Avoid Networking Fatiguestring(24) "Avoid Networking Fatigue"

I’m going to share a secret that may sound counterintuitive: you can actually network TOO much.

What??? The Founder of BNI®, the world’s largest networking organization, says you can network TOO MUCH?

Yep. That’s right.

Now you may be wondering, “How can that be?” Well, let me tell you a little story.

Years ago, when I was traveling through the midwestern U.S., I heard people talking about a woman they referred to as the Queen of Networking. She was known as the consummate networker. She had hundreds, perhaps thousands of contacts, which gave her a broad network of people from all different walks of life. She was well known in her community as the go-to person for anything that anybody needed. Those who had seen her said she was at every networking event and managed to talk to each person in the room.

It was no surprise that she and I ended up at the same event one evening. She pulled me aside to talk. She seemed anxious and upset, and I wondered why the Queen was so distraught. Then she revealed something unexpected. “Ivan,” she said, “I know everyone keeps calling me the Queen of Networking, but I’m not seeing any increase in business whatsoever!” She said that her networking efforts weren’t producing results for her. She continued to tell me about all the groups that she went to, all the people she met, how she had made very good contacts, but… she wasn’t getting any solid business from all her efforts.

Shocked, I asked her how many events she was attending each week. She replied, “Between five and ten a week.” Then I was really shocked! That was her problem–she was spreading herself too thin!

Think about the VCP Process® – Visibility leads to Credibility which leads to Profitability. She wasn’t seeing real results, even with her obvious talent for making contacts and gaining visibility, because she never got to the heart of what business networking is all about – building relationships.  She was focused so heavily on visibility that she had lost sight of the credibility part.

She was so busy running around and making appearances that she wasn’t learning how to actually “work” the business networks she had created. She neglected to build meaningful relationships with people and develop credibility with them; and you can’t get to profitability without credibility.

Activity is Not an Accomplishment

She had the same problem that many businesspeople have: when it comes to their networking efforts, they view “activity” as an “accomplishment”. This usually results in having a network that is a mile wide, but only an inch deep. You have to take the next, and most important, step with the people in a wide-reaching network. You must devote the time to develop the kind of rapport with some of them that allows them to get to know, like, and trust you, and want to pass business referrals to you.

Many professionals, full of energy and excitement, attend lots of networking meetings. Their lack of results is not due to a lack of activity, effort, or enthusiasm about getting out there and meeting new people. The problem is they are constantly going here and going there, and they never stop long enough to invest the necessary time to establish the kind of long-term roots that can lead to an ongoing, reciprocal referral relationship.

I told the Queen, “If your network is a mile long but only an inch deep, you’ll never have a powerful network,” I suggested that she do more one-to-one meetings with potential referral partners and focus on building mutually beneficial relationships to establish her credibility in the community.

The moral of this story? Don’t try to be the “Queen” or “King” of networking. If you focus solely on making as many contacts as possible, constantly being on the go, and trying to keep track of hundreds of people you don’t really know, networking fatigue is sure to follow.

Instead, focus your business networking efforts on building relationships. You’ll see an improvement in referrals, and you will also establish deeper credibility within your network.

 

 

Related Posts:

Is Your Network a Mile Wide But an Inch Deep?

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G.A.I.N.S. Exchange

The G.A.I.N.S. Exchange Approach to Networking

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How Do You Get Referrals

Converting Referrals Into Customers or Clientsstring(46) "Converting Referrals Into Customers or Clients"

Getting referrals is great—however, until your prospect makes a purchase, you’re looking at only potential business. The number of referrals you convert into customers or clients actually measures the true success of your efforts.

Active, Not Passive

The only way to generate referrals is through other people. Although this method can work with new and developing relationships, I have designed it to be used primarily with strong relationships, people with whom you share a strong common interest over a long period.

The heart of the method is active, not passive, recruitment of referral sources. You can, of course, put the system in motion the moment someone tells you he or she knows someone who may need your products or services. But don’t wait around for referrals—go find them. The more high-quality referrals you can generate, the better your business will be.


You should recruit referral sources that meet the following six criteria:

  1. Those who want to, or can be inspired to, help you.
  2. Those who have time, or are willing to make the time, to help you.
  3. Those who have the ability, or can be trained to do, the things you want them to do to help you.
  4. Those who have the resources necessary to help you.
  5. Those who have relationships with the types of people you want to target.
  6. Those who would make good referrals for people you know.

It is crucial that your sources meet all, or most of the six criteria, in order to guarantee a long-term, sustainable referral relationship. Time and time again I have worked with frustrated business owners who can’t understand why they are not getting the referrals they should. On the surface, they seem to be doing all the right things. In many cases they discover that they have misdiagnosed the VCP Process® with their referral sources, or they are actively working with referral sources that don’t meet most of the six criteria above.

To strengthen your relationships with them, it is very important to do periodic one-to-one meetings to get better acquainted with them. This helps you to understand the specific kinds of help you’ll need from them. And although a strong relationship with them is by itself one of the best referral generators, you’ve decided to use other tactics as well. One of the best ways to motivate your sources is to offer them help in using this referral-generating system to get their own customers and business opportunities.

Initial Contact

After you’ve compiled your list of excellent prospective referral sources, your next action is to begin contacting them. What’s the best way to get your message to them? Should you send them a letter, email or text them, or arrange to meet them in person? Any of these formats could work; however, your first communication with a prospective source is best done by telephone. It’s more personal and friendly than a written message, but it is more convenient for both you and your source than a face-to-face meeting.

Before you call, plan your call carefully. Decide which topics you want to cover. Remember, the purpose of your call is to ask for support in generating referrals, to give a brief overview of your plans, and to schedule an appointment to discuss your plans in detail. Here are a few guidelines:

  • Begin with an appropriate greeting and small talk.
  • State the purpose of your call and the amount of time you need.
  • Ask whether this is a good time to talk.
  • Get into the heart of your conversation by offering the person you are calling something of value. For example, explain how the topics you want to cover will help them.
  • Tell your prospective source that you’d like to have their help in generating referrals for your business and ask for a meeting to discuss the details.
  • Schedule a face-to-face meeting, an online video meeting, or a telephone call.
  • Tell them you have some information for them to review.

Scripting Your Call

Although you shouldn’t expect to follow it mechanically, you may find it useful to prepare a script to anticipate how your first contact may go. To show you how to do this, we’ll invent a fictional character, Dr. Mark Star, whose goal is to recruit a referral source, Trudy Grossman, who might help him secure a radio talk show interview with her friend Ethel Clearchannel to promote his new book. Here is how a potential contact could play out:

Greeting: “Hi, Trudy.”

Small talk: “How are you doing? . . . How’s your family? . . . Did you go anywhere over the weekend?”

Purpose: “Trudy, the reason I’m calling is to see if you can help me get a radio talk show interview to promote my new book. And I’d also like to show you how I can help you generate referrals for your business. Right now, I’d like to give you a quick overview of some ideas I have and get your reaction to them. Is this a good time? If you’re interested, we can arrange to discuss them later in more detail.” (If yes, continue.)

Overview: “As I’m sure you know, getting referrals is one of the best ways to generate business. I’ve been reading about an approach for generating referrals and I’ve prepared a plan that will help me attract more customers and business opportunities. It’s practical, and I believe it covers everything. If you’re interested, I’d like to show you how to use the system for your business, too. Are you interested?” (If yes, continue.)

Scheduling the meeting:  “Great! I’d like to meet with you as soon as possible — say, within the next week or two — to tell you my ideas. It should take about an hour. When would be the best time for you?”

Close: “Okay, Trudy, I’ll send you an outline of what we need to discuss and some information that will help you understand how the system works. You should get it in a day or two. If you have any questions before we meet, please don’t hesitate to call. It was great talking with you. I look forward to our meeting on ____ at ____. (date and time)

Based on the guidelines and sample script, develop an outline that you can use for your initial contact with your prospective sources. After you’ve practiced this process, you can fine tune your script and begin making calls that can help lead you into closing referrals into business.

How to Get to the Referral Stage with a New Contactstring(51) "How to Get to the Referral Stage with a New Contact"

I am often asked, “Ivan, how can I move a relationship with someone I just met to the point where that new contact feels comfortable passing referrals to me?” 

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.  For example, if you met while you were giving a brief presentation to a group of people who are in your target market, and assuming you did a good job, then you certainly have the possibility of receiving a referral, even though you just met. Why? Because the presentation moved you through the VCP Process® from visibility to credibility in the new contact’s mind, and now they may be willing to risk their reputation and recommend you to someone they know. 

The same thing is true when you are business networking. When you have a good conversation with someone you meet, and intentionally add value to the conversation, then moving from visibility to credibility can happen rather easily, and you’ll be in a good position for getting some referral-based business. What’s more, it’s not too 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 to you, or they might know other people to whom you would like to be connected. It’s usually worthwhile to develop a networking relationship with people who have little in common with you because they can connect you with an entirely new network and help you broaden your business horizons. 

Keep in mind that even with a strong possibility that you’re going to do business with this new contact, it is unlikely to happen right there at the networking event, where conversations typically last anywhere from an eye-blink three minutes to a long-winded seven minutes. Instant business is not likely to be had. However, if you follow up with a quick note or message a few days later, you can set a time to meet with the new business contact one-to-one and come up with ways the two of you can help each other. That meeting is where you’ll have your best opportunity to begin receiving referrals. 

What is your experience with moving to the referral stage with new contacts? Do you have an effective tactic to share? I’d love to hear about it. 

The Importance of One-to-One Meetings with Referral Partnersstring(60) "The Importance of One-to-One Meetings with Referral Partners"

For years I’ve said that successful business networking is about building relationships with the people in your network. In addition to attending regular networking group meetings, it is imperative that you have one-to-one meetings with your fellow members outside of the group meetings.

This allows you to get a deeper understanding about their business, their products and services, their customers, and learn how you can refer them to people you know. It is also a way for them to do the same for you.

However, some people decline to have one-to-one meetings with their networking partners. I had a conversation with Tiffanie Kellog, BNI regional Training Team Coordinator in West Central Florida, USA, and we discussed the question: When is it okay to say no to a one-to-one?

Well, the answer is: NEVER. It’s never okay to say no to a one-to-one; that is, if you still want to generate referrals from that member.

What is the Purpose of a One-to-One?

The goal is to build relationships with our networking partners — to move through the VCP Process®, going from visibility, to credibility, to profitability. If we say no to a one-to-one meeting, if we’re too busy for our fellow members, then it is stopping the relationship. Think about it – if you’re too busy for a one-to-one, how are you going to have time to take care of the referrals I want to give to you?

And you never know what can come from a one-to-one meeting, even if you don’t think that person has much to contribute to you. I once went to a business meeting and sat next to a college student. I first thought, “Geez, what am I doing, sitting next to this college student? There are all these businesspeople that I want to sit next to.” And I thought to myself, okay, buck-up buttercup. You’re an expert on networking, network with this student. So I asked her lots of questions and got her to open up.

And guess what happened. After the meeting, one of the business associates came up to me and said, “Thank you.” I said, “Why?” He said, “Nobody ever talks to my daughter like that. They all want to sit next to the businesspeople. But you got her to open up and I really appreciate what you did at dinner.” I ended up making a good connection with the father, and I hardly talked to him at all. You never know where a one-to-one can lead.

Tips to Make it Easier to Say “Yes” to a 1-2-1

  • Schedule well in advance. Find a date that is convenient for both of you. One-to-one meetings are always more successful when both members have time to prepare.
  • Schedule outside your busiest season. We all understand that certain times of year are busier for some professions, such as accountants during tax time and retail store owners during holiday season. People appreciate when we respect their time restraints.
  • Have a purpose and format for the meeting. You can ask: What is the intention for the meeting? What are we looking to accomplish? Utilizing the G.A.I.N.S. exchange is a very powerful format for a first time one-to-one with a networking partner.
  • Stack multiple one-to-one meetings on the same day at the same location. This saves you time traveling to multiple locations on different days. You can also schedule virtual meetings back-to-back. Pick one or two days a week and block off time for meetings with your referral partners.
  • When someone asks you for a meeting, it’s okay to ask what they want to talk about and how long they think it will take. Having an agenda can help you decide how soon you want to schedule the meeting, and whether you need a one-to-one or just a quick conversation.


Business networking is about taking the time to build genuine, trusted relationships.  Investing the time and effort into getting to know your networking members through productive, referral generating one-to-one meetings is the key to networking success.

Why Wait for a Class Reunion to Network with Former Classmates?string(63) "Why Wait for a Class Reunion to Network with Former Classmates?"

On my very first day in graduate school, I went to an 8-hour weekly class (yes, really– 8) that had a total of two professors and ten students. One of the professors spent the first two hours talking about the elite network of peers that we were going to be working alongside for the next two years and how we were going to build relationships that would last the rest of our professional careers.

Sadly, even though I ended up founding an international networking organization, I have never passed a business referral to, or received a referral from, one of my high-level fellow classmates. After graduation we all spread out to chase our professional goals and didn’t keep in touch.

Keep in mind that I was working on my doctorate in the early 1980s and I finished it in ’93, well before social networks were available to help people keep in touch. Fortunately, the internet now offers a multitude of options to help you reconnect with old school friends  and convert those past relationships into current relationships, and perhaps useful connections for your business.

Today’s Opportunities

I offer three networking suggestions that can help you effectively connect with your former classmates before a reunion or in between class reunions.

  1.   Contact your school’s alumni services department

Alumni departments really want to find out what is going on with the students who have graduated there. Colleges and universities have created networking affinity groups and other opportunities to help students keep their relationship with each other as well as with their universities. You can share news about your business that may catch the eye of your fellow graduates.

Because I reconnected with the universities that I went to and shared my story, I got published in the alumni magazines, was recognized as an Alumni of the Year, and was  asked to speak at two commencements.

  1.   Reconnect on Social Media

LinkedIn is the largest business only platform and you are likely to find many of your former classmates there. A complete LinkedIn profile includes your educational background in addition to your professional experiences.

Facebook is a social networking site that makes it easy for you to connect and share with family and friends online. I hear many stories about how people have reconnected with classmates and childhood friends they have not seen in years. I even had an alumni party at my house because I started connecting with old classmates on Facebook.

  1.   Gently Seek Referrals

I think social media is best used as a brand-building tool. However, you can use it to turn followers and connections into sales IF you do it tactfully.

Write an occasional post on your pages asking your contacts if they know of someone who might be a potential customer for your business. You can also occasionally mention a special deal or announce a special event that your business is having and encourage others to “like” and “share” your posts with the people in their networks.

Remember that the VCP Process® always applies – Visibility, Credibility, Profitability. Before you start asking for referrals, you must be at credibility with people. And you build credibility by building relationships. If you are constantly using hard sales tactics with your social media network, they will drop you or unfriend you. 

You Don’t Have to Wait

You don’t have to wait for a reunion to connect with your former classmates.
Do these three things:
Contact your school’s alumni services.
Reconnect using social media.
Eventually seek referrals, doing so tactfully and gently.

After reading this, I encourage you to connect with a former classmate in the next week by using one of the options above.
Then come back and leave a comment about your experience or post it on my social media. I’d love to hear your classmate connection story!

Networking – the TRUE Definitionstring(34) "Networking – the TRUE Definition"

A recent Google search for “what is networking” provided almost six billion results! We should note that those results include computer networking. However, there are still numerous definitions for non-computer networking; the people-to-people type that so many of us want to do and for which most of us have had no formal training.

As the Founder and Chief Visionary Officer of BNI® I have seen the definition of business networking evolve over the past 37 years. And yet, the essence of what networking truly is has never changed. I share my definition in this video.

My Definition

This is my definition of networking:
Networking is the process of developing and activating your relationships to increase your business, enhance your knowledge, and expand your sphere of influence or serve the community.

The Key Word

The key word here is relationships. Successful networking of any kind always begins with a genuine desire to build relationships for the purpose of giving and receiving business. When someone is networking only to gain and not to give, they will never be successful.

Remember – networking is more about FARMING than it is about HUNTING. It’s about cultivating relationships and taking the time and energy to help them grow and flourish. Think of it like this: a good farmer knows when to tend to his crop and when to harvest it. If you over pick, you’ll be left with nothing. But if you continue to care for and maintain your crop, it will grow abundantly and provide bountiful results.

Business professionals who are the farming type of networker go to networking events because of the opportunities to meet new people, not to use it as face-to-face cold calling. They know the importance of meeting someone and then building a relationship with them. They go well beyond the ‘hunting’ style of meeting people simply to be able to add another name to their contact list.

Building Relationships

At networking events, set your goal to make solid connections with people so that when you follow up with them, they remember who you are when you invite them out to coffee or lunch. Practice being interested, rather than interesting. Ask about them – their business and their current projects, instead of talking about yourself. This is how you begin building mutually beneficial relationships.

Then you can schedule additional times to connect and build credibility with them. Continue to find ways to help them, perhaps introducing them to a potential referral source or inviting them to visit your business networking group. As I said earlier, there must be a genuine desire to give, not just gain, when you are building deep relationships.

Whether personal and professional, all relationships evolve through three phases: Visibility, Credibility, and Profitability. The VCP Process® is useful for determining where you are in your relationship with others. Master networkers know that networking events are about moving through the process and NOT about making a sale or closing a deal. Skipping through the phases and asking for business without establishing a relationship will almost always result in a NO answer.

My definition of networking is congruent with my style of networking. I know it sounds simple; however, as with most things in life, it may be simple and yet not easy. Effective business networking takes time AND money. The best way to network is to connect with people. Get to know them. Build a relationship and learn about their business so you can help them get more business. Successful networking is about taking the time to cultivate relationships, always with an attitude of giving.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Share them in the comment section below.

LinkedIn

Stop! Don’t Pitch on LinkedInstring(31) "Stop! Don’t Pitch on LinkedIn"

Raise your hand if you’ve been cold-called on LinkedIn? OK, I can’t really see you but, I’m guessing most of you have.  I know I have.  It happens to me almost on a daily basis on LinkedIn. Let me give you a real-life example of a recent one. I recently accepted a request to connect with me on LinkedIn from a person who I’ll call Greg.

I’m calling him Greg because… well, that was his name.

When he sent the request, he wrote to me and said,

“I love connecting with founders of companies where we can share mutual connections.  Let’s connect and share insights if you’re open to it?”

I accepted. He wrote back.

Thanks for connecting with me Ivan, I appreciate it!  Anything exciting you’re working on at BNI? Let me know if I can be a resource to you in any way, and thanks again for connecting!

So far, so good.  This was a great start.  But wait… two days later (without waiting for my reply) he wrote his pitch:

Hi Ivan, We have developed a new generation project management tool that leverages artificial intelligence and that allows you to automate your teamwork and always know that you have the best organization in place. I’m sure it would be a great help for you and your teammates in BNI as we already have many clients from your industry using it. You can discover it here with this link if you are interested:  [I’m leaving it out to protect the guilty.] Hope you find it useful and I’d love to hear any feedback you have! All the best, Greg

OK, so now I knew he wasn’t really connecting to share insights.  He was connecting to pitch me.  I didn’t respond. He wrote again a few days later.  He said,

Hi Ivan, I hope you are doing well. I’m contacting you because I really need your help and have something great for you and your business in return. We are a young startup and have created a revolutionary intelligent project management tool that leverages artificial intelligence to automatically plan the work for you. There is no such product that exists today and the increase of performance that you can get with it is just mind-blowing. You can discover our software here: [Leaving out for the guilty again.] and I would be glad to exchange with you on the subject and show you how it works and how it can be a game-changer for your business. We will also offer you amazing pricing conditions as being part of our early adopters. I hope you can help me out and we will for sure over-deliver for you in return. Let’s talk? Best regards, Greg

I so did not respond to that. He wrote again a couple of days later.

Hi, Ivan Hope, you found our site valuable!   I’d love to share some insights with you over a quick call. When would you be available? Greg

I didn’t respond. The next day he wrote, Hey Ivan – making sure you saw my last message.  Any thoughts?

Yes, I had plenty of thoughts, none of which would be appropriate to share.  So, instead, I wrote back… No thanks.

He responded almost immediately, Hi Ivan. Thanks for the feedback.  For my personal knowledge, may I ask you why?

Hmm, I thought – does he really want to know why?  OK, I decided, I will tell him why. I wrote back.

Because you don’t really know what I do, you don’t know anything about me (other than what you’ve read), and we have no relationship (which, if you knew anything about me, you’d know is important).  This is a “cold-call” via LinkedIn and it is against everything I teach in my business.  This “pitch” is the very thing I write about NOT doing to people.  You asked and that is the unvarnished truth.

He replied almost immediately, Interesting. So how do I reach out to you?

I replied.

I do business by referral.  That takes time and effort.  I recognize that “cold-calling” does as well.  I just choose not to do business that way and it is a strategy that has worked well for me and most of the people who follow my work.

He replied almost immediately.

I get a lot of referrals. But right now I’m reaching out to people like you in a cold way because that’s the only way I can potentially get to talk to them. I was just asking for some help as a young and dynamic entrepreneur that has a really disrupting product. Remember how it was hard in the beginning…

I responded,

I do.  That’s how I learned that networking is more about farming than it is about hunting.  It’s all about the relationships.  That’s how I built the business.  Reaching out “cold” is not the only way to talk to people.  It is the most expedient way to “feel” like you are doing something but not the only way to do it and I would argue – not the best way.  Those are my thoughts on the subject.  I need to run now. Use the advice, don’t use the advice, that is up to you. Good luck. Ivan

I also sent him a link about the VCP Process in networking.  I’ve never heard from him again.

Now, I don’t want to pick on LinkedIn.  It can happen on any social media platform.  It’s happened to me on Facebook, Twitter,  and even BNI Connect (I know – that one is really frustrating to see). This is not just a LinkedIn issue.  However, it does seem to happen a lot more there for me.  In either case, cold-calling is cold-calling no matter what form it takes.  But, it never hurts to ask, right?  Wrong.  Check out my video here to learn why: https://staging2.ivanmisner.com/never-hurts-ask-right/

Scorched Earth Networker

The Scorched Earth Networkerstring(28) "The Scorched Earth Networker"

Over the years, I have noticed different styles of networking.  One of these styles results in the ground smoking wherever these networkers tread.  I call this “Scorched Earth Networking”.  It is very important to AVOID this type of networking. Here are the five hallmarks of a Scorched Earth Networker.

Constantly Moves Groups

They are dissatisfied with the referrals received.  The Scorched Earth Networker does not stay in one place long enough to build the type of relationships it takes to really capitalize on networking.  It’s like planting a tree in one spot. When the growth isn’t happening fast enough, it’s uprooted again and replanted.  Each time that tree is uprooted, it takes longer to build itself back up to even where it was before being moved.   A serious networker understands that in order for that tree to thrive, it needs to stay where it is.

Talks More Than Listens

Have you met someone who talks on and on about their services and does not seem genuinely interested in your business? You met a Scorched Earth Networker!   A serious networker will want to learn all about you and your business, and how they can help you accomplish your goals.

Does Not “Honor The Event”

They network at inappropriate events.  You’ve seen the Scorched Earth Networker wanting to do business and passing out business cards at a church function, funeral or other inappropriate events.  The key to networking at all times is to do it in a way that is appropriate.  While it can be entirely appropriate to begin a relationship at an event, such as a wedding or funeral, going around looking for an opportunity to pass out business cards is not the right way to do that!

Thinks That Being Highly Visible Is Enough

The more you are seen in the business community (visibility), the more you become known and trusted (credible).  The problem with the Scorched Earth Networker is that they believe that anything that makes them visible is beneficial.  Wrong!  As people begin to trust you, they begin to refer you to others. This is when you will see more business referrals (profitability).

Expects Others To Be Consistently Referring Them.

The Scorched Earth Networker expects a source of dependable and constant referrals.  This view of networking is a transaction, NOT a relationship.  There is a law of reciprocity and synergy that cannot be denied when you focuses on giving referrals to those around you.

The Scorched Earth Networker Will Fail

Building your business through word-of-mouth is about cultivating relationships with people who get to know you and trust you. People do business with people they have confidence in. It’s not what you know, or who you know, it’s how well you know them that counts. If you go into this process understanding Scorched Earth Networking, you will have a better opportunity to build your business through word-of-mouth.

When you are networking, are you creating relationships by building your social capital or are you leaving a scorched earth behind you?

VCP process

The Three Phases of Networking: The VCP Process®string(49) "The Three Phases of Networking: The VCP Process®"

I have written about this concept in many of my books but I’ve never done the full description here on my blog.  So – for the first time, here’s a thorough description of the three phases of networking: The VCP Process.

The key concept in referral marketing is relationships.  The system of information, support, and referrals that you assemble will be based on your relationships with other individuals and businesses.  Referral marketing works because these relationships work both ways:  they benefit both parties.

A referral marketing plan involves relationships of many different kinds.  Among the most important are those with your referral sources, with prospects these referral sources bring you, and with customers you recruit from the prospects.  These relationships don’t just spring up full grown; they must be nurtured.  As they grow, fed by mutual trust and shared benefits, they evolve through three phases:  visibility, credibility, and profitability.  We call this evolution the VCP Process®.

Any successful relationship, whether a personal or a business relationship, is unique to every pair of individuals, and it evolves over time.  It starts out tentative, fragile, full of unfulfilled possibilities and expectations.  It grows stronger with experience and familiarity.  It matures into trust and commitment.  The VCP Process describes the process of creation, growth, and strengthening of business, professional, and personal relationships; it is useful for assessing the status of a relationship and where it fits in the process of getting referrals.  It can be used to nurture the growth of an effective and rewarding relationship with a prospective friend, client, co-worker, vendor, colleague, or family member.  When fully realized, such a relationship is mutually rewarding and thus self-perpetuating.

Visibility

The first phase of growing a relationship is visibility:  you and another individual become aware of each other.  In business terms, a potential source of referrals or a potential customer becomes aware of the nature of your business – perhaps because of your public relations and advertising efforts, or perhaps through someone you both know.  This person may observe you in the act of conducting business or relating with the people around you.  The two of you begin to communicate and establish links – perhaps a question or two over the phone about product availability.  You may become personally acquainted and work on a first-name basis, but you know little about each other.  A combination of many such relationships forms a casual-contact network, a sort of de facto association based on one or more shared interests.

The visibility phase is important because it creates recognition and awareness.  The greater your visibility, the more widely known you will be, the more information you will obtain about others, the more opportunities you will be exposed to, and the greater will be your chances of being accepted by other individuals or groups as someone to whom they can or should refer business.  Visibility must be actively maintained and developed; without it, you cannot move on to the next level, credibility.

Credibility

Credibility is the quality of being reliable, worthy of confidence.  Once you and your new acquaintance begin to form expectations of each other – and the expectations are fulfilled – your relationship can enter the credibility stage.  If each person is confident of gaining satisfaction from the relationship, then it will continue to strengthen.

Credibility grows when appointments are kept, promises are acted upon, facts are verified, services are rendered.  The old saying that results speak louder than words is true.  This is very important.  Failure to live up to expectations – to keep both explicit and implicit promises – can kill a budding relationship before it breaks through the ground and can create visibility of a kind you don’t want.

To determine how credible you are, people often turn to third parties.  They ask someone they know who has known you longer, perhaps done business with you.  Will she vouch for you?  Are you honest?  Are your products and services effective?  Are you someone who can be counted on in a crunch?

Profitability

The mature relationship, whether business or personal, can be defined in terms of its “profitability.”  Is it mutually rewarding?  Do both partners gain satisfaction from it?  Does it maintain itself by providing benefits to both?  If it doesn’t profit both partners to keep it going, it probably will not endure.

The time it takes to pass through the phases of a developing relationship is highly variable.  It’s not always easy to determine when profitability has been achieved – a week?  a month?  one year?  In a time of urgent need, you and a client may proceed from visibility to credibility overnight.  The same is true of profitability; it may happen quickly, or it may take years – most likely, somewhere in between.  It depends on the frequency and quality of the contacts, and especially on the desire of both parties to move the relationship forward.

Shortsightedness can impede full development of the relationship.  Perhaps you’re a customer who has done business with a certain vendor off and on for several months, but to save pennies you keep hunting around for the lowest price, ignoring the value this vendor provides in terms of service, hours, goodwill, and reliability.  Are you really profiting from the relationship, or are you stunting its growth?  Perhaps if you gave this vendor all your business, you could work out terms that would benefit both of you.  Profitability is not found by bargain hunting.  It must be cultivated, and, like farming, it takes patience.

Visibility and credibility are important in the relationship-building stages of the referral marketing process.  But when you have established an effective referral-generation system, you will have entered the profitability stage of your relationships with many people – the people who send you referrals and the customers you recruit as a result.

 

VCP process

The VCP Process with Tiffanie Kellogstring(36) "The VCP Process with Tiffanie Kellog"

We simply can’t achieve success at networking without strategically building VCP = visibility, earning credibility, and then ultimately gaining profitability.

VCP is a referral process, not a sales process. If the majority of your clients aren’t giving you referrals, then you are only at Credibility with your clients, not at Profitability. It’s possible that you can have a lot of Visibility and a lot of Credibility, but NOT have Profitability. Rather than a formula, VCP is a continuum. Before you can refer to someone, you will need to know, like, and trust them.

In this guest video blog, Tiffanie Kellog, a trainer for Asentiv Florida, explores the three stages of the VCP process. Click here to watch.

In short, your goal should be to first enter Visibility with people, then perform activities that will help you build trust and Credibility with them, and finally through time and the strengthening of that relationship, they will most likely pass you consistent referrals in the Profitability stage.  After all, “It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you.

Are You Prepared to Enhance Your Credibility?string(45) "Are You Prepared to Enhance Your Credibility?"

The VCP Process is the foundation of building a referral-based business.    While this general business-building philosophy isn’t going to automatically increase your business, there are plenty of benefits to increasing your visibility and your credibility.

credibilityVisibility is usually pretty easy for businesspeople to get on board with. You attend extra networking events, look into other forms of marketing, reach out to new client bases. Credibility is where, time and again, we see more people struggling to build up that quality reputation of being credible.

There are a few simple items other than business cards that you should try to have at your disposal to help you develop that word-of-mouth campaign and show off your credibility to potential new clients or business networks. Try to always have access to at least one example of the following simple items:

  • Photos of yourself and your office facilities, equipment, and products;
  • Your letterhead and stationary;
  • Your annual report and capability statement;
  • Advertisements you’ve run;
  • A list of your memberships and affiliations;
  • Articles on trends affecting your target market.

Most business professionals will have these few simple items at their disposal at any given point, and many won’t realize what a vital tool to building credibility these can be! You can really up your game by having a couple less common items at your disposal as well:

  • Articles in which you or your business are mentioned;
  • Product catalogs you use;
  • Client or customer proposals and bid sheets;
  • Marketing letters you wrote to clients;
  • Posters, banners, and display materials used at trade shows;
  • Photos of awards and certificates you and your staff have earned.

Got all that? Great! You can never have too many credibility-building items at your disposal, so the following are great additions, as well. Just make sure not to throw all of your items at potential contacts at the same time. You don’t want to overwhelm anyone, though it would be incredibly easy to do so. Look to have these on-hand in case someone requests them:

  • Testimonial letters from satisfied clients;
  • Photos of key customers;
  • Unpublished articles;
  • Any of your new-product announcements or press releases;
  • Question-and-answer sheets;
  • A one-page, faxable flyer.

With a little foresight, it can be incredibly easy to get all of the basic supplies you’ll need to prove your credibility and increase your word-of-mouth marketing campaign.

What items do you use on a regular basis to show your potential clients and business networks that you are a credible candidate to help them with their needs? Let me know in the comments below!

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