Should Your Target Market Dictate the Networking Groups You Join?

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


7 thoughts on “Should Your Target Market Dictate the Networking Groups You Join?

  1. Dr. M, This is a very interesting concept. I understand that I may get a good referral for my service business from a painting contractor because their clients were willing to hire that service business, but a referral from a product-based business to clients who are not our target market may be less likely to produce business for us. They may be financially unable to hire us or prefer to “DIY.”
    Do you think there is a synergy between product-based and service-based businesses in this case?
    Laurie Lamoureux
    Member of BNI Bellevue Business Bulldogs

  2. At our chapter meeting I asked for an introduction to the marketing manager of a local wholesale food company. One member gave me a referral to that company. She didn’t know the marketing manager, she knew the CEO! That introduction got me to the person I needed to talk to.

  3. A fellow BNI member referred me to a man who is just starting a new business and wants to use my service. They knew each other through the Rotary Club. This man invited me to visit the club, so I did. They invited me to speak for the group, which I did. I just turned in my application to become a Rotarian. Now this man is looking to join a BNI chapter. I invited him to ours, and he came. Now as far as I know, he is planning on applying for membership. It’s neat how it worked full circle.

    Tyson Smith
    Member of BNI Michiana

  4. If I join a group that is made up of my target market, wouldn’t these be potential customers and clients? For instance I am a member of the Society of Association Executives because they are my target market for my speaking and training business. They are likely to and have hired me to speak at their association meetings and events. They are not just like me, they are prospects. I suppose if you re talking about closed contact referral groups that makes sense, but when it comes to networking I like to network where my targeted prospects are networking.

    1. Hazel, people sometimes focus exclusively on networking groups that they think their target market it at. This severely limits the breadth of their contacts. Being in one group like you are suggesting is fine – the problem is that some people tend to put most of their networking efforts in a group (or groups) like this and I believe that is a mistake. I know how many networks you are involved in. For you, this is one of many. That’s fine. The problem with your suggestion is that it gives the average person the idea that they can do this too and then they don’t diversify their activities and don’t achieve success. The point of this blog was to show that a focus on one type of network – isn’t a good idea.

  5. Great info. I agree that diversification among networking groups should ideally include a network that is made up of those people who have the same target market as you do, but don’t necessarily compete with you – so you can get “the apple tree,” not just “the apple.”

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