How well your business is networked or connected can mean the difference between success and even greater … profitability. A major element in this formula involves your company’s word-of-mouth status. We all know, or assume correctly, that word-of-mouth is the most effective and least costly method of marketing your business and yourself. What we tend to forget, though, is that word-of-mouth can also work against us as easily as it can work for the benefit of a business.
When we write about networking, there are many effective techniques that can be used to grow your business. One of the most prolific authors on the subject is Ivan Misner, Ph.D., the founder of BNI (Business Network International), and his most influential book on networking – in my opinion – is Networking Like A Pro – Turning Contacts Into Connections, co-written with David Alexander and Brian Hilliard.
What this blog is about, though, is how to know which connections you want to make and bring into your business network. Word-of-mouth is difficult to use for marketing unless people get to know you, your company, and your products and/or services. Once they know more about you and determine they can trust you and what you offer, your chances for successful word-of-mouth networking are vastly increased.
It starts with self-evaluation. Who are you? What is your company or business all about? Why are you in business? Who do you want to be in business with? Do they want to, or should they, be in business with you? Are they going to be good connections for you, or are you more a better connection for them? Do you share or compete for customers? Do you understand what each of you is selling and how you can best cooperate?
Armed with answers to these questions, you are better prepared to consider and determine which businesses and/or individual business or non-business individuals you want to be connected with to grow your business. You must consider the value, or potential value, each connection has for your business to succeed. Let’s look at some examples.
A chiropractor has a natural connection with a massage therapist. The chiropractor’s work is easier if the client has seen a massage therapist before the adjustment, and the therapist has an easier time if the client has already been adjusted. The connection appears obvious, and the success of the relationship depends on how comfortable the two parties involved are with referring clients to each other. The twist in the relationship comes from the person in the middle, the client. If the client already has a chiropractor, the message therapist finds it hard to refer them to their connection. Their continued success relies on being able to market their services in conjunction with each other while still being able to accept and work with clients referred to them from other massage therapists or chiropractors.
Real estate agents and mortgage brokers/bankers are another logical pair for being connected in business. The strength of their relationship determines how well each does and how long they work together. When you think about being connected in the real estate profession, you must also consider the other natural alliances. A title company, remodeling service, landscaper, plumber, electrician, appraisal service, and other business entities with a stake in the success of a real estate transaction are all potential members of a coalition to benefit the consumer. The challenge is to find the services who can refer work to you comfortably, and to be able to reciprocate on a frequent enough basis to make the relationship profitable in both directions.
The key to the success of your business networking is to have a clear understanding of which companies, and which individuals, you want to and must be connected with to grow your business. You could be the world’s foremost brain surgeon, but unless you have physicians referring patients to you, you will be out on the street asking everyone you meet whether or not they need brain surgery … and being connected with a mechanic or a restaurant owner will probably have little impact on your bottom line.
How many sales “professionals” do you know who, when asked, will tell you they have a huge network of more than 500 connections? When you probe a little deeper, you learn they have a customer base of 10 clients and the other 490+ are friends, family members, and casual acquaintances from hanging out in restaurants. That’s “thinking” you are connected when you’re really a far cry from having the network you desire.
Take the time to think through how well you’re connected and which connections you lack that you would like to add to your business network. Your professional business and/or marketing consultant can help you see the trees in the forest.