When entrepreneurs try to develop a qualified, consistent, and dynamic circle of networking partners who are going to provide them with referrals for new business, I’ve noticed that their tendency is to “sell” those individuals on their product. When business people join a networking group that’s focus is on providing referrals for its members, it is as if by convincing them to try their product, showing them all the finer points of what is available and closing the sale with their networking partners, they will somehow realize an influx of referrals for more of the same from those individuals.
I don’t disagree that in order for the members of your networking group to refer you effectively, they must be familiar with what you have to offer; however, when you are in front of them, it’s important to resist the urge to sell to the members! What do I mean by that?
Educating your networking group’s members about the type of referrals you want, specifically, where applicable, even the names of the individuals with whom you want to meet and develop relationships, is much more important to the success of your networking in a closed contact network than selling to the members. This demands a shift in how you see your networking partners. They are not the clients! They are, in effect, your sales force! In order for any sales force to get out there and sell you effectively, they have to know who to sell you to and how to sell you.
Below are four tips for incorporating this style of networking—educating vs. selling—into your networking meetings:
1. Teach your network members what your “dream referral” looks like. If you could come to your next networking meeting with a walking, talking dream referral in tow, what would he/she be like? Be very descriptive of this person as you talk to your networking partners, so descriptive that it’s like that person is in the room with you. The more details you provide, the greater the chance that your partners will recognize that person when they come across him/her outside of the meeting!
2. Share customer profiles and case studies of current customers. This is a highly effective way to educate your networking partners about what it is that you are looking for as a new customer/client. By sharing the qualities and aspects of your current clientele, you are illuminating the canvas for the rest of the group so they can see the picture you are portraying for them. When appropriate, consider bringing in a customer or client to talk about how you have helped him/her. These kinds of interactions go a long way toward educating the group as to the type of person you wish to have referred to you.
3. Break your business down into its Lowest Common Denominators. It is very tempting to start out your personal introduction with a statement like: “we are a full-service XYZ…” Resist this urge! When you have 52 opportunities over the course of a year to introduce a new element of what it is that you are selling or providing to the members, don’t waste the opportunity to highlight one aspect of your business by painting with the full-service brush. Get detailed! Educate your networking partners week by week with specific things that you provide. Bring support material to provide a visual. Do demonstrations, when possible.
4. Ask specifically for the referral you want. I often hear members of networking groups say things like “anyone who needs…” or “everyone who is looking for…” Usually, when I hear anyone or everyone, I tune out, because I know so many anyones and everyones, that I end up referring no one! This is an interesting dynamic, but I think it has a lot to do with information overload. When you are asking for a specific type of business referral, your request from your networking partners should be specific! Using a catch phrase that is so broad and generic will limit the effectiveness of the results you will get.
By keeping your focus on educating your networking partners about what type of referrals you wish to receive from them, you will find that the referrals you begin to see come in will be of a higher caliber and have more chances of becoming closed sales than if you try to sell the members on what you are offering. You should be trying to “educate a sales force” instead of trying to “close a sale.” Shift your intention in the group and you will find that the quality of referrals will shift for the better, as well. Keep in mind that when you join a closed contact network, you are partnering with a group of people who will become your sales force and educate, educate, educate. Your time to close the sale will come when you are with the referrals that you will receive.
What go to phrases do you use to educate your network on the products and services you offer? What tactics have you tried that simply don’t work? Let me know in the comments below!