, you never know who they know.

Groups that are built primarily on a social model tend to be homogenous.  It’s simple human nature for people to cluster in groups according to age, education, income, profession, race, neighborhood, social status, religion, and so forth.  Hanging out with similar people makes it easier to carry on conversations, share similar experiences, gossip, and compare notes.  It does not tend to expose one to new experiences or new points of view, and it especially does not provide many opportunities to open new frontiers in business or marketing.

I’ve run across many people over the years who want to form business-to-business networks.  They think, I’m after this market, so therefore I need people just like me all around me.  So who do they get?  They get people who are just like themselves.  This includes people in businesses that are much like their own and who may not want to share their databases with others.  It includes some people who have the same kinds of contacts, sometimes even the exact same individuals.  Forming a group with such similar people for the purpose of generating referrals is usually a big mistake.  (Telling people it’s a mistake is a little like telling a boxer, “Lean into the punch!”  It’s counterintuitive.  Most people don’t believe it until you explain why.)

Never assume that someone who is in a totally different industry or social group or market from you can’t possibly know anybody you’d like to meet and do business with.  You never know who they know.

Networks tend to form naturally among clusters of people who are like each other and who know each other to varying degrees.  Your friends tend to be friends with one another.  However, if you want a powerful network, you obviously want different contacts and different kinds of contacts.  Diversity is key in a referral group, and not only in the classic sense of diversity–race, gender, religion, ethnicity–but diversity in types of businesses.  We’ve run into people who didn’t want to join a referral network because there was a painting contractor in the group who came to the meeting wearing overalls.  But in fact, painting contractors often have great contacts.  You never know whose houses they are painting or what kind of connections they’ve made.

A diverse set of personal contacts enables you to include connectors or linchpins  in your network–people who have overlapping interests or contacts and can easily and naturally link your group with other, different clusters of people.  These people,  according to Wayne Baker in his book Achieving Success through Social Capital” are the gateways.  They create shortcuts across ‘clumps’ of people.  The strongest networking groups are those that are diverse in many ways;  these are the ones that tend to have the most linchpins.   A master networker strives to become a linchpin between as many networks as possible.

You never know who someone knows.  Please share with me any experience that you’ve had with this concept.

 

How Much do You Trust Advertising?

Nielsen recently did a survey regarding people’s “trust” in various forms of advertising (see the graph below).

Remarkably, the two top categories of trust involved word of mouth!  All other forms of advertising were substantially lower than the top two (word-of-mouth approaches).  Furthermore, 82% of all forms of advertising (other than word of mouth) showed that more than half of all people didn’t trust that form of advertising much at all!

The media often asks me why networking is so important.  I think the graph below clearly demonstrates why networking is so important for business growth and success.  It’s important to note that I believe in advertising; I also believe that referrals and networking are a form of advertising and I’ve been saying for many years that business networking (i.e., referral marketing) is the most cost effective form of advertising.

This independent study clearly confirms the power of word-of-mouth advertising.  Weigh in here – what are your thoughts on the matter?

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