The More the Merrier: How to Choose and Organize a Networking Group
Customers are not as isolated as you think when making buying decisions. The people they work with and respect are a source of valuable input. Many of your customers participate in business networking groups where they meet people who provide buying input. If you’re part of a networking group, you are meeting the people who can influence and recommend you to others. These people can help you shorten your sales cycle and make it easier to sell.
How to select a group. Find a good match in a business group by attending a few meetings. Then you should determine if good networking partners for your business are there. A networking partner is someone who is looking for the same types of customers that you are. If you sell to manufacturing facilities, someone also selling to them with a different product would be a good networking partner. Then set up a one-on-one meeting with someone in the group. Ask that person if the group has contributed to their business success.
The biggest mistake businesspeople make is when someone dismisses a group saying “The members of the group are not my business prospects.” Maybe the people there aren’t your prospects. But who do they know and whom do they do business with? Those people are the ones you’re trying to reach.”
How to start a group. If you want to start your own group, look for centers of influence to join your group. These centers of influence are people who are active in the business community and know many people. They are either in their industry for a long time or maintain their contacts if they change careers. These influencers are out in the field rather than working in an office. A priority for them is to give referrals and follow up with the ones given to them. They have good reputations and are open to sharing their contacts with others. Many of these centers of influence enhance their own value with their customers by the quality of their recommendations. You’ll know you’ve got a center of influence when the person says, “My clients don’t go to the Yellow Pages. They call me for a business recommendation.”
The group should meet consistently in both time and place. Meet for 1 ½ hours twice a month. Lunch meetings are more convenient for members since some business professionals have family responsibilities in the early morning that might preclude attending regular breakfast meetings. E-mail is a good way to deliver a weekly reminder to the group about upcoming meetings. Consider an exclusive business group with one participant per industry. Forty members is a good size to maintain exclusivity.
The group leader should always be looking for good networking partners for members of the group. As you invite people to the group, consider if they can refer business to others and if their personalities are a good fit. Someone who is too quiet and less comfortable offering referrals might not fit the dynamics of a group.
How to be a good member of a group. Get the most out of your time investment once you’ve joined a business networking group. It’s so important that you follow up immediately when you get a referral. Thank the person whether you get the business or not. Send a thank you gift for the business you receive. You can send either a scratch off lottery ticket, movie tickets or a restaurant certificate to customers who send referrals. Get to know the members of the group. Make attending the meetings a priority. 30 minutes isn’t enough time to get to know someone. Set up a one-on-one meeting with someone who you think will be a good networking partner for you. Make sure you don’t try to sell them at that meeting. Learn about their business.
Selling through others is a powerful way to make selling easier. Which response would you prefer at your next phone call? The ‘I don’t know who you are’ tone of voice or the response, “Hello! I’ve been expecting your call.”