I made an interesting announcement last week at the BNI Global Convention 2021 about an exciting adventure I’m taking.
Check out this video to see what it is.
The foundation of building a successful word-of-mouth-based business involves giving referrals to others as well as connecting people so that they may increase their business.
If you know how to give good business referrals to others, and consistently make beneficial introductions to connect people to each other, you will enjoy the Boomerang Effect. The Boomerang Effect is having a referral that you gave out to someone else come back to you in the form of new business.
In the early years of BNI® I received a referral from someone in Los Angeles to whom I had sent business in the past. That referral became my client and they referred three more people from all over the U.S. who did business with me, too. That particular boomerang kept coming back again and again.
To consistently give good business referrals to others you must become a good listener. Throughout your day, actively listen for people to express a need that is represented by someone in your personal network of contacts. Remember, a good networker has two ears and one mouth, and uses them proportionately.
Listen to what people have to say, especially when they share their frustration about a problem that needs solved. “My computer is SO slow!” “I need more vehicles for the company fleet.” “Our office printer just quit working.” “We’re waiting for the insurance company to return my call – from 2 days ago!” Then refer them to a trusted member of your networking group who can provide the solution to their needs.
Keep in mind that a referral is not a guaranteed sale. When you give a referral to your networking partner, it is an opportunity for them to talk with someone who is in the market to buy or use a particular product or service. You can view referrals as either hot, warm, or tepid.
Hot Referral – this is someone actively looking for a service or product right now who is personally introduced by you to your referral partner. You told the prospect about your business friend, how good they are at what they do, and shared your confidence about their professional ability to help them with their needs. They are ready to set an appointment or have a call as soon as possible.
Warm Referral – this is someone who has been shopping around and is willing to talk with another provider of that product or service. You have taken the time to give them some background information about your referral partner and perhaps told them a testimonial about someone in a similar situation that they previously helped. You offered to make an introduction and asked when they want your business friend to contact them.
Tepid Referral – this is someone who expresses an interest or wants to talk to someone in a certain profession, however they are not in the market to proceed at this moment. You told them you know a professional who will be glad to answer their questions and provide information to help them. You gave them your business contact’s name and phone number and asked if they would like to receive a call from them.
Sometimes a referral that you give to someone else boomerangs as new business for you. It may take days, weeks or even months to return to you, and it may be from someone else rather than coming directly from the person you gave the
original referral to. However, that IS the philosophy of Givers Gain® and it is based on the age-old concept of “what goes around comes around”.
Have you experienced the Boomerang Effect in your business? I invite you to share in the comments below.
Sometimes at networking events, I observe people engaging in what I call “dueling monologues” which are basically prolonged dueling talks by one person at a time.
I don’t think most people are really interested in participating in this type of conversation. The problem is that a lot of people are winging it when it comes to networking, and they often go straight into sales mode. When they do this with someone who is also winging it, it leads to a dueling monologue syndrome. I’ve seen it many times.
So how do we avoid the dueling monologue syndrome?
I believe the answer is don’t show off, show interest.
What is the goal for your networking efforts? If it is to build your business, then it is all about building relationships with people.
Go to networking events with the intention to build a business relationship. Don’t try to dazzle people with your brilliance. You can certainly do that later. Stand out from the crowd and impress them with your genuine interest in them. Not your interest in selling to them but your genuine interest in them as a person.
A good networker is like a good talk show interviewer. A good interviewer asks the guests questions and gives them time to elaborate and respond. I think a good networker is very similar – they ask questions, then listen and let people talk.
Follow the thread of the conversation to the point where you can ask more questions. Your questions should be open-ended, probing, and respectful. These are questions that allow the respondent to really open up and discuss what you’ve asked.
Here are some examples of questions to start with. Don’t ask one question after another in rapid succession. Do ask one or two of these questions at the beginning and then follow the thread of the conversation to ask more.
If you hear them describe a problem or a need of any kind, think about someone in your personal network whom you trust that you can refer them to. Nothing expedites a relationship faster than helping someone you’ve met by referring them to another person – or sometimes even a book, website, or article – that can help them with the challenge. It is very powerful when you can refer people to other content that helps them succeed and goes a long way toward building a mutually beneficial business relationship.
Many people out there think they know how to network but are really just doing face-to-face cold calling. YOU can be different. A great networker is fully engaged, asking questions, and actively listening. They make it about the other person rather than about themselves. Remember: Don’t show off, show interest.
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.
Before I share the answer about networking too much, I have a question for you. How many hours do you spend each week doing networking activities for your business or your job?
This is networking activity, not client appointments or cold calls. Include ALL of the different networking that you do.
In the book, Business Networking and Sex (not what you think), my co-authors and I surveyed 12,000 businesspeople and shared the results.
We found that the average businessperson spends six and a half hours a week on their networking efforts. This includes BNI and networking group meetings, chambers of commerce, civic and service clubs.
If our goal is to be average, we have to spend six and a half hours a week. I think that eight hours a week is more effective.
Wow, 8 hours a week! At first, it might sound like a big number. We all agree that networking takes time. It takes time to plan our networking activities and it takes time to attend them. However, there is more we can do to get the MOST out of those activities.
Do you arrive early and stay after the event to talk with new people and deepen the relationships with those you already know?
Do you plan what are you going to say about your business while networking?
Do you talk about a specific part of your business with a clearly defined Target Market that others can easily identify?
Do you listen, really listen, when others share about their business, taking notes to help you find potential referrals for them?
Do you have a prepared testimonial for one of your networking partners, telling others what a good job they did for you or someone you referred to them?
Have you contacted two or three business friends to attend the networking event with you? Maybe someone who is already a good referral source for you – are they getting the benefits of business networking?
Remember to follow-up with those who will be attending the event with you. A quick call or text the day before is reassuring to them and lets them know you want them to be there.
Do you review your notes after each networking activity to see if you have a possible referral for a fellow businessperson?
If so, take action – contact those potential referrals and make the connection to your networking friend who can help them.
Do you meet with strategic networking partners outside of organized events to continue building a mutually beneficial business relationship?
How about sharing something you heard at a networking meeting on social media? Not to sell anything, just to help advertise the expertise and business of others in your group.
Are you continuously learning about effective networking skills, techniques, and opportunities? There are many resources available to those who dedicate time for their own education.
All of these suggestions can expand your networking time in effective ways to get the results you desire.
So, is it possible to network too much? The short answer is, yes; if you are spending more than eight hours a week, you might be spending a little too much. You don’t want to burn yourself out. However, you can do well with a thoughtful, intentional plan for your networking efforts.
Remember that networking is a marathon, not a sprint. We invest two things in business networking – time and money. For the best results, TIME is our major investment. Do we want average results? Or are we willing to Give more to Gain more?
Before I did my graduate work in organizational behavior, I received a bachelor’s degree in political science. As a student, I was very interested in politics — and I still am. Even so, I do not discuss politics while I am networking. Why? Your politics simply aren’t relevant to your professional life and to the goal of building your business. A political discussion in the context of networking is distracting. Even worse, it can be divisive and detrimental to team building.
If you want to build a powerful personal network for business, it is all about collaboration and cooperation. But I have seen political discussions turn many networking groups into a hotbed of anger, anxiety, resentment, and conflict — clearly not a good environment for developing a healthy business network.
The topics we choose to discuss while networking are important. Some people say it’s their right to discuss politics, religion, or anything else they want when they network. I completely agree, but just because it is someone’s right doesn’t mean it is a good idea.
I understand that there are political and religious issues about which we have strong opinions — I certainly have some — but you risk damaging your business relationships by bringing them into the networking conversation.
I have been a registered voter since I was 18 years old. Since that time, I have voted in every major U.S. election as a citizen of the United States. I have also been very active spiritually and I have well-established religious beliefs. However, you don’t, and you won’t, know my political or religious views unless you are a close friend. They are irrelevant to my role as a business leader.
Our networking efforts are most effective when we focus on our business mission and goals. Whether inside your organization, during work-related meetings, or while networking, it is wise to avoid politics and religion. Keep the focus on building strong business relationships for your networking success.
Their way. To build a powerful professional network it is important to connect and engage with them via the communication platforms that they use. This is particularly important if you need to develop a relationship with someone and want to get to know them professionally.
I learned that lesson after my children moved out on their own. My eldest would not respond to emails; she would not even answer the phone when I called her. I discovered, however, that when I texted her, she responded immediately. Rather than try to get her to move over to my preferred platform – email, I realized I could keep a good line of communication open with her by text.
My second daughter wouldn’t use email and didn’t use the phone to talk or text. She communicated by What’s App, which I had never heard of. However, I got the app and found a great way to communicate with her, usually with an immediate reply.
My son didn’t use email, or the phone for talk, text, or What’s App. How was I going to connect with him? I realized that he was a big online gamer on the platform called Steam, which had an instant messaging feature. I downloaded Steam and purchased a game so that I could instant message my son. It worked! If I saw him online and messaged him, I would get an instantaneous response.
I realized if I wanted to communicate with my children, I needed to use their preferred platforms, not mine.
This has taught me a lesson in networking. To stay connected to the people I meet, I need to go where they are, not stay where I am. That’s another lesson in networking: it’s not about me. It is about them. This applies to face-to-face networking as well as online opportunities. If building a powerful network is important to you, you have to go where your connections are. Don’t expect them to always come to you.
When we are growing our business and trying to increase our sales, we want to build relationships. As I have always said, networking is more about farming than hunting. We need to be in their territory, not our territory; we have to go where they are. That is where we will have the opportunity to do business.
When you meet someone and plan to contact them again, ask them, “What is the best way to reach you?” or, “How would you like me to send that information to you?” Their answer will tell you their preference for future communications.
I recommend that you put their response into their contact information. Something as simple as “Prefers email” or “Prefers to be called” will help you to connect with them in their preferred way.
Staying connected to your network is important to grow business relationships. My children taught me that connecting with people in the way that THEY like to communicate is the best way to strengthen those relationships.
Did you know that the energy put out by a normal light bulb is equal to the energy put out by a laser beam? A laser has a very tight beam and is very strong and concentrated. A light bulb, on the other hand, releases light in many directions, so the light is comparably weak and diffuse. The difference between the two allows the laser, with focused energy, to have the power to do very fine and delicate surgery, artistic etching, and play the broad, full sounds of an orchestral overture. Is that the kind of precision you want from your networking activities?
Here are three ways to bring your networking efforts into laser-sharp focus to make it an even more powerful way to build your business.
Remember, your goal in the networking process should be to train a sales force, not close a sale. Therefore, each time you have an opportunity, focus on a specific product or service you offer, then educate people how to refer you in this area.
We often try to cover everything we do in one introduction. When you have the chance to be in front of the same group regularly, avoid the mistake most people make by painting with too broad a brush. Laser-sharp networking calls for you to be very specific and detailed about one thing at a time.
Sometimes businesspeople say they have a “full service” business. I think saying this alone is a mistake–full service doesn’t really mean anything to people who don’t understand the details of all the services you offer. Instead, talk about what you specialize in or what you are best known for. There is something that sets you apart from the competition–let others know about that aspect of your business.
Identify specific people to whom you wish to be introduced. Personal introductions can open doors for you that would have otherwise remained closed. If you don’t know the name of the manager of a particular business you wish to meet, find out–then ask specifically for a referral to that person.
Give vivid examples of the type of referral you wish to receive. I recommend reviewing a case study from a current client or past successful referral with your networking partners. Define what the needs were of that prospect and how your business met those needs. Be as detailed as you can be so your networking partners can really visualize the experience. They will have a clear picture of how you were able to meet this person’s needs. This will give them clarity and focus when they’re away from you and they meet another person with the same needs.
Take the time to have a one-to-one meeting with each person in your networking group, away from the general networking session. This will help to deepen the relationship and dial up the focus of your networking efforts.
I can’t stress enough the importance of deepening the relationships with your networking partners. To really maximize the energy of the partnership you are forging with your referral sources, it is critical to spend time with them. Just going to a social function or sitting side by side at a conference or networking event isn’t enough. You have to be face to face, talking and exploring commonalities and complimentary aspects of each of your businesses, to be as powerful a referral source for each other as you can be.
It’s important to take your time to get to know your referral sources and cultivate long-lasting and mutually profitable relationships. It’s true that “time is money,” however it is essential to invest your time in one-to-one relationships to develop the strong and deeply focused referral sources you need to grow your business. By focusing your efforts like a laser beam, you can fine-tune your networking message and increase your results.
Imagine handing your business card to someone at a networking event and having it handed back to you with, “Thanks, but I don’t need your card.” How would you respond in this situation?
Refusing to take someone’s offered card is just plain bad manners. What do you do if this happens to you? Realize that some people just have little or no people skills and move on to someone who does.