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Credibility Is Crucial, But How Do You Build It?

It’s amazing what a word-of-mouth campaign can do for your business.  People rely on recommendations from trusted sources much more than they do from mere advertisements.  The best thing is, the costs associated with running a successful word-of-mouth campaign are usually a fraction of what a traditional advertising campaign can run!

However, as the saying goes, “there is no free lunch.”  What you save in dollars spent, you must replace with time and effort.  Simply saying to yourself that you are going to market via word of mouth does not guarantee immediate success.

I consistently tell people interested in networking that two of the most crucial things they need to do in order to achieve results from their networking efforts are to plan and execute a schedule of networking events and activities that will put them in front of people and they will also need to begin building their credibility.

So how do you begin building your credibility? There can be a variety of ways to do this depending on whom you are trying to build credibility with, however, in my experience, one of the absolute most important ways to build credibility is to always, always, always hold yourself to the highest ethical standards. Be fair in your pricing, make sure the work you are hired to do is provided with the highest standards in quality; and certainly never over-promise and under-deliver.

What are some of the best ways you have found to build credibility with others when networking?  Do you have a story about a way you built credibility with someone that was particularly effective?  If so, l’d love to hear it—please leave a comment in the comments section!

Talk ‘To’ Each Other, Not ‘About’ Each Other

An important and invaluable lesson I’ve learned over the years is that clear, open, honest, direct communication with people solves most problems. So often I have seen relationships deteriorate to the point where people are talking “about” each other instead of talking “to” each other.

This can happen more easily than you might think.  For most people, when things don’t go the way they expect in a relationship, the tendency is to talk to EVERYONE they know EXCEPT the person they have the problem with.  Someone once told me that when you point your finger at someone, you have three more fingers pointing back at you–this is very true!

So, my advice (which–trust me–is based on years of experience and learning the hard way) when it comes to strengthening and maintaining healthy relationships, particularly relationships with your referral partners, is to talk “to” each other not “about” each other. If you have a problem with someone in your life, pick up the phone and call them right now.  Ask to meet and talk to them about your concerns and, most importantly, how you can both resolve the challenges or issues you’re experiencing and get back to a positive place in the relationship.  Stay “solutions focused”–don’t even attempt to get into the “blame game.”

Now that I’ve explained my perspective which is a result of my experience, I’d like to ask you–the BusinessNetworking.com blog readers–about your experience.

Tell me about a time in your life when you  either spoke to someone and ended up working out your issue(s) OR, about a time when you didn’t and the issue(s) in your relationship got worse and worse.  You’re among friends . . . both situations have happened to the best of us. 😉

The Referral Process – 8 Easy Steps

Much of what I write about networking and referrals emphasizes the circuitous, sometimes mysterious nature of referral networking.  In a deep, broad-based, mature referral network, where you spend a lot of time doing good things for others without looking for a direct reward, and where the good that you do winds its way through the system and eventually comes back to you in the form of referrals, it may seem odd to describe referral networking as a system.  But that’s what it is, and when it comes to the actions of generating, developing, and closing a business deal through a referral, there is a well defined, systematic process.

What is a referral?  It’s not as simple as it’s sometimes made out to be.  We leave college and go into business knowing little about referrals, because referral marketing is rarely part of the curriculum.  We know what a great thing it is to get a referral, because it generally means lucrative business with a reliable client.  We often think of it simply as a connection to someone we can call on to do business with or, if it’s not our kind of business, someone we can refer to someone else.

We understand that referrals are the best kind of business.  What we don’t understand is how to make them happen when we want them and, when they come in, how to get the best results from them and make them last.  The referral process is a system that has a lot of feedback built into it.  If you follow it for every referral, you will get predictable results: more closed business deals and a never-ending supply of referrals.

I have broken the referral process down into eight easy steps:

  • Step 1–Your Source Discovers a Referral
  • Step 2–Research the Referral
  • Step 3–Check Back In With Your Referral Source
  • Step 4–Meet With the Referral
  • Step 5–Report Back to Your Source
  • Step 6–Your Source Gets Feedback from the Referral
  • Step 7–Your Source Reports Back to You
  • Step 8–Close the Deal

I’ll  be breaking these steps down in detail in several different blog entries over the coming weeks so if you’re interested in getting specific guidance on how to execute each step in the referral process, be sure to check back in weekly.

Sorting Out Who’s Who

So, let’s say you’ve just returned from a networking event where you met a lot of new people and now you have a pocketful of business cards that you’re not sure what to do with.  What’s your first order of business?  Your first order of business is to sort out who’s who.

You need to separate the people you think might become new clients or referral partners right now from the ones who might be valuable contacts sometime in the future but not right away.  Let’s call the first group your A list, the rest your B list.  (Sounds kind of Hollywood, doesn’t it? :))  When you enter them into your contact database, labeling each contact as part of group “A” or “B” would be good to include (along with type of business, address, phone number, event where you met, etc.).

Now that you’ve got your contacts filed away neatly, take a look first at your B list. You want these folks to know you enjoyed meeting them, and you want to keep the door open for doing business with them later on if a good opportunity arises.  You can do this with a quick note by either e-mail or snail mail.* If you find you need to reconnect with one of these people at a later time, you’ll at least have some traction in the relationship simply because you followed up with a quick e-mail.

Now, what about your A list? These are people who have immediate potential as referral partners.  You need to follow up with them quickly–within a few days, before you drop off their radars.  First, initiate a “coffee connection” with each of your new contacts, a follow-up meeting where you can get to know her and find out how you can help her.  Anything short of trying to find ways to help her will generally be treated as a sales call instead of a relationship-building contact.  To ask for this first meeting, either a handwritten note or an e-mail is acceptable.*

At this point, you may be asking, “What about the people I meet who aren’t potential clients and aren’t in a field that can refer business to me?  Should I follow up with them anyway?” Absolutely!  You never know whom other people know; even a quick little “Nice to meet you” e-mail is better than not doing anything at all and hoping these people remember you later when you discover a need to do business with one of them.

Now that you know how to sort out who’s who, be sure to do this each and every time with the business cards you gather in your daily networking activities and, I guarantee you, you will start to see greater results from your networking efforts.

*Come back on Thursday to read a blog entry with specific examples of what your follow up notes to group A contacts and group B contacts should say–I’ll give you two free follow-up note templates so you’ll have no excuses for not following up with your new contacts.  Trust me, following up couldn’t be any easier than this!


The End is Near!

No, not the end of the world, silly . . . I’m talking about the end of the recession. Recently, I wrote about “Business Looking up in 2011” which was based on a survey of over 5,000 businesspeople and entrepreneurs at www.BNIBusinessIndex.com.  The survey was a global survey that was taken by people from every populated continent in the world.

The survey found that almost 68% of the respondents say that business is growing or growing dramatically compared to this time a year ago.  What the survey doesn’t explain is why those businesses are growing.

I have a few thoughts, based on my observations recently, which may shed some light on this and also provide insight into how you can grow your business:

  • Innovation in adversity is a key factor. I know a commercial real estate broker in Southern California who said that he had his best year ever in 2010 (and he’s been in business for 26 years).  He cited the fact that he did dozens and dozens of one-to-ones during the year to find ways to work together with other businesses.  His opening approach was to help them.  However, at the same time, it built his business in the process.  This is counter-intuitive to most commercial real estate people he told me.
  • It all starts with attitude.  A product sales company in the UK was about to do layoffs to meet payroll.  One of the sales reps wrote on the whiteboard – “we refuse to participate in the recession.”   Everyone in the office signed it.  They ended up with their best month all year and no one was laid off!
  • Look for new or emerging opportunities.  I met a residential Real Estate agent on the East Coast of the U.S. who told me he had his best year ever last year.  He said he went to investors he’s worked with in the past and told them that “real estate is on sale!”  He said to them, “don’t be one of those people who come to me in a few years and say… “I was crazy not to look at these opportunities.  I should have bought back in 2010!”  He told me this strategy has helped him sell more than any year in recent memory.
  • Be creative with your offers.  I recently met a business coach in the mid-west of the U.S. who created a guarantee for his coaching.  He said, if you follow my weekly coaching program and you don’t raise your income to at least six figures, I’ll continue to coach you for free until you do.  He said it has dramatically increased his sales and has not had to provide any clients with free coaching yet.

If you have any insights / observations about the current upward slope of business or outside-the-box tips on how to boost business despite a challenging economy, please leave a comment and share your thoughts.

How to Make Networking Comfortable

Very few people argue with the value of networking, so why do people resist doing it? Aside from all the excuses–I don’t have time, I’m not a good networker, I don’t like to network–what’s the REAL reason people resist networking?  I was reading a book the other day called “Manifesting for Non-Gurus,” which was written by my friend Robert MacPhee (pictured at right) whom I’m in the Transformational Leadership Council with, and the book explains a concept which I think gets right to the core of this question–Comfort Zones.

The real reason most people do not network is because it makes them uncomfortable.

We’ve all heard about the concept of Comfort Zones before.  However, Robert explains it in a very unique way. He talks about how our resistance to doing something new often shows up as wanting to continue to do what is comfortable–even if it is not working well for usIn outlining his “Manifesting for Non-Gurus” approach, Robert explains that a comfort zone exists when our beliefs about who we are match the results we are getting. Think about it . . . if you consider yourself to be a great networker, do you show up at a networking meeting or event and present yourself differently than someone who thinks of himself as a poor networker?  Who is more comfortable?

Are you a great networker?

Hopefully you can answer this question with a highly-confident YES.  Unfortunately, most businesspeople would probably answer with a resounding NO.  Their image of themselves is of not being a great networker so, to remain comfortable, they will avoid networking, despite the fact that they know networking is valuable. Crazy, right?  Yet, we all know people who do this.

Fortunately, Robert explains that there is a very simple solution for anyone stuck in this kind of comfort zone.  It starts with a simple decision that part of who you are is a great networker. To declare that you love meeting new people, sharing what you do, and helping them in any way you can.  Start thinking about networking events as the valuable, exciting opportunities they are, instead of as dreaded situations that will pull you from your comfort zone.  This is the way successful networkers see themselves and perceive networking functions and that is a huge part of why they are successful networkers.

So, what about that voice in your head saying, “What about the evidence that seems to support the fact that I am not such a great networker?”  Well, according to Robert, that’s just your comfort zone crying out to reel you back in because the “I am a great networker” statement doesn’t match your current results.  If a “great networker” is who you want to be, the next step is to continue to declare that you are a great networker and “act as if” until the results you want start to show up!  This is the same thing you have done your whole life with any new skill you successfully learned.

Robert teaches a simple five step approach to making these kinds of changes more quickly and easily, getting out of our current comfort zones, trying new things and creating the lasting results we want.  I highly recommend his work.  Maybe we can get him to write “Networking for Non-Gurus” next . . . 😉

For more information about Robert and his work, please visit www.ManifestingMonth.com.

"New Year’s Resolutions and Networking"

A friend of mine, TR Garland (pictured with me in the photo at right), just wrote a great blog entry which contains some very timely information for many people across the globe and I’d like to take the opportunity to share it with you today as a guest blog.  Enjoy . . .

“New Year’s Resolutions and Networking” by TR Garland

In about 30 days, the majority of people around the world are going to be faced with the same thing we’re all faced with once at a certain point every single year.

No, I’m not talking about keeping a smile on your face while spending the holidays with your in-laws (wink-wink).  I’m talking about setting New Year’s Resolutions.

Every year, one of the top resolutions is to “get in shape.”  The truth of the matter is that most of us already know how to get in shape:

1.  Design a nutritional plan and stick to it

2.  Design a workout schedule and stick to it

3.  Track your actions and results daily and recalibrate if needed

The problem is, a large percentage of people don’t reach their goals because:

1.  They don’t write out a formal nutrition plan or workout schedule

2.  They don’t hold themselves accountable

In other words, life gets in their way.

So what can be done about this?  Well, there’s something about human psychology that pushes us to not let someone else down. Because of this, people who invest in a personal trainer to help keep them accountable tend to achieve desired results much more consistently than they ever would by attempting to get in shape on their own.

It’s important to note that this same concept holds true for business networking and referral marketing.

Many people are spending a lot of time networking by just chatting away with others and maybe grabbing others’ business cards.  By doing this, they then expect results; they expect that the people whom they’ve met and exchanged business cards with will eventually pass a referral to them.  This mindset is called being reactive ( . . . and hoping for the best!).  Being reactive is an employee  mindset or mentality that, in my opinion, gets placed into the same category as punch cards, guaranteed smoke breaks, assembly lines, benefits entitlement, and cubicles.  In other words, this mindset is something that isn’t really that viable anymore in today’s economic environment.

If you don’t believe me, look around and note which businesses are thriving and hiring.  I’m confident you’ll discover that the businesses which are doing well are those that do not have a reactive mindset and, instead, maintain an entrepreneurial mindset.

An entrepreneurial mindset is one that takes ownership and focuses on being proactive versus reactive.  Just like the “getting in shape” example above, being proactive and accountable in your business networking and referral marketing efforts is a sure-fire way to get results–plain and simple.

So, especially if you’ll be out attending holiday parties in the coming 30 days with your spouse, significant other, family, or friends, remember to be proactive with your networking efforts.  Go to each event with a purpose (in addition to your goal of having fun).  Don’t simply gather business cards, that’s not what I’m talking about.  Instead, set relevant and realistic networking goals and ask the person you went with to hold you accountable to your goals.

And, of course, there’s a time and a place for everything.  You need to respect the event you’re attending and if the environment doesn’t warrant you achieving certain networking goals . . . grab a celebratory beverage and some festive treats and remember, there’s always next year!

* TR Garland is a Referral Marketing Strategist for the Referral Institute® in Orange County, California where he is a consultant to top performers and entrepreneurs on maximizing their ROI/ROT from business contacts and networking.  Starting in 2011, you can follow TR for his tips, tactics, and techniques on effective networking at his newly launched blog located at www.BeABetterNetworker.com.

 

What’s the Payoff for Developing an Effective Word-of-Mouth Strategy?

Developing an effective word-of-mouth strategy that results in a strong referral-based business takes endless time, energy, effort and, above all, commitment. The actions and steps necessary to create a successful referral-networking campaign are simple, yet far from easy; they take tremendous dedication and drive, and results can be a long time in coming.

So why should you put forth the time and effort to develop a word-of-mouth strategy for your business?  Because, if you commit to doing it right and don’t give up, the payoff can be unbelievably high.

In fact, many businesses have become so adept at referral marketing that they get most of their sales through referrals and spend little or no money on advertising — and they never have to place cold calls. Some of these businesses hire most of their employees through referrals, manage complex financing arrangements and even procure necessary products through referral contacts they have cultivated for many years.

But a referral-based business can reward you in ways beyond those measured in dollars. Dealing with people you like and trust is a better way to live and work than sparring with strangers all day long. You may even find the relationships you form with your referral sources more important than the dollars your new customers bring you. Such relationships are central to both the referral-generation process and the satisfaction you derive from your work.

So, the next time you find yourself doubting whether your networking efforts are really worth it, remember: If you don’t give up, and you continually devote yourself to working on making your word-of-mouth strategy better and better, the payoff can be enormous both financially and in terms of happiness in business and life.

Bob Burg’s 10 Networking Questions That Work Every Time

My good friend, networking expert Bob Burg, has 10 questions he personally uses when networking that he believes every networker should memorize.

Bob explains that these questions are not designed to be probing or sales-oriented in any way; they are all friendly, fun to answer, and will tell you something about the way the person answering them thinks.  You’ll never need or have the time to ask all 10 questions during any one conversation but, still, you should internalize them.  Know them well enough that you are able to ask the ones you deem appropriate for the particular conversation and time frame.

Here are the 10 questions:

1.  How did you get started in the (______) business?

2.  What do you enjoy most about your profession?

3.  What separates you and your company from the competition?

4.  What advice would you give someone just starting out in the (______) business?

5.  What one thing would you do with your business if you knew you could not fail?

6.  What significant changes have you seen take place in your profession through the years?

7.  What do you see as the coming trends in the (______) business?

8.  Describe the strangest or funniest incident you’ve experienced in your business?

9.  What ways have you found to be the most effective for promoting your business?

10.  What one sentence would you like people to use in describing the way you do business?

Like Bob says, you’re not going to get to ask more than a few of these questions during an initial conversation,  so don’t worry about sounding like you’re conducting an interrogation. These are feel-good questions people enjoy answering, and they are meant to establish an initial rapport.  So next time you’re at a networking event, try using a few of these questions and then come back and leave a comment about how using them worked out for you; I’m more than willing to bet you’ll be pleased with the results.

Results Talk. Everything Else is an Excuse.

I had a conversation with a franchisee a few weeks ago and I’ve been thinking about it for some time since.  We were talking about a marketing strategy that has proven to be very successful for many franchises within his company for many years.

When I asked the franchisee why he wasn’t participating in the program he said, “I don’t want to do that.  I don’t think it works.”  I said, “Really?  The top three franchisees around the country use it– just what about the technique is it that you don’t think works?”  He said, “I think the technique reduces client retention.”  I pointed out that the retention of the top three franchisees mentioned above was HIGHER than the client retention of his franchise.   He said “Yeah, but I just don’t think it would work in my area.”

I still can’t believe he really said that.  This is an intelligent individual who gave me one of the lamest answers I’ve ever heard for not doing something that works.

The bottom line is that the marketing strategy in question is in fact, hard work.  I believe that he just didn’t want to do all the hard work necessary to implement the strategy and he rationalized his position with half-baked excuses.

When a strategy works in many places and yields big results then all the excuses in the world for not implementing the strategy are just that–excuses!

Have you ever had a conversaton with someone like this?  If so, I’d love to hear about it and find out out how you handled it.

6 Ways Your Referral Source Can Turn a Referral Into a Customer

Let’s say that upon getting a business referral, you simply take down the name and contact information of the potential customer from the referral source. Sometime later, you call the prospect and introduce yourself: “Hello, Ms. Prospect, my name is John Businessman. Larry Source recommended I call you.  I’m an accountant . . .”

Handling referrals this way, as you might expect, gets minimal results.  Your chance of converting the referral into a customer will be greater if your referral source:

  • makes the initial contact with the prospect (his acquaintance) to assess her need and, if appropriate, alerts her that you will be getting in touch
  • sends the prospect background information about you and your business
  • lets the prospect know the nature of his relationship with you
  • gives the prospect a brief description and endorsement of your products or services
  • arranges to introduce the prospect to you
  • follows up with the prospect after you contact her.

Unfortunately, if you don’t ask your prospective referral source to do some of these things, he probably won’t–not because he isn’t willing, but because he doesn’t know how these actions could make a big difference, doesn’t have enough information about you or your business, or simply doesn’t know how.

Make it your goal to communicate to your sources the actions you wish them to take and then provide them with all the materials necessary to accomplish those actions. If you do this, I guarantee you’ll get better-quality referrals that will more quickly turn into actual business.

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