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Thursday, 22 January 2009

Gaining referrals and getting the most out of business networking

Once again it was a fantastic ‘hints and tips’ session at Business Breakfast Milton Keynes, a Buckinghamshire networking group on Tuesday 20 January. The topic was how to get the most out of networking, gain greater numbers of referrals and gain more referrals for fellow business networkers.

Here are some fantastic ideas to make business networking more profitable and worthwhile for both you and your fellow members of networking groups.

54 Great Hints to help you become a more successful business networker

1. ‘Perceived value’ and the uniqueness of a gift to say thanks for business or a referral is often greater than the cost. For instance, a single red rose is remembered longer than a £50 store voucher
2. A referral is ‘someone who likes what you do and takes the effort to tell someone else what you do’. The responsibility on you from this point is to deliver
3. After a networking session follow up the contacts that you made with a handwritten note or postcard – say ‘great to meet you’ and don’t overtly ‘sell’ in this message. This is far more powerful than a standard ‘selling’ emailed c.c. to all!
4. After making a verbal referral follow it up with a complete email containing all of the contact information, why you’re referring them and ‘complete the circle’ by copying in the person that you are referring – then it’s no surprise and they can prepare accordingly.
5. Always send an agenda before every customer meeting, for example 1) Your understanding of their current requirements are, 2) Overview on what you do and how you can increase business/reduce cost/maintain stability, etc. ,3) Your solutions 4) What they look for in a service provider 5) Moving forward. Always ask what they’d like you to prepare beforehand and bring with you. After every meeting ask if they know anyone else that could benefit from your products/services and follow up every client meeting with a ‘thanks for the meeting’ mail.
6. Always thank the person that gives you a referral with a written note, bottle of something, a personal gift or whatever – just say thanks
7. Ask every client at the end of every project whether they’d refer you to others. If not, what could you have done better and learn from it! If, yes – great ask for the referral!
8. Ask for referrals at every opportunity. Have a prompt on your order forms/fact-finding sheets to remind you to ask if your prospect knows of others that could be interested in your product s and services (leave it until the end when you have begun to establish credibility)
9. Ask for referrals from people that have used/purchased your products and services. For a win-win offer a financial incentive, discount or gift in return for referred business
10. At networking meetings, and when meeting clients, listen to what they are really saying – be genuinely interested in their business and take the time to understand their challenges to gain a real insight into their business and objectives.
11. Be consistent and always project yourself in a way that you would like your business to be projected
12. Be honest with people – deliver what you say that you are going to do – no surprises! If you say that you’ll call them at 6:30PM – do it!
13. Be proactive – "give to receive" – most human beings are predetermined to give back to those that have given to them!
14. Be specific with the leads and referrals you would like to gain from fellow networkers. Detail why you should be referred and the kind of introduction that you would like made.
15. Be very specific – ask for a referral into a specific name into a specific company – as they say you’re only 6 degrees of separation from every human being on the planet in a local networking group it’s highly likely that one of your co-workers will know someone who knows someone!
16. Belong to networking groups! Belong to different networking groups – perhaps in different geographic areas or industry specific sectors. That way you have a wider contact base to gain transfer referrals with and for
17. Carry your contacts on your PDA or in a business card folder. If a contact is relevant then offer the details there and then and back it up with an email or note at a later point.
18. Celebrate successful leads and referrals that you’ve converted with your fellow networkers. Shout it from the rooftops – isn’t this the whole point of business networking!
19. Consider every opportunity as a networking opportunity – both inside and outside of ‘work’
20. Detail a discount/gift for referrals at the bottom of your invoice – make it bright prink or yellow to stand out.
21. Develop a ‘power circle’ within networking groups made up of complimentary businesses that can pass leads within each other to provide a complete solution to their clients for the mutual benefit of all (including your clients as the scale and low ‘cost of sale’ could reduce the overall project cost to them). For instance, a copywriter, graphic designer, editor, photographer, web designer and SEO consultancy could form a mutually beneficial ‘power circle’. This relationship could be based on a legalised strategic partnership or simply on the basis of karma – what comes around, goes around!
22. Develop an ability to talk to anyone about anything! Prepare a few current and relevant topical ‘small talk’ stories that you can utilise to ‘break the ice’
23. Develop relationships at networking groups to build ‘rich’ and trusting relationships. The great thing about regular business networking groups is that charlatans will only get away with it once!
24. Ensure that you have your picture on the BBMK website. Guests will remember your face longer than your name!
25. Get your message out with clarity! Work on your ‘elevator pitch’ so straight away fellow networkers will quickly grasp what you do and how they may be able to help you
26. Give feedback on all referrals/leads that you are given. Update the ‘referral giver’ on progress and action taken.
27. Have 1:1’s in a networking group to get to know the person and their business. Understand how their business may be able to help your contacts
28. Have a mindset shift. In the way that selling is helping people that have a need, referring your contacts is helping your clients. Most people would prefer to deal with a supplier that has been recommended than one that has no known working history/credibility and in referring your fellow co-networkers you are genuinely helping them. Ask deeper questions to understand your customer’s current challenges. By having a fuller insight into their business you might be able to refer a fellow networker to help them.
29. Have a referral strategy. Action Coach offer a
free ebook on referral strategies that includes a few tips to get you thinking about your own strategy
30. Have different ‘hooks’ and ‘angles’ to describe your business. Talk about current challenges and recent successes to get people to understand all of the facets of your business.
31. If you offer a diverse range of products and services change your one minute ‘elevator pitch’ every few weeks and over a period of months your co-networkers will have greater insight into the range of services that you offer
32. If you’ve enjoyed the service delivered by a company then link from your website to theirs – links will help boost their search engine rankings. Similarly write testimonials for your suppliers and ask them to place it on their website with a link back to yours. Link to fellow networkers and ask for reciprocal links back.
33. Keep your ears open to opportunities for your fellow networkers. Spot opportunities for how you can help your client by referring your co-networkers
34. Make sure that your customers are happy before you ask them for a referral!
35. Networking groups are not the only place to ‘give and receive referrals’ – always be looking for referrals
36. One you trust your co-networkers have confidence in referring them – it’ll be hard for them to turn up week after week if they haven’t delivered to your contact!
37. Perseverance is king. There may be people in a networking group who don’t quite ‘get’ what you do. Try different angles and keep ‘telling and selling’ your message.
38. Read trade magazines, business papers, etc. for articles on recent business wins, contracts won, successes, job promotions, etc. Send ‘stand out’ postcards congratulating them on their success (don’t sell) and make it memorable. Track the progress of this exercise
39. Referrals can take a long time to come to fruition – be patient.
40. Sell a ‘complete service’ by building strategic partnerships with businesses offering complimentary services. You can then deliver a total service together with your trusted partners
41. Sell your networking group! If it works for you tell others
42. Set up your contacts on outlook so that you can attach the electronic business card (VCARD) of the person that you are referring
43. Set weekly targets for referrals and leads as part of your business development strategy
44. Successful networking takes time. Don’t become disillusioned if you walk away from your first few networking sessions without a fistful of referrals. It takes time for people to place trust in you before they will refer you to their coveted contacts. Networking is a slow but highly fruitful business generation method.
45. Take the time to find out about your customers and co-networkers on a ‘human level’. They may not need any help in their business from your contacts at the moment. However, they may need a carburettor for their 1967 Triumph Dolomite 1850HL – and you might, just might, know the right contact!
46. Tell people that you rely on referral business and ask for it
47. The value that you will gain from a networking group is in the long term. It will take time for group members to understand and trust you before there is a connection and they feel comfortable referring you
48. Three is a powerful number. Always ask if your happy customer could name three people that they could refer you to. That way you’ll get at least one, normally two and occasionally three!
49. Treat all business like it was referred to you by your top client.
50. Trust the people that you refer before you refer them – remember, by referring them you are from this point associated and if they are unable to deliver it could potentially tarnish your relationship with your contact
51. Turn up early to networking sessions as it’s a great opportunity to informally network and gain a greater insight into people’s businesses Of course, the early bird always catches the worm!
52. Use your ‘five and ten minute’ showcases at networking sessions to let others find out more about you at a personal level. That way when they refer you they can paint a picture of you to their client, i.e. climbed Everest, starred in Brookside, spent 22 years in the New Zealand air force, sang in a rock band called ‘Armitage Shanks’, once had dinner with Bonnie Langford (who was that again!), etc.
53. What is a referral and what is a lead? Should you treat them differently? Shouldn’t you treat leads in the same positive way as a referral?
54. When reading newspapers, trade magazines, websites – print/copy/cut out information that could be useful and send it to your prospects and customers

Once again, great thanks and credit must go to all of the members of
BBMK who contributed these fantastic ideas and tips.

We hope that you find them useful. HAPPY NETWORKING!