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There are prime opportunities for networking at Conferences and Trade Shows, whether they take place virtually or in-person. We often attend these events with the single idea that we are there to take something away – information, education, free samples. However, don’t overlook the many ways to make new contacts and connections that can be useful to spread the word about your business.
Don’t view these social events as the chance to close a deal, but rather as the first step down the long, profitable road of friendship and mutual benefit with a new referral marketing partner.
Of course, all of this good advice is worthless if you don’t engage in the critical follow-up process after the event. Plan a time to make a phone call, schedule a lunch meeting, or to send an email as a way of following up with the new connections you made. This is essential to build the foundation for a strong business relationship.
The most important thing I can impart to you is that you must approach this with a sense of wanting to learn as much as you can about the other people that you meet, instead of trying to tell them all about you.
Keep these points in mind when you have the chance to attend a conference or a trade show. Intentionally move out of your comfort zone to make new business contacts in addition to taking away information and education from the event. When you apply the tips in these suggestions, you’ll gain a whole new level of networking success.
What suggestions do YOU have for successful networking at trade shows and conferences?
Smart professionals know that business networking is essential for their success. They are active in select groups and organizations where they consistently participate and build relationships with other members. And the most successful entrepreneurs plan for, and are committed to, long-term networking for the life of their business.
Networking truly is a marathon; it is definitely not a sprint. When we join a Chamber of Commerce and Industry, or the professional association for our vocation, or a referral marketing group such as BNI®, we plan to be part of that group for many years. We build it into our strategic plan because we know that membership in these types of business networking groups is important as our company grows over time. We decide that we are going to be intentionally networking for the long haul, not just for a short trip.
Don’t confuse activity with accomplishments. Business networking is not about bouncing here and there, or approaching it with a go-go-go attitude. Making a quick appearance at a multitude of events just to be seen is usually unproductive.
Visibility is important; it is part of the VCP Process®. Visibility is indeed good, however we have to build Credibility and invest the time to turn Credibility into Profitability for the process to work. This is done by building relationships. Successful entrepreneurs take their time and get to know the members of their business networking groups. Learn about their businesses and find out how to help them reach their goals, then teach them how to refer business to you. Remember, if your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, you will never achieve the success that you want.
Invest the time to develop a networking strategy that fits YOU. Understand that networking takes time, patience, hard work, dedication, commitment, and endurance. Networking longevity is about building genuine, trusted, and mutually beneficial relationships that are bountiful for years.
Which of your professional memberships have you had the longest?
As a business professional, you need a constant supply of information to achieve success. It is important to stay aware of issues and trends, and to keep up with technological and economic changes, all of which help you stay competitive. Perhaps you have already discovered that it is nearly impossible to keep up with all this information on your own. There is simply too much of it.
Your “knowledge network”, which is what I call the information component of your network, is made up of your most knowledgeable sources. These are the people who can provide you with the knowledge and expertise for success and business growth.
Fortunately, the knowledge you may lack is always someone else’s specialty, allowing you to turn to others for the help you need. That is why you want to set up your network’s information component with a group of contacts who know and understand what you must do to achieve success in your business, AND who have the experience to help you achieve your goals.
It is paramount to know in advance whom to contact and where to go to get the information you need. Here are suggestions for the types of people to include in your information network:
Begin by writing the names of people that you know, or that you know of, who fit into each of these eight categories. List as many names as you can think of before you do anything else. Aim to identify at least three people in each category.
If necessary, you can use a name in more than one category, but it’s better to come up with as many individuals as possible. Remember, it is information that you want from your knowledge network, more people = more information. Once you have as many names as you can think of for each category, go back and fill in the contact information for each one.
When you have a full list of people in each of the categories, start connecting with these people to enhance and improve your knowledge network. Connect with them on social media platforms. Attend the same networking and business meetings that they do so you can make an introduction and start a conversation with them. Begin the process to build a professional relationship. AVOID selling to them and asking for help before you establish the relationship.
You can build an effective knowledge network, your own ‘think tank’, by following these steps and using your existing contacts, along with making new ones. By doing so, your network and the information you need to build your business will expand and grow.
An effective way to grow your business is with referral marketing. A referral is the opportunity to do business with someone who is in the market to buy your product or service and has been told about you by a mutual friend or associate. Business referrals made with a warm introduction are much more effective than an unsolicited cold call to a prospect.
Referrals in business are good; Dream Referrals are great! What IS a Dream Referral? A Dream Referral is one of those clients who will make a significant impact on your revenues for the year. It’s that wonderful customer that makes your smile, AND your company’s profits, bigger. However, before you can get your Dream Referral, you have to know who or what it is.
Have you ever said, “I want to meet anyone who needs my services.”? If you answered yes, has your generic request for a new contact ever resulted in a referral? Probably not. That type of ‘anyone’ request is much too vague.
One of the skills of networking is to remember that Specific is Terrific.
Describe your Dream Referral in detail:
Now that you have identified exactly who and what you are looking for, teach your network what your Dream Referral looks like.
When referral marketing, if you use a catch phrase that is too broad and generic it will limit the effectiveness of the results that you get. Instead, be very descriptive as you talk to your networking partners, so descriptive that it is like that person is in the room with you. The more details you provide, the greater the likelihood that your referral partners will recognize that person when they come across them outside of the business networking meeting!
To increase and grow business through referrals, it is important that YOU know your own personal Dream Referral. Then you can educate your network on how to help you find it. If you do not know precisely who that ideal client is, your networking partners are unable to go out looking for them and connect you to them.
I would love to hear about YOUR Dream Referral in the comments below.
For many of us, a great amount of our business life and personal life is taking place on video calls. There are tremendous benefits to these video interactions, and there are certainly some challenges, too.
Video calls aren’t quick or easy, they require planning. We’re not just going to talk to someone, we’re going to be looking at them, and they will be looking at us. There is the time needed for personal primping to look our best. There is time needed for tidying up our background, and we need to do background noise abatement before a planned call. We have to do our tech test and check our equipment prior to the call to ensure we have a quality video connection.
A voice-only phone call involves very little preparation for our personal appearance, and our office or house doesn’t have to be meticulously cleaned to talk with someone on the phone. And remember, we DID conduct business – quite successfully – by regular phone calls for years!
Of course it is. Simply say… “Let’s do this by phone please.” When stated professionally and respectfully, most people respond to that statement with “Sure, a phone call is fine.”
During the workday, I sit at my desk for hours. Sometimes I prefer to walk around and talk. I use a headset while stretching my legs during the phone call. It is a comfortable way to have a productive conversation.
Some people worry that others will automatically assume that the reason they don’t want to be on video is because they don’t like how they look. Personally, I don’t generally care what other people think about unimportant things. If it troubles someone, I suggest using the “I need to walk around” reason.
Absolutely! Meeting with a new client is definitely a good time to use a video call. Having that eye contact and seeing a smiling face helps to build the business relationship right from the start.
Having a video call with someone you haven’t seen in a while is also a good idea.
If you are doing a presentation for a prospective customer, a video call can be a very effective way to meet with their entire team of decision makers.
Most of the business etiquette for in-person meetings applies to video meetings. You can build and maintain your professional credibility by using these suggestions.
“Zoom fatigue” may be a real thing but I ask you to think of the alternative. What if Covid happened in 1991 instead of 2021? Virtually everyone would be out of business! There wouldn’t be video-call-fatigue, there would be bankruptcy.
Zoom fatigue – you kind of need to get over that. I mean, Buck up Buttercup.
We need to FOCUS ON THE BENEFITS of today’s available technology that provide the opportunity to not only survive, but to thrive.
You’re getting word-of-mouth marketing every day. Even if you think, “I’m not asking anybody to refer to me, so I don’t need to concern myself with this. If I provide good products or services, I’ll naturally get some customers by word of mouth. Why bother with plans and strategies? I’m getting free word of mouth advertising every day, and it’s not costing me any time or effort.”
Word-of-mouth marketing is always working, you ARE getting it every day. It just may not be the kind you’re thinking of. Unbeknownst to you, the message people are hearing about your business may be vague, not too clear. It may even be – negative.
“How can my word of mouth be negative? I have plenty of satisfied customers.” Yes, we business professionals are very grateful for our satisfied clients. However, they may not be the ones doing the most talking. The demanding, unreasonable customer who left your establishment very unhappy and less than satisfied, is probably going to talk loudly and for a long time.
One study revealed that the average dissatisfied customer complains to eleven people about their experience, and those eleven each tell five others. That is an average of sixty-six people hearing ‘horror’ stories about someone’s unhappy trip to your store.
Does your average happy client make sure that sixty-six other people know about your great service and products? It sure would make business easier if they did.
Positive word of mouth that is inaccurate or aimed at the wrong target market may be as detrimental to your business as the negative type. If someone gets the mistaken idea that you’re in the trucking business when you actually sell trucks, they may get aggravated and frustrated enough while straightening out an honest misunderstanding that it costs you future business and referrals. Similarly, if your focus is on high quality and someone is promoting you as a low-cost provider, unrealistic expectations are created.
It is important that your marketing message be conveyed accurately and that your prospects know what to expect. It is a lot easier to exceed the customer’s expectations if those expectations are realistic.
Even without the occasional disgruntled ex-customer, your word of mouth may be too vague to be of any use. For example, you are a tailor, and one of your clients is talking about you with their friend. “Good tailor, eh? What do they do besides alterations? Do they do reweaving?” If your client is unable to answer those questions, the message is too vague to get results.
Or it may be misleading. “Well, they have a full lineup of men’s clothing, but I don’t know if they do custom tailoring or alterations. It may all be ready-to-wear.” The uncertainty can create doubts, again costing you the referral.
Without a strategic plan, you have very little control of what’s being said about you. Without a way to measure the results of your word-of-mouth marketing, you have no idea if it’s really working for your business.
Good customer service is important because it reduces negative word of mouth. However, by itself, good customer service won’t generate enough positive word of mouth to build your business. Word-of-mouth marketing is always working. Make sure it is working FOR you rather than against you.
What is your experience with positive word-of-mouth marketing? Share how it has helped your business in the comments.
As a professional, do you want to get more referrals? Of course, everyone says YES. Here is a technique that you can use now that will directly lead to generating more word-of-mouth business for you.
Educate people on the “symptoms” of a good referral so when they’re out in the field and with other people, they will immediately know what to look for in a potential ideal client for you.
Think about it this way. If someone went to a medical professional and told them that they had a headache, sore throat, and were sneezing all the time, the doctor would probably ask if they spent a lot of time outdoors. If so, they might prescribe an anti-allergen treatment because, based on the symptoms, it sounds like the patient has seasonal allergies.
Notice that the description of the problem, the symptoms, came first and then came the plan for relief.
What if that could happen in your business?
Callan Rush, author of Wealth Through Workshops, refers to the “top-of-mind” problems of your prospective clients. Ask yourself: What is the greatest challenge that my customers face on a regular basis? What need does my target market have that my products or services can fill?
When you identify those problems, you can effectively share them when you are talking to others and include them in your marketing materials.
Think about the trigger points, an event or scenario, that happen in someone’s life which triggers that person to have a new need. For example, instead of a realtor saying, “If you know someone looking to buy or sell a home, let me know”, they can be more specific with the circumstances surrounding the target market before a future home buyer needs a real estate agent.
If first-time home buyers are the target market, the realtor can educate their network on some potential triggers leading up to the transaction of buying a house.
These triggers may include:
These are all symptoms of a good referral because they are related to activities that usually result in buying or selling a home. Coach your referral partners on how to spot the symptoms associated with people who need your produce or service as opposed to just saying “If you run into someone looking for a ____(fill in your industry), that would be a great referral.”
When you educate the people in your network about the specific symptoms or conditions that your business can solve, it becomes easier for them to give referrals to you.
I’d love to hear your comments about how you use this technique in your business.
We are designed to empathize with and endear those who are in our direct line of sight. We rely on personal interaction as a reminder of the people in our professional networking world. In business we cannot afford to be in the category of “out of sight, out of mind”.
Are you easy to ignore? If so, you had better do something about it. Knowing the preferred communication style of your clients and referral network as you implement some of these ideas will help you stay visible and remembered.
Your business may perform a variety of services or offer a range of products, however, if you want a referral, your description of what you do should be detailed and focused on a single aspect of your business.
Your referral sources will find it much easier to get you an appointment with a prospect if your sales message addresses the prospect’s specific needs. You’re an office-furniture wholesaler? No help. You specialize in custom-designed, made-to-order desks, shelves, in and file cabinets in large lots? Bingo – you got an appointment.
I know it seems counterintuitive. The reality is that the more specific your description, the more likely you will receive referrals. People tend to say they do everything because they want to throw as broad a net as possible, catching everyone.
The problem with a really broad net is that it has big holes in it. When you say, “I’m a full-service printer; I do everything,” that doesn’t mean anything to your prospects, or to those who refer you to them. What they’re thinking is, I don’t need a full-service job. All I need is a particular kind of print job.
When you tell a referral partner that you’re a full-service provider, they have to mentally sort out all the people they know and cross tabulate what they do against all the things you do. That doesn’t work; people aren’t computers. It takes too much time and effort.
If you say, “Who do you know who’s a sports enthusiast? Here’s how they can use my product,” then you’re letting your referral source do a simpler kind of mental sorting. The more you can educate people about the different things you do–one at a time–the more likely you’ll get referrals in the long run. Getting referrals in a specific area does not preclude continuing to offer other products or services.
When you present yourself as an expert in an area where someone needs expert advice, you become a specialist rather than a generalist. As the specialist, you can more thoroughly articulate what you do and how you do it to your referral sources, allowing them to easily present it to other people.
You may not be convinced that narrowing your focus is a good idea. You may think that if you present yourself as a specialist, you limit your potential referrals and future business; that is, you can’t do business outside your niche. The truth is, whether you’re a true specialist, or a generalist presenting yourself as a specialist in order to facilitate easy referrals, you are not limiting yourself by doing so. People are actually more likely to refer a specialist than a generalist.
Most specialists that do only one or a few kinds of business still offer related products or services. Yes, you’ve narrowed down your business to the things you like to do or do best, or bring you the most profit, but you can do other things, too.
Remember, specialists get more referrals. Eventually your referral partners need to know the full range of your products or services. Right now, they need to know the specific needs you can fill, because that’s what the customer focuses on in any given instance.
What does this mean? There is a common perception that you have to meet a CEO or other influential people to get large referrals that will result in big sales.
Your friends, family, acquaintances, and referral partners probably have powerful contacts that can help you and your business. The only way to find out who they know is to ask them; give them the specific name of the person you want to meet. Never underestimate the depth of the pool that your fellow networkers are swimming in.
The value that you bring to a referral network or strategic alliance is directly related to the number of relationships you have and to the quality of those relationships. It doesn’t take a corporate executive to connect you with another corporate executive, or a rich person to introduce you to another rich, influential person. When you approach networking like farming rather than hunting, you can cultivate relationships with your fellow networkers that lead to introductions to the rest of their relationships.
A high-end property developer was invited to a networking group’s golf tournament to see what referral networking was all about. He only went because he loved to golf. As a big-money developer, he “didn’t need to network”. He attended the awards dinner afterward only because his foursome won.
At the dinner, he was seated next to a financial advisor who had grown wealthy through referral networking and had become a property investor. In conversation, the guest mentioned that he was having trouble getting a bank loan on a big property deal. The financial advisor said he might be interested in investing. Within a few days, they were negotiating a six-figure deal. Always go to dinner – you never know whom you are going to sit next to. Always pursue the networking opportunity at an event.
The diversity of your contacts is much more important than looking for the “big guys.” Surround yourself with quality people in a lot of different professions. Focus on the quality of the relationships you develop and cultivate those relationships on all levels. Because… you don’t know who they know.
The idea of growing your business through referral marketing is a concept that crosses cultural, ethnic, and political boundaries.
Years ago, I determined that the common denominator is because people want referrals! The public wants referrals, the business community wants referrals, it seems that everyone wants referrals. Becoming part of an organized, professional networking group is an effective way to get those referrals.
During the time that BNI was first expanding to many countries around the world, I was frequently told that this type of networking wouldn’t work in other places. Ironically, the first time I heard “this won’t work here, we’re different” was from someone is Southern California talking about people who were 25 miles away in another part of Southern California!
I later realized that this person just didn’t want to do the necessary work to build their referral business. Rather than say, “I don’t want to do that”, it was easier to say, “we’re different here”. I was amazed that some people refused to follow the tried-and-true fundamentals that were proven to create referrals.
You need to invest the time to gain trust and credibility within your network to generate the referrals you seek. Here are some networking tips for building relationships with foreign – and local – businesses.
The value of having your personal network of trust applies wherever you do business.
My experience has shown that people in any entrepreneurial economy can use a networking system to improve their business. If this system is done within the cultural context, the networking concepts and techniques are also completely transferable from one country to another. The truth is that business is business when it comes to relationship marketing, regardless of culture, ethnicity, or political persuasion. Most entrepreneurs want to conduct business more effectively to get results.
Building business relationships through networking to get referrals is an idea that works. It resonates with businesspeople all over the world. It resonates in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Americas. Different people – different places, different countries – different cultures, different races – different religions, we all speak the language of referrals.