Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Do you know how much people in your network understand about your business? I mean really understand?

It's all too easy to fall into the trap of speaking in our own language when describing our business to outsiders and not thinking about how well those people understand that language. We all do it. After all, it's difficult to know which of the everyday words and terms we use are jargon to other people.

What's worse, when others are describing their businesses to us, many of us tend to nod politely rather than admitting we don't truly understand.

A couple of weeks ago I was on my way to run a workshop for Charteris plc. Despite our meetings and my preparation, I still didn't feel confident that I fully understood their business.

I then found a series of case studies that brought their work to life. Previously Charteris's work had been described to me in theoretical terms...."we do this, we do that". That's how most businesses tend to describe their operations to others. Now I had stories; examples of work they had done with clients and how those clients had benefited.

All of the case studies follow a simple format that forms the foundation of a strong referral message. They outline the problems the customer faced, the solutions that Charteris implemented and the benefits enjoyed by their client as a result.

This type of message is the key to the understanding needed to generate effective referrals. Make life simple for people in your network by breaking your message down into problems, solutions and benefits. When you then wrap those in a case study you bring your business to life and make it much easier for people to understand.

Monday, December 14, 2009

GUEST BLOG: Do It Like Shaq

Every now and then I invite someone to share their relevant expertise with readers of this blog.

In a recent edition of his excellent 'Media Coach' newsletter, Alan Stevens looked at how US PR Expert Amy Martin built a Twitter strategy for Basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal that has seen him build two million followers and built further press coverage as a result.

With his permission, I have reproduced Alan's piece here.


One of the greatest examples of bringing the power of social media into the world of PR has been the promotion of the Phoenix Suns basketball team, and their star player, Shaquille O'Neal, during his time there. The person responsible is Phoenix-based PR expert, Amy Martin (known as @digitalroyalty on Twitter). She now helps to manage Shaquille's online presence, using a range of sophisticated measurement tools.

Due largely to Amy's efforts, Shaquille has close to two million Twitter followers, and is regularly mentioned in the traditional press as an example of how to use social media well (creating yet more buzz).

So how does it all work? I spoke to Amy on several occasions to find out. A crucial factor is the speed and detail of monitoring the response to Tweets and updates on various sites. Amy has refined the functions of measurement software to allow her to see the effect of a single message. She calls it Return on Influence (a new form of ROI), which is distilled down to an index, showing whether the efforts have had a positive or negative impact on the brand, as well as by how much.

Amy has developed a Twitter strategy called Random Act Of Shaqness, which includes:

Identifying influential fans and websites;
Helping Shaquille create individual Tweets;
Capturing events using audio, video and photos;
Sending out messages and links to influencers.

Every single activity is tracked and measured, up to and including click-throughs to Shaquille's website, and whether a purchase is made online. Amy refers to the whole system as an online ecosystem, in which she can detect hotspots of key influencers or groups of fans, who can be targeted in later efforts.

The Phoenix Suns have also benefited as a whole from using social media. They have over 25 employees using Twitter, and each of them chats to fans (and future fans) on a personal level. They were probably the first sports organisation (or possibly the first organisation of any type) to digitally reveal the faces and personalities behind their logo. On their first Twitter night, in January 2009, the Suns were featured on over 300 websites, ESPN TV, and were mentioned thousands of times in Tweets. The exposure gained, relative to the effort put in (inviting fans in to meet the players) was huge. Not only that, but the positive mentions of the brand (analysed by the software mentioned above), soared, culminating in a large article about the event in The New York Times.

Now that's the way to do it...

As well as reading Alan's excellent newsletter, you can learn more PR and social media tips in his new book Ping: How to tap into the power of traditional and social media to massively improve your profile and your profits.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Connecting is not Enough... the newsletter

The latest edition of Connecting is not Enough, the newsletter, is available now. It's packed with vital information to help you network more effectively, including:

- It's not what you know or who you know...

- The pros and cons fo turning to family and friends for support

- The importance of being proactive on social networks

- How to remember names

and not forgetting....

Muppet Bohemian Rhapsody!

You can get your latest fix of networking tips and referrals strategies here.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

LinkedIn Made Easy

In my workshops, talks and coaching sessions at the moment there is a great deal of interest in how to make the most of LinkedIn. This has been reflected in a growing number of books and training courses on the subject.

One such book is 'LinkedIn Made Easy', an e-book from Linda Parkinson-Hardman which not only offers a very simple step-by-step guide to using LinkedIn but through which Linda is aiming to raise £400,000 for charities The Hysterectomy Association, Kiva and BCCT.

At 42 pages Linda's book is a quick and straightforward approach to LinkedIn, taking you through some of the key steps to using it strategically. At £4.99 it's certainly very useful and it's all for a good cause.

Monday, December 07, 2009

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Anatomy of a Referral (Part Two)

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

Referrals should be the backbone of the development strategy in many businesses, but few approach the key skill of asking for referrals with the necessary understanding of what they are asking for, who to ask and how to track results.

In The Anatomy of a Referral Part One I talked about a client of mine whose lack of the knowledge outlined above has had a severe impact on their bottom line. We looked at what a referral is, in comparison to other types of business information such as recommendations and leads. And we discussed the impact referrals can have on the way you work and the results you get from the activity of your sales team.

We now need to move on and investigate where referrals come from, before next month, moving on to how to educate the people who are going to refer you, to make it as easy as possible for them to make the connections you are looking for.

Who do you ask?

If you are going to build a strong referral strategy, you need to recognise who your Champions or Advocates are going to be.

To do this, you need a firm understanding of the principle of Six Degrees of Separation. This phrase, coined by social psychologist Stanley Milgram in the US in 1967, has caught the imagination of people across the World, leading to films and games with the same title. In short, the theory suggests that we are no more than five steps from anyone in the World.

For example, I recently wanted to source a signed Chicago Cubs jersey as a present for my cousin’s son. One of my contacts in the UK introduced me to his sister, who works in a senior position in the White House. In one simple introduction I was one step from the President of the United States!

You won’t necessarily want such high level connections, but if you have a clear idea of who is in your network and who they are connected to, it becomes much easier to recognise the routes you need to the connections you seek.

In another case, a participant on one of my workshops talked about me and introduced me to the father of one of the boys on the kids’ football team he coached. That father was the Sales Director for one of the World’s leading airlines.

Most companies who do have a referral strategy of any kind tend to focus on their existing clients, which is a sensible place to start. After all, there are two key elements that make people comfortable referring you. They need to have trust in both you and your product, and they need to understand your services and why people would want to talk to you. Who better to ask than your clients, people who hopefully have both of those elements in place?

Interestingly, however, the most popular time to ask a client for a referral is when they have just bought from you. At that stage I would argue that, although they have shown an element of trust by parting with money for your support, that trust is based on what you have told them, not on their personal experiences.

Surely the best time to ask for referrals is later on in your relationship, when they have witnessed the power of what you do and the impact on their business or life?

I discussed this point in a meeting with one company recently. They admitted that they asked new clients for referrals as a matter of course when they signed them up, but couldn’t recall a single instance of going back to those clients to ask again after delivery, or when their relationship had developed. As we discussed this they realised how nonsensical their current approach was.

Break out of narrow thinking

My concern is that most companies who focus on just asking their clients for referrals miss so many opportunities through such narrow thinking. They are not tapping into the support available from the people closest to them and with the greatest vested interest in their success.

During the workshop I ran with the manufacturing company I wrote about last month, the Managing Director suddenly realised that in the eighteen months he had worked for the company he had not recognised that a connection to a dream client was the person closest to him. As we talked about possible referral sources, he thought of his wife, who works in a senior position for a company who has the exact need for his company’s products.

Interestingly enough his wife had recognised the same opportunity at the same time. As he was talking about the possible connection in the workshop, she was talking to her colleagues about inviting him into the company to tell them more about what he could offer!

This wasn’t an unusual outcome from a workshop. On another occasion, a Deputy Regional Director for a major bank went out at the break and called his brother-in-law to ask for referrals. He had never asked before, or even thought of doing so, yet he walked back into the room with three promised introductions and the business relationship developed from there.

Why do we have such an obstacle about asking our family and friends for support? There is a reticence to cross the ‘line’ between personal and business lives. That is understandable but that line is becoming increasingly blurred as people make friends through their networks and realise the power of connecting people.

Besides, who decides where the line should be drawn and how thick it is? It’s absolutely right that you shouldn’t force your business problems on friends or family; I remember sitting stupefied through a friend’s flipchart Amway presentation when I was eighteen. But how would you feel if you found out that a friend’s business had folded and you could have helped; but they never asked?

A friend of mine recently found out what I do for a living, after knowing each other for fifteen years or more. We go to football together and never discussed work. It was only through becoming Facebook Friends that he started to see what my business is. He was mortified to realise that his firm had been working with one of my competitors for five years instead of with me!

The danger of pigeon-holing

In a coaching session last year with a web designer, we talked about the different people who could possibly refer him. One key place to start is with people who understand your business well (remember the importance of trust and understanding discussed above) and who are talking to similar customers about similar issues.
I asked my client if he used a printing company in his business and whether that printer regularly visits his office and chats with the team when he is there. As expected, the answer was yes on all counts.

I then asked where the printer would go when he wasn’t with my client or at his own premises. Of course he wasn’t just visiting one client; he was out and about going to deliver to a number of companies and getting to know their business and their challenges. Not only that but he was surely in a great position to refer a web designer as he would be talking to clients about their marketing and about changes in their business which required new print work. Such changes would often impact on their web strategy too.

So, had the web designer ever asked the printer for help with introductions and referrals? Of course not! Not only had he never had the discussion, the printer had just had a new website done and hadn’t invited my client to tender.

The reason for this was quite simple, the printer saw the designer as a client and the designer saw the printer as a supplier. These pigeon-holed positions dictated the conversations they had and the way they thought of each other. Yet surely the printer had a vested interest in supporting the web designer and helping his business grow. After all, the more successful the designer, the more work the printer would get and, hopefully, the more punctually the printer would pay his bills!

You are surrounded by a network of people who can help you. But if you are like most people, you are pigeon-holing them into particular relationships. Understanding how to develop a network of Champions starts with unraveling those relationships and recognizing that they all potentially have a network which could support you.

Look to friends and family, industry peers, clients, suppliers and social groups for people who could potentially refer you. Identify who has the greatest levels of trust in you, who wants to refer you the most, who understands your business and can recognise opportunities for you and who mixes in the right circles, talking about the right subjects giving them the opportunities to refer.

Make life easy for yourself and draw up a list of five or ten people drawn from all of these groups. People who you think may either be motivated to or positioned to refer you. You can then focus on building the levels of trust and understanding, working out the connections they have in their network and building these people into your team of Champions. Start with this group before adding to it.

In next month’s article we’ll take this group and look at how you educate those people so that they find it easy to make connections for you and become effective sources of new business for you. In the meantime, think about what you need to do to inspire them to want to do so and how you can help them first.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Does networking lead to people taking each other for granted?

While one of the biggest, and most often overlooked, benefits of networking is the development of a trusted network of suppliers for your business, it can become all too easy to take people for granted and have unreasonable expectations from them.

It appears that networking has generated a sub-culture of expecting people to do something for nothing. From the graphic designer friend of mine who was approached on Twitter by one of their followers to 'take five minutes to look at my logo' to organisations who ask professional speakers to plan, prepare and deliver talks for no cost, 'because it will be good marketing', people are increasingly dismissing the background work and expertise that go into providing a quality service.

Perhaps the root of this is the relationships that need to be developed as you build your network. I am continually urging my clients to build both trust and understanding among their network if they want to benefit from referrals, so it's a natural extension that they should give away their expertise to showcase their work....isn't it?

The danger, however, is that people's work and expertise becomes devalued. One of the major effects of the growth of social media is the amount of information that is given away for free, information that people would have paid for previously. Has this led to a situation where people are less likely to pay for the support they need because they feel entitled to receive it for nothing?

I was sent an interesting video last week by pricing expert Cliff Burgin. In the video, produced by Duke University's Fuqua School of Business, Dan Ariely talks about 'The Cost of Social Norms'. Ariely looks at how money can get in the way of social relationships and how we will happily do favours for our personal friends and family without charging for that.

In the video, Ariely says "We live in two worlds. We live in a social world where we do things for people as favours.....and we live in a financial world where we work for money. When the two worlds are seperate everything is fine. But when you try to mix things something happens, and that thing is usually not very good."

As people build relationships with people in their networks, those lines get very blurry. I have built strong friendships with people I have met through my networking, in some cases to the point where the personal relationship is more important than the professional connection. With many business-to-business service providers networking together, expectations of free support from each other are bound to grow.

And there's definitely a place for this. What is important is the definition of the term 'free'. An exchange of value that doesn't include money is common place now, with services being provided as a contra between two companies. But for the relationship to remain robust it has to be two-way.

What concerns me is that expectations of one-way support are growing, people's businesses, expertise and time are not valued in the way they used to be by others in their network and ultimately this can lead to a breakdown, rather than growth, in trust.

Friday, November 27, 2009

A game of cards?

Who wins the business card game?

In the early days of BRE we would start launch meetings of new groups with an ice breaker. Everyone present would have a few minutes to meet, and exchange business cards with, as many other people as possible. The people who had collected the most cards would be considered to be the winners and we presented them with a nice branded business card holder.

I soon stopped the practice when I realised that it sent out all of the wrong messages. After all, is there anything worse in networking events than people who run around like crazy trying to pass out and collect as many cards as they possibly can, never stopping to engage in conversation or find out something about anyone else in the room?

A reader of this blog was telling me this week about an event she recently attended where the same ice breaker was employed. Unimpressed, she decided to remain in her seat rather than join in with the game. The person who had been sitting next to her handed her his card before leaving to distribute his cards more widely. A couple of minutes later he came up to her and tried to pass his card across again. He had completely forgotten that they had already spoken and exchanged cards!

To me, an exchange of business cards should put the seal on a conversation, as a signal of the intent to build on the initial interaction. The example above shows the flipside, collecting cards without any meaningful interaction has the same benefits as picking names from the phone book.

The winner at networking events is the person pursuing conversations, not cards.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The dangers of using LinkedIn without understanding why.....

The rapid growth in the popularity of LinkedIn has led to lots of people setting up their profiles, building their networks and asking for testimonials without any clear idea of how that network can then help them get the job or the connections they are looking for.

I wonder if the authors of this wonderful cartoon have had a similar this really the best way to use LinkedIn?

Friday, November 20, 2009

Connecting is not Enough.... The Newsletter

The latest edition of 'Connecting is not Enough' is out now. The newsletter, packed with tips and hints on effective networking includes:

- Cultural differences when networking

- How to spot a good referral networking group

- Profile v Reputation on online networks

- The anatomy of a referral (part one)

As usual, there's a little bit of fun in there too. This time out, we share some extreme sheepherding. And there aren't a lot of networking newsletters that can say that!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Networking for Life

On Monday evening I was delighted to be invited along to the 10th Anniversary of the Precious Online Awards Dinner. The awards celebrate the achievements of women of colour in business and leadership.

It was inspiring to listen to the winners as they accepted their awards. What really struck me was that the real nuggets came not from the guest speakers but from the award winners themselves. One of my favourite quotes of the evening from one winner was, "Anything is've just got to work bloody hard to get it!"

Before the presentation of the main award, PRECIOUS Entrepreneur of the Year, the 2008 winners Natasha Faith and Semhal Zemikael who run a semi-precious jewellery business La Diosa, told the audience how the experience had affected them over the last twelve months.

Both Natasha and Semhal, like many of the women present, are young entrepreneurs in the early stages of their careers. Natasha talked about how supportive other women in the room and in the network had been and the friends she had made in the year since the last awards ceremony.

What was important, according to Natasha, was that such support and friendship should continue outside the event itself. "We have an opportunity to grow together and network for life", she told the audience.

Such long-term thinking about the power of networks is still rare. As networks have matured, we have the opportunity not just to make the connections to help us in our business now, but to surround ourselves with people who can support us throughout our careers. People we can grow together with, share our challenges and our achievements and with whom we have the chance to develop such a bond of trust that the support we can offer each other becomes limitless.

If you haven't done so already, look to your network and recognise those people who are of the same generation and who share the same vision as you. Ask yourself the difference it will make to you if you network with them not just for a year, but for many years to come.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Networking Tips Competition

I recently ran a competition through Twitter, Facebook and through my newsletter for people to win tickets to this week's Entrepreneurs in London event. To win, I invited readers to submit their best networking tip.

Congratulations to Stirling Murray, Sarah Decent and Steve Short who each won a ticket and to Anne Whatley, who was originally selected as a winner but who couldn't make the event.

Here are a selection of some of the best entries.

Getting stuck in conversation with someone when you really want to move on can be difficult to break without appearing rude.

My strategy is to say “Lets network with that group over there”. Move next to them, wait for the intro and then join the conversation.

When all talking together I can then make my excuses and move on.

I then get to talk to someone else and no-one in the group I’ve just left feels either rebuffed or offended.

It works because you never end up leaving someone alone feeling stranded.

Jonathan Wainwright
FCG Consultancy Ltd

Always network with passion, putting out what you want to get back!
It’s a winner!!

Ashley Blackmore

My top tip is for anyone who is about to attend a network for the first time. Something I've found very helpful to prepare myself for that daunting first meeting is to take a look at what the other members of the network do. I then have a think about ways in which I may be able to help them, particularly wrt potential referrals.

Not only does this make you look like a superb networker, it also can settle the nerves a bit as you'll know that you'll always have something to talk about that will be interesting to your fellow networkers, namely themselves and ways in which they can get some additional business!

Sarah Decent
Owner, Modish

A good tip for someone who is new to networking and is shy and reserved (just like me) !! and is not comfortable with approaching people/groups is to get to the event nice and early before anyone else and then the first person to arrive will go to you!

Steve Short
Comedy and Close Up Magic

Always be neat, tidy and dressed to represent your personality, so you feel comfortable and confident.

Walk in with confidence, smile, be enthusiastic show interest in others and they should show interest in you and then move on!

Angela Marshall
Appearance Management

(The woman responsible for the way I look!)

Maintain Eye Contact whether it’s a meeting that lasts 30 seconds or 30 minutes. It’s the best measure of sincerity and passion!!

Stirling Murray
CEO The Core Business plc

I like to write notes on the back of a contacts card in front of them before we part. I think it shows a level of commitment and interest in them and what they do. People remember you for that, as they will undoubtably be swapping many cards on a networking night, this marks out the experience for them.

Asif Mirza

Never dismiss anyone as unhelpful to you because of what they do - you never know who they know - and you never know who in your network might need them at some stage so you can make an introduction!

Embrace everyone you meet equally!

Anne Whatley

Thank you to everyone who took the time to enter and share their tips. Please share your own networking tips by commenting on this blog.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

What do I have to give?

During my trip to Stockholm this week, I met with a 26 year old entrepreneur. Johan has just moved to Stockholm from his home in the South of Sweden and has a limited network. He is marketing a product to the Marketing Directors of major FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) companies and is being encouraged to build his network in order to get the connections he needs.

As we sat down to chat, Johan immediately told me his biggest challenge. "I am only 26, I don't know many people. I understand the importance of being able to help other people before asking for their help, but I'm not sure I have much to give."

This was a problem I heard many times during my time with BRE, and have written about before. As far as I am concerned, Johan has already overcome his major obstacle.

As long as you are willing and prepared to help other people in your network, then people will be happy to help you. They can tell who is genuinely interested in them, even if they are not in a position to help immediately, and who is 'hunting' for what they can take.

Experienced and well-connected business people networking with a 26 year old new to the City will not expect Johan to be in a position to help them at the moment but many will be more than happy to help him. It may be that they benefited from such advice and connections when they were younger. They may see future benefits from associating with someone who is likely to develop their business, they may just hope that he will do the same for another young entrepreneur in the future.

Having the right mindset is the most important thing, even if the opportunities to help are not there yet. Besides, show a real interest in other people and you may be surprised just how much you do have to give.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How to network with busy people

In his personal development blog, American self-help guru Steve Pavlina has run a series of articles talking about how to approach busy people in a way that yields results.

Pavlina correctly points out that the more successful people are, the harder it becomes for them to keep up with the weight of their inbox. As they become involved in social networks and associated forums, it becomes even more difficult to respond to everyone who wants some of their time. This leads to people becoming disillusioned when they don't get a response.

If you're serious about engaging with successful people, it's important to stand out from the crowd. So many people still send connection requests on LinkedIn, Facebook, Ecademy and other social networks without comment. They expect people to respond without giving them a reason to do so.

Challenge them intellectually, ask the right questions, share some new ideas. Do something to make them sit up and take notice of your approach. Remember that the vast majority of non-urgent emails will be deleted without consideration. As Pavlina points out, that becomes inevitable if successful people are to remain on top of the game.

Above all, understand what will motivate them to want to network with you. Most people think the other way around, and then wonder why they're not successful.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Safety in Numbers....the networking benefits to sharing an office.

In Saturday's Financial Times, Jonathan Moules asked for my advice to accompany an article about the benefits for small businesses of sharing an office.

I talked about three major benefits for small businesses working together:

1 - Taking advantage of economies of scale when sourcing suppliers, leading to cost savings and better support.

2 - Combining resources to tender together for larger projects than they could manage on their own.

3 - Sharing challenges and getting feedback from other entrepreneurs in a similar situation.

You can read my comments in full here.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Why would people want to connect you?

I've noticed an interesting trend in the Who Do You Know Who Club on Ecademy recently. The Club is set up for people to ask for connections and fellow members to offer the relevant introductions.

There have been a number of requests that have been very specific in terms of who people want to speak to (which is excellent) but which have had little to no response.

If you ask people for a connection, you need to say why. And not why you want the connection but why that person would want to be introduced to you.

Put yourself in the shoes of the people you are asking. They may have good routes through to the person you want to meet but if they don't know why you want to be connected, how likely would they be to take the next steps? Particularly if, as in a social networking forum, they might not know you well.

Make the introduction easy for people to make by giving them a compelling reason to speak to their contacts and the confidence that their contact would appreciate the effort and the connection.

Monday, November 02, 2009

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Anatomy of a Referral (Part One)

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

Growing a business without developing a flow of good quality referrals can be tough. Yet so many companies try to do so.

Last month I was working with a manufacturing company. Owned by a larger US organisation, the chances are that they wouldn’t be in business without external support from the parent company. They have been making a loss for over two years and last year made most of their sales team redundant, losing a number of clients in the process.

Around the same time they brought in a new Managing Director with the remit to turn the fortunes of the business around. That would be a tough enough job for anyone in the circumstances, it’s proven to be even more so in the current economic climate.

The Managing Director asked me to come in and work with his sales team and help them gain an understanding of how networking could help them turn the tide.

Most of their business has come through existing customers re-ordering or purchasing new products. There is very little external business and most of what has come in has been attracted through their website. There has been very little pro-activity from the sales team to bring in new business. Referrals certainly haven’t been on the agenda.

It was very interesting to look at the reports the MD showed me. The company has been meticulous in tracking all sources of business. At a glance you can tell what business came through existing customers, cold calling and from the website. But there was no recognition of referrals in the report. They hadn’t even mentioned them.

I asked the team to share the last time they received a referral. The first person to answer had been with the company for eighteen months. He had received one ‘referral’ in that time, over a year ago. There was a similar story from others in the group.

Clearly, this company needs a change in focus. Referrals quite simply haven’t been on the agenda. In fact, I quickly identified that there is even a lack of understanding of what a referral is. When the sales team talked about ‘referrals’ they had received, they talked about when an existing customer moved companies and invited them to tender in their new role, or when one person told another that they were a company who could help.

Much like people who try to give out two or three business cards to everyone they meet in the hope that they will be passed on, there is a clear misunderstanding of exactly what a referral is. This is a common problem. When I was Managing Director of Business Referral Exchange, I often found myself frustrated with seeing members pass each other phone numbers to cold call under the guise of a ‘referral’.

What is a referral?

If you are going to introduce a strong referrals strategy into your business, take some time to understand exactly what you are looking for. There are various pieces of business information that can help you develop and generate sales, but they are not all referrals.


A Tip is quite simply a piece of information, nothing more than that. No individual names or contact details are passed; you may not even know there is a need for your services. A commercial estate agent might like to know that a company is moving, a speaker that a conference is imminent, a lawyer that a merger is imminent.

We can all be helped by knowing more information about prospective clients. With a tip, we have to do all of the subsequent leg work ourselves.

With a lead you have some more information. A name and phone number perhaps. According to Wikepedia, a lead ‘represents the first stage of a sales process’. There is still a lot of work to do but you are a step further ahead.

When someone in your network gives you a name and a number and says ‘you need to speak to this person’, they are giving you a lead. If they invite you to use their name when approaching the prospect, that is simply a warm lead.

Most commonly mistaken for referrals, a recommendation involves someone telling your prospect that they should consider using your services. Wonderful when it happens… long as your prospect then follows through and contacts you. Until the telephone rings, recommendations hold little value.

Three Steps to Referral Heaven

There are ‘Three Steps to Referral Heaven’.

STEP ONE – The person referring you identified someone who has a problem you may be able to solve.

STEP TWO – They talk to your prospect, who is interested in speaking with you.

STEP THREE – Your prospect is expecting your call.

Referrals are the best form of business information you can receive. Like a recommendation, they are more powerful than tips or leads because your prospect knows about you in advance of your conversation. Unlike a recommendation, you are in control of the conversation; rather than you waiting for the telephone to ring, your prospect is expecting your call.

Where companies go so wrong is for accepting tips, leads and recommendations when they could improve the quality of information they receive. If someone offers you a tip, try to find out more. If they give you a name and a number, ask if they could introduce you. Similarly, if they tell you they have recommended you, ask if you can be introduced.

After all, if someone likes and trusts you enough to share such information or recommend you, would they be willing to take the next step and make it easier for you?

That third step, that your prospect is expecting your call, makes such a difference. However well meaning an introduction where you can use someone’s name to open the conversation, unsolicited calls are very difficult to make. When someone calls you out of the blue, how receptive are you to what they have to say?

Few of us can honestly admit to being completely open when that happens, particularly if we are busy when the phone rings. We like to know in advance why people are calling us and that it is in our interest to have a discussion with them. Otherwise we tend to be, by nature, defensive.

The Difference a referral can make

One of the salesmen in my client’s company currently spends at least one day a week simply making sales calls. I asked him how many meetings he sets up each week on average as a result of this activity. He is getting three meetings.

I then asked how many of those meetings are converting to new business, he couldn’t answer, the number is so low.

While cold calling has a place in lead generation for many companies, I would argue that there is a much more efficient use of his time. He certainly isn’t boasting an impressive return on the time he is currently investing on the phone.

We discussed the alternative of spending a day a week building relationships with potential referral sources, deepening and strengthening the ties within his network. Surely from such activity, and with the focus on asking for the right introductions, he would be able to generate more than three meetings a week. And the chance of converting those meetings into business and, indeed, further referrals would be much greater.

Why am I so confident about this? It’s simple. Referrals introduce you to people who have recognised they have a problem you could possibly solve. Those people have been told about you by a third party who has recommended your services. That gives them greater confidence in using you, they are not entering the unknown.

I’m not, however, telling you anything you don’t already know. Just like my client, however, you may not be focusing enough on it within your business. With the right approach, how much of a difference could you make to your bottom line?

In Part Two of this article next month, we’ll look at who you can ask for referrals, how to make it as easy as possible for people to refer you and the importance of tracking the results.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Connecting is not Enough - The Newsletter

The latest edition of my e-zine Connecting is not Enough is now available. As well as the usual mix of networking tips, video and fun, there is an opportunity to win a free ticket to next month's Entrepreneurs in London event at the New Connaught Rooms. But you have to act quickly, the closing date is today.

The current newsletter includes:

- Three Steps to Referral Heaven

- The personal touch online

- Why you should stop going to networking events

- Review of 24 Carat Gold.

Brush up on your networking and referrals skills here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A breakfast meeting too far....

Last week I spent a couple of hours coaching a seasoned networker on his strategy. A member of several networking groups, my client attends up to five breakfast meetings a week, a couple of lunch meetings and also occasionally an evening event.

Despite this effort, he has been employing someone to make sales appointments through cold-calling and was explaining how he needs a sales person because of the time pressures he faces.

My client could point to business from his networking activity, and he knows that it works for him, but for me something was wrong. Surely someone with that amount of networking activity should not be relying on cold calling. Of course, there is nothing wrong with telesales as an alternative lead-generation strategy if it provides a return on investment, but it wasn't.

I asked my client whether he could use his time more effectively. I suggested that on two or three mornings a week instead of attending a networking breakfast, he should arrange to have breakfast with a key contact from his network. Or with a small group of them.

As I mentioned in this article, networking groups do not produce referrals, they feed your network with people who may then do so. An approach that relies on numbers of meetings cannot create a constant stream of new business, there is no depth to it.

The alternative approach is a strategy where you attend meetings to grow your network, but focus at least an equal amount of time on nurturing that network and deepening your relationships.

If you are attending a lot of networking events and not seeing much as a result, pull back and look at the contacts you have made from those events. Are you spending enough time assimilating those new contacts into your network and enabling them to understand how to help you?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

When, if ever, is it time to quit building a relationship with a potential referral source?

Vena Ramphal has just asked me this question on Twitter. It's a very interesting question. Referrals come from people with whom you have built relationships over a period of time. In some cases the relationships may take years to develop. So how do you know when to focus your efforts elsewhere?

The first thing to understand is how a referral comes about. People are more likely to refer you, and provide you with quality referrals, the more they trust you and understand what you do. Some businesses need greater levels of trust and understanding before people refer them than others. For example, you will probably be more comfortable referring a printer you have only recently met than an accountant.

Everyone you meet and everyone around you is potentially a referral source. Whether they are clients or colleagues, family or friends, they will have their own network and will potentially come across opportunities to refer you.

A referral strategy, however, requires a degree of focus. While you can make efforts to build stronger relationships with everyone around you and communicate your needs more clearly to them, it makes sense to spend some more time developing specific referral relationships with a small group of people.

In each of these cases, you need to understand how much they want to and are able to refer you. In other words, how much do they trust you and understand what you do? These are the first two areas to focus on, unless they score highly on both these counts you can't start asking them for referrals.

To do so, you have to look at each person individually and ask yourself what will inspire them to want to refer you. How can you get them to trust you more? What do they need to know to understand better what you do and who you do it for?

Each of these steps take time. Some people in your network will be ready and able to refer you straight away. Others need a lot more attention.

It is this attention that provides the answer to Vena's question. In theory as long as a relationship is growing and remains positive, you shouldn't write off anyone as a referral source. However, if a lot of time and effort is required to develop the trust and understanding to a sufficient level for them to refer you, it is time perhaps to consider the return on that investment.

A harsh way to talk about relationships, perhaps, but a necessary evil. If you are investing your business time and resources in cultivating relationships with the intention of generating referrals, you need to have a clear vision of what success will look like.

Think about who people know and the conversations they are likely to have. Once they have reached a sufficient level of trust and understanding to refer you comfortably, are they re in a position to refer you on a regular basis to the people you want to meet? If so, carry on investing the time and effort to get to that stage. If they have a limited network and don't have the type of connections you are looking for, perhaps you should look elsewhere.

Ideal referral sources are in a position to keep introducing you to potential customers and other potential Champions for your business. Your referral strategy will be far more efficient if you develop strong bonds with ten key people who each refer you five or six times a year, than if you try to build relationships with 50 or 60 people who might refer you once.

I don't think you ever need to 'quit building a relationship with a potential referral source', or with anyone with whom you have a rapport. You may, however, choose not to spend as much time developing that particular relationship if the return is outweighed by the investment.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It takes more than a handshake to build a network

In his weekly Media Coach Radio Show last week, Alan Stevens interviewed US networking expert Thom Singer.

Thom's key advice resonated with my beliefs that simply shaking hands or exchanging cards at an event does not mean you are building a strong network.

Thom told Alan, "The biggest mistake people make when they're at an event like this and they meet people, is to think, 'Wow! Alan's now part of my network, we're buddies. We're going to refer business.'

"They go back and Link In to you and connect to you on Twitter and they think 'Wow! You're my friend'. The truth is when you meet someone one time, they're not part of your network They're someone you've met one time.

"The trick is you have to own the follow-up; to grow the relationship along to the point where you are actually business friends, or real friends."

How many times have you met people at events and instantly expected business, or referrals, to be exchanged? Or felt that they expect this from you? And how often has that actually happened?

Thom is right, simply meeting at an event and connecting online is not sufficient to establish a strong, long-lasting and productive relationship. It is so important to develop that initial contact into a conversation and use social networks or personal meetings to stay in touch and build understanding, rapport and trust.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Connecting is not Enough......The Newsletter

The latest edition of Connecting is not Enough is now available. As usual, the regular e-zine is packed with networking skills tips, referral strategy and social networking advice.

Included in this issue:

- Why would people want to talk to you at events?

- When a referral is not a referral

- Video: The dos and don'ts of social networking

- The Singing Chef!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009


This article originally appeared in The National Networker

How often do you interact personally with your customers? Whether it’s working directly with them, speaking to them on the phone, visiting their offices. If you’re not in regular direct contact there’s a good chance it’s impacting on your ability to either upsell to them or to inspire them to refer you.

A couple of weeks ago I Chaired The Retail Conference in London. One of the speakers was Hamish Paton, the Commercial Director of Brighthouse Stores.

Despite having a presence across the UK, Brighthouse may not be a name you recognise. You won’t find a Brighthouse in the main shopping centres or streets of any of our major cities. Instead, their stores are situated in the suburbs, within three miles and easy access of their main customer base.

Location genuinely is vital for Brighthouse, because their customers need to visit them every week. In a business model more common to the US than the UK, Brighthouse customers purchase products and pay for them on a weekly basis over a period of time, normally three years, without the need for credit checks.

With the theme of the Conference being responsiveness and adaptability, it was no surprise when one of the questions directed at Hamish after his presentation was whether Brighthouse had considered changing their model with the times, bringing in monthly payment by Direct Debit or internet purchase.

Russell’s response was very interesting. Brighthouse had considered such moves but had dismissed them for two reasons.

The first is that the Direct Debit/Monthly payment market is very different and one where Brighthouse don’t necessarily understand the customers and their needs as well as they do their established market. They currently service a much needed niche and feel that it is better to build on their expertise than try to dilute it through diversification.

Secondly, Hamish sees tremendous value in the weekly connection with their customers.

“Our staff are counselors”, Hamish told the Conference. “They get to know their customers well and if someone misses a payment, the first thing they will do is work with them to get them back on track.

“If someone doesn’t turn up one week we will call them to find out what the problem is and see how they can be helped. That personal relationship is absolutely vital and we wouldn’t be able to provide the same service, or enjoy the same interaction, if people paid automatically through Direct Debit.”

After Hamish’s response, I asked him how much of Brighthouse’s business comes through up selling to existing customers. The answer was an astonishing 80%, a particularly impressive statistic when you consider that Brighthouse advertise on prime time television, including a sponsor slot on the Australian soap opera Home and Away.

Equally revealing was Hamish’s response to my next question. Despite their advertising strategy, 40% of Brighthouse’s new business comes through referral from existing customers.

With retail having a very transactional business model, many retailers will be much less dependent on direct referrals from customers than other industries. I asked the audience how many of them could boast a similar or greater rate of referrals from the existing customer base. Not one person raised their hand.

Yet Brighthouse have a strong focus on winning those referrals, and the opportunity to both ask their customers and remind them of the request. They operate an incentive scheme which rewards both the customer making the referral and the new customer signing up with them. That incentive scheme is featured on in-store promotions and in the pack that new customers receive, but it is the weekly meetings that make the difference.

“When customers make their payment each week, our team take the time and speak to them,” Hamish said. “We try to engage them as much as possible; we call it ‘till talk’. We train our staff to have a conversation with our customers rather than just process a transaction.

“One of the really unusual things about our business is that the customers and staff know each other by first name and greet each other outside the shop as well. We have a coffee machine in store and sometimes people just come in for a chat.

“Our staff are genuinely members of the local community, and there are very few places on the high street where you can walk in and expect people to know your name.”

The growth of internet solutions, remote banking and autoresponders has moved businesses away from our customers in recent years. We increasingly find ways to provide solutions without the personal touch. While there are very strong commercial arguments for developing such a strategy, are we in danger of losing the personal touch?

Surely the less we see and speak to our clients the weaker the bond between us becomes. That can impact a business not just in terms of reduced customer loyalty and the ability to sell more to them, but it also reduces the opportunity to ask them to refer us to others. Among the conversations Brighthouse staff have with their customers, they will regularly remind them of their referral incentive scheme and ask for their help.

It’s the relationship that makes that possible, and for Brighthouse that’s built through weekly contact with their customers. How many of us can say the same?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Work your butt off

"I hate loyalty schemes. Why not just work your butt off and do extra for your customer?"

Last night I attended a Big Fish networking event and listened to the guest speaker Sinclair Beecham, co-founder of Pret a Manger, share his experience and his thoughts on business. Inviting questions from the audience throughout his presentation, Sinclair was asked by one self-confessed 'loyal customer' why they didn't operate a loyalty scheme as many of their competitors do. Sinclair's response, as repeated above, was interesting as was the reaction of the audience.

The person who originally asked the question felt strongly that he wanted a loyalty scheme and wasn't interested just in extra service. Sinclair turned the question to the audience, the majority of whom admitted to being customers of Pret a Manger. It came as some surprise perhaps to everyone present when a very large majority said they didn't want a loyalty scheme.

I've written before, in this post, about companies relying too much on incentive schemes to generate referrals instead of focusing on enhanced customer service. Sinclair's comments are in a similar vein. Although they are looking to sell more to the same customers rather than get recommendations or referrals, he is clear in his mind that exceptional service is far more powerful than incentive schemes.

It looks as though most of his customers may well agree with him.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Perils of Ignoring the Conversation

Yesterday I gave a presentation at The Retail Conference about The Importance of Networking to Retail. In the presentation I focused on retailers' use of social media and the importance of engaging with customers who are already talking on the various social networks.

During the morning panel session, the panelists were generally dismissive of the need to embrace sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Representatives from Waitrose and Fortnum and Mason felt that their customers would not be using such media and they would be talking to the wrong people.

I thought I'd have a look to see just how much people are talking about Waitrose and Fortnum and Mason online at the moment. I searched Twitter for conversations about both companies and, as I expected, both were being talked about.

Indeed, thanks to two media stories about them in the last few hours, there were quite a number of comments about Waitrose in the last hour.

A key point of my presentation was that people have always talked about retailers to their friends and family. With the advent of such media, the conversation is now global and an individual's reach is far greater. It's often repeated that bad news spreads more quickly than good and people commonly have gripes about retailers.

I won't deny that there are dangers for big business engaging in social media. But if you're not in the conversation, you can't respond to what is being said about you, good or bad. Retailers can no longer hope that people come to them with their problems. A proactive attempt to join the conversation, engage with their customers and have a say in what is said about them can make all of the difference.

Monday, September 21, 2009

New Video for BT Tradespace - The Dos and Don'ts of Social Networking

I recently recorded this video for BT Tradespace on the importance of understanding the difference between social media and social networks. A good understanding of 'netiquette' is vital.

Social networking is far more than just another opportunity to broadcast. Instead you should always look to engage. It's also essential to remember that you're in a professional environment and not relax too much!

You can watch the video here.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Connecting is not Enough....The Newsletter

The latest edition of the Connecting is not Enough newsletter is now available here. From the next edition this will now come out every three weeks rather than fortnightly.

The latest edition includes:

- How well do you know your network?

- A pointless exercise

- What to do when you drop the ball

- The amazing Mr Flydini

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Space Invaders

When you are speaking with someone at a networking event, always be aware and respectful of their 'personal space'. Edward T Hall defined 'Personal Space' as "the region surrounding a person that effects them psychologically in terms of it being their domain or territory, or about which they feel uncomfortable if entered by another."*

We all have different levels of personal space that we are comfortable with but you can be fairly sure that putting your face right next to the person you are speaking with could well be breaking that 'comfort zone'!

If someone is standing too close to you, just take a step back as you talk. Hopefully they will pick this up and the conversation will be easier.

*Hall, Edward T. (1966). The Hidden Dimension. Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-08476-5.

Monday, September 07, 2009


This article originally appeared in The National Networker

It’s time to shatter a few illusions now. I’m sorry but networking groups do not produce referrals.

That may disappoint a few people who have spent a lot of time and money joining groups in the hope of generating new business. Hours spent at breakfast meetings, lunches and chatting over canap├ęs when you could have been watching The Apprentice…..all wasted.

Before you panic and start cancelling all of your memberships, bear with me. I didn’t say it’s all a waste of time!

The myth is that new business comes directly from networking groups. Because of that myth, it is common practice to join a group, turn up for a while and then question why you have seen no results. The fact that many miss is that networking groups are merely the starting point; most of the business done and most of the relationships built are based on understanding developed outside of the meetings.

This fact stands whether you are looking at an online networking group or one where the members meet face to face. In both cases you still need to develop strong relationships with fellow members and that means spending some quality time with them.

I write and speak a lot about the importance of the depth of relationships developed through networking. Yes, it is important to build a wide and diverse network, but the real power comes from people who know, like and trust you. That’s when people will go out of their way to support you, when people will genuinely want to refer you, when people will seek out the appropriate opportunities.

Referrals and support come not from networking groups but from your network. They are two distinct entities. Your network comprises people you have relationships with, whether they are personal contacts or people you know through business. Your network includes your friends and family, social contacts, people you have met because your children go to the same school. It includes clients, suppliers, business associates and people you have met at networking groups.

Depending on the strength of your relationship, it is these people who want to support you the most, and networking groups are simply a way of feeding that network.

If you can focus on this, you can approach your membership of networking groups in a different way. Instead of looking for one off ‘hits’, people who you immediately see an opportunity to work with or sell to, find people who you’d like to get to know better. Spend time talking with them, meeting outside of the network and developing a real friendship. Through doing so, you will soon count them as a key part of your network, rather than simply being members of the same group.

For someone to refer you effectively, two key elements need to be in place. They need to both trust you enough to effectively put their reputation on the line every time they introduce you to one of their contacts, and they need to understand your business in enough depth to be able to recognise and convert opportunities to refer you.

The limitation with relying on networking groups, or online networks for that matter, is the number of people present. Unless you are in a small Mastermind-style group, there is little opportunity to have in-depth conversations with fellow members and get to know them better. This makes it very difficult to build anything other than a superficial relationship and unlikely that you will develop the levels of trust and understanding that enable mutual referrals and support.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that people who focus their networking purely within the meetings struggle to achieve the potential from their membership. If you take a typical BNI-style meeting for example, if there are 40 members up to one hour of a meeting will typically be taken up with presentations. There are opportunities for brief conversations before and over breakfast.

Yet there are always members who leave the meeting as soon as the formal section has finished. Typically, they then won’t be seen again until the following week.

It’s not much different at larger and less frequent events such as Chambers of Commerce. Many people spend time looking to meet as many new people as possible, collecting business cards. Conversations are fleeting, handshakes rushed and elevator pitches exchanged. They then move onto their next contact.

The only way those connections can work is if you develop them over time. That means taking time out of meetings to have better conversations. I often use that time initially just to get to know each other socially. After all, you want people you like and have something in common with in your network. Over time you can then find out more about each other’s business, the challenges you face and the introductions you seek.

Networking groups often impress on their members the need to have regular 1-2-1 meetings with each other away from their events. It’s not enough just to meet once and tick that person off your list, remember that you are looking to develop a relationship and that means regular conversations and staying in touch. It doesn’t just have to be two of you, meet in small groups socially as well.

Twitter and LinkedIn users are now holding regular ‘Meet Ups’ (or ‘Tweetups for Twitter fans!) so that they can meet face to face. In the UK, Ecademy have been doing this for years.

You will struggle to achieve anything near the potential from your networking if you focus your efforts purely on the events or forums provided by the organisation. Identify people who can justify a place within your network and build the relationship with them.

Networking groups don’t provide referrals. They can, however, introduce you to the people who, over time, will.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Connecting is not Enough....The Newsletter

The latest edition of Connecting is not Enough is available now. Click here to view the newsletter.

This fortnight's spectacular includes:

- Designing your business cards
- Predicting the conversation
- Underpromise and overdeliver

and a man flying through the air into a paddling pool!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Shy Bairns Get Nowt

I had a great day in Newcastle yesterday, giving a presentation on referral generation to a small group of start up businesses, before speaking to an audience of over 100 local businesses at the Service Network Summer Party.

On my journey between the two presentations, my taxi driver nearly had me getting him to turn around and take me straight to the station. After all, it seemed my presence might not be necessary.

We were talking about travelling on business and being in hotels on your own. "It's never a problem for us Geordies", he told me, "We'll talk to anyone, anytime."

As I was giving a presentation on overcoming the fear of networking, I wasn't sure there would be much for the audience to learn!

"We have a saying up here", he carried on. "Shy bairns get nowt!" (Literal translation, "shy babies get nothing.) "I used to tell my kids to ask me if they wanted something. After all, if they thought I was going to say no anyway, they might be pleasantly surprised."

I have been to Newcastle on many occasions but had never heard this phrase before. It's clearly very popular though, I only had to start repeating the story to the audience before they completed the phrase for me.

It's not a bad mantra to live your life by. Next time you go to a networking event remember the Geordie advice. Move out of your comfort zone, approach someone you don't know and make a new friend. You never know what might happen.

And remember, shy bairns get nowt

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Do You Feel Lucky?

Luck has come up a lot in conversation in the last week or so. How much of our business success do we put down to good fortune and to what extent are we able to create our own luck?

The subject originally came up in a meeting with a prospective client a couple of weeks ago. The Marketing Director told me her biggest problem. As a department they were creating a number of opportunities for the senior people in their company, inviting all of the 'right' people along to events that they host but their team were failing to engage in the right conversation, not following up and making no attempt to build the relationship further.

"In fact", she went on to say, "when they do get a good connection that leads to business, they put it down to serendipity".

This got me thinking about some of the milestones in my career. Each time I have acheived something of which I could justifiably be proud, I have always looked for some external factor beyond my control to explain it. In other words, I've looked to blame it on 'luck'.

For example, when I left my position of Managing Director of BRE to set up my networking strategy consultancy I was 'lucky' enough to have a strong connection with a Regional Director of NatWest who instantly wanted me to work with his team.

When I have had national media coverage in papers such as The Sun, The Financial Times and The Sunday Times I have been 'lucky' enough to have connections either at each paper or one step away from the relevant journalists.

In truth, how lucky have I been? I talk about and teach the art of building relationships and asking for referrals. Yet when I personally benefit from support from those people with whom I've built relationships, I'm quick to dismiss it as luck. The truth is that I've got the connections I've been looking for because I've been focused on them, built the network around me to reach out to them and understood how to ask.

That's not lucky at all, it's a strategic approach to networking. In a workshop I ran yesterday one of the participants turned to another and said, "this is fine, but we get business from our networking anyway, without any of this planning."

That may be the case, but how much more business can you get if you focus? How much more 'luck' will come your way if you have a clear vision of who you want to speak to and connect to the people who can introduce you?

In a coaching session last week I asked my client where she wants her business to be in one year's time. She didn't know the answer, but it will be a success she said, "fingers crossed".

Stop relying on, or blaming, luck for your success or failure. Take the time to focus on what you want to achieve and how to achieve it. Set clear goals in your mind and then communicate them clearly to the people who want to help you.

Serendipity doesn't come into it. You can create your own good luck and, with the right level of focus, you can be very lucky.

As the famous golfer Gary Player said, "The harder I practice, the luckier I get".

Monday, August 24, 2009

Establish Contacts - Mike Southon's column in the Financial Times

Mike Southon, best selling author of 'Beermat Entrepreneur' and the other Beermat books, recently interviewed me for his weekly column in the Financial Times.

In the article, 'Making Contacts', Mike talked to me about the need to generate a strong referral strategy and making the most of the connections you have.

You can read Mike's article here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Connecting is not Enough.....the newsletter

This week's newsletter is now available online here.


- Business card etiquette, where so many get it wrong

- It's about networks, not networking

- The right profile for the right online network

- Networking for graduates

- Beyond the Boys Club review

Monday, August 17, 2009

Labour Appoint 'Twitter Tsar'

The Guardian report this morning that Labour have appointed a 'Twitter Tsar' to encourage their MPs and candidates to embrace social media in the run up to the General Election.

After the success of last week's 'We Love the NHS' campaign, political parties are beginning to recognise the power of social media as a tool to engage with a disaffected electorate and to create a viral effect to take their campaigns into homes in a way never previously possible.

Political leaders have been heavily criticised in recent years for being remote from their electorate. Social media offers an immediacy and opportunity to engage that has been lacking, and an increasing number of politicians have been adopting social media independently.

It has taken the parties a long time to completely embrace this change. First signs came over two years ago, led by Barack Obama in the States but also by some parties in the UK. I first wrote about the trend in March 2007, here.

It will be interesting to see how effectively Labour, and their New Media Campaigns Spokeperson, Kerry McCarthy MP, use such tools, and how the Conservatives respond, despite their leader's recent public criticism of Twitter.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

"Do you Come Here Often?" The ten best (and worst) ways to start a networking conversation

Following a recent comment on this blog, I promised to suggest some good icebreakers to start conversations at networking events.

Rather than just share my own thoughts, I thought I would poll a few of you and find out how you go about it. I asked the question on Twitter, on my Facebook page and through my newsletter. Thank you for all of the responses, with a diverse and interesting range of approaches and stories being sent in.

1 - What do you do?

One of the most common suggestions was to ask the question "What do you do?". Regular readers may know that this approach is one of my pet hates! To me, "what do you do?" is the networking equivalent of asking an attractive woman "do you come here often?" when you see her in a bar! You're not genuinely interested in the answer, it's just a way to get chatting.

In other words, it's an icebreaker, and that's fine. After all, icebreakers are what we are discussing here. However, do you really want "what do you do?" to be asked of you as an icebreaker, when the person asking isn't interested in the response? I know I don't. I want people to have a genuine interest when they ask me that, based on having got to know me and a desire to know more. However generous our spirit when we attend events, we are rarely in that position as soon as we approach people.

Let's focus on building the relationship with people first, find out who we have a rapport with and develop that before worrying about what each of us does. This approach comes from a belief that you pursue the relationship, not the sale, when networking and knowing what comes first.

2 - You had me at 'Hello'

There is a danger that we can spend too much time worrying about how to open a conversation and practising great icebreakers, overcomplicating a very simple process.

Fellow Twitter user David C Nicoll says "'Hello' works very well for me'" and often it is as straightforward as approaching someone and introducing yourself.

Newsletter subscriber John MacMillan agrees. "I've always found "Hello, I'm John McMillan" works as an introduction for me. (Remember 'The name's Bond, James Bond'?) I've had advice to make small talk first. Personally I'm bad at small talk. I guess what really matters is what YOU find comfortable."

Small talk shouldn't be too difficult if you can follow up that 'hello' with some interesting questions and build the conversation from there. As a simple technique to start a conversation, however, a simple 'hello' and introduction is hard to beat.

3 - You look like you've had enough!

Arvind Devalia commented on my Facebook page about how he likes to share his suffering! "If a person looks bored, I say something like 'You look like you have had enough too!' Good one towards the end of the event."

Although I wouldn't encourage anyone to go out to be deliberately negative (and I know Arvind wouldn't either), if someone genuinely looks fed up and you're offering to rescue them, that's certainly a good rapport builder. Make sure you turn the conversation to a positive subject quickly though, and I would also strongly suggest that you know they're not the host before approaching them!

4 - People don't network for solitude

It often pays to look for people who are standing on their own, after all it's unlikely that they've chosen to attend a networking event because they want their own space. Approach them and ask if you can join them, they're probably nervous about approaching strangers and you will be doing them a big favour.

There are always exceptions to prove the rule, however. Another contributor on my Facebook page, Jacey Lamerton, got an unexpected response when she tried this at one event. "I once went up to the only other lone person at an event and said: 'Hi, I'm Jacey and I don't know anyone here either.' He turned to me and said 'Oh I know everyone in the room. I just don't want to speak to anyone.'

"What a killer. What makes it even funnier (looking back) is that it was Rodney Bewes from The Likely Lads!"

5 - You look successful....

Back to Twitter responses, and an interesting one from Neville Spiers. I'm not sure if Neville's suggestion is slightly tongue in cheek when he proposes the opener of "you look hugely successful - come and talk to me!" I certainly hope so! However, he has touched on a very good approach, which has been picked up by two other respondents, and that is....

6 - Pay them a compliment

Both Elaine Hanzak and Jacey Lamerton wrote about the benefits of complimenting someone's choice of clothing or accessory. Elaine said, "From a female point of view one of the easiest ways to initiate conversation with another woman is to compliment her on an item of clothing, bag, etc (maybe not a necklace!!). It creates instant warmth and a smile."

Similarly, Jacey also finds this approach useful, particuarly as she is a style coach, so slightly sneaky!

7 - The name game

Speaker and Author Mindy Gibbbins-Klein, who used to be an Area Director for BNI, sent me her top tip for opening conversations at networking events.

"Find someone wearing a name badge and say their name out loud. "Christina, is it?" This simple approach has so many advantages. 1) They will say 'yes', which is a good way to start a conversation; 2) They will feel good because people like hearing their own name (unless you've mispronounced it, in which case they will correct you and you can try again); and 3) You probably need to say their name a few times to remember it, so you have one under your belt already!"

Dale Carnegie said 'The sweetest sound to any man is the sound of his own name'. Repeating people's names when you first meet them helps to create a warmth and, as Mindy says, makes it easier for you to remember later on.

8 - Eating out

More than one person pointed out the fact that everyone at some point gravitates towards the food or to the bar. Many conversations are struck up in those areas, as people move away from groups and are open to fresh connections.

I wouldn't suggest hanging out there all evening though, it's a sure way to break your diet and people might get the wrong impression about you!

9 - It's all we English talk about!

We Brits seem to have a reputation for talking about the weather or the traffic and I think there's a good reason for that. We know that we share them in common.

One of the main reasons I urge people not to ask 'What do you do?' is because you can't guarantee that the response will be something you can relate to. However, disastrous journey stories and discussions about the weather seem to have a knack of opening new conversations.

Speak about the journey and you can find where someone has come from and the conversation can take a range of directions from there.

Newsletter subscriber Katrina Dixon seems to be intent on creating horror journey stories for when she finally reaches her destination. "I went to the London Chambers Lunch Event yesterday and my opening concerned the venue, as I foolishly decided to drive to the Novotel Excel and couldn't find the place! With no SatNav, I almost gave up and went home!

"This morning I went to BNI and my opening was again about my journey as I discovered as I got on the tube that I had forgotten my phone!

"These openings perhaps don't reflect well on my organisational skills, but I guess I'm leaning towards a circumstantial opening about the journey/venue etc these days. They seemed to break the ice anyway."

10 - Do you come here often?

Finally, believe it or not, this is my favourite, as Tweeter Emma Fryer puts it "the old classic 'Do you come here often?'" It may not be that effective as a chat up line in bars (maybe that's why I'm single!)but it's a great question to ask at networking events.

You may not use those exact words but asking people if they are a member of the network, if they are a first time guest, who invited them or why they have come along can create a very positive conversation. You are likely to find out things in common, such as reasons for being there, people you both know, similar experiences of other networks.

After all, isn't that what you're trying to achieve? Building relationships means finding rapport and finding things in common. Asking people what they do doesn't guarantee that, but asking about something you know you have in common, such as the event you are at, will at least get you off to the right start.

From there on in, it's down to you. Once you have broken the ice carrying on with the conversation means listening carefully, asking questions and showing a genuine interest in the other person. It's good to give yourself a positive start though.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Connecting is not Enough.....the newsletter

You can read last week's Connecting is not Enough newsletter here.


- Getting back in touch with old friends
- Endorsements that count
- How to get the most out of networking video

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Top Ten Ways to Ensure Your Networks are More Effective and Produce Results

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

Last month I wrote in my blog about a friend of mine who struggles to get any return from his networking despite always being generous with his time, his contacts and his support.

I got a lot of feedback on the piece, with many people either recognizing themselves, or people they know well, in the description of my friend.

So why do so many people struggle to attain a real return from their networking? There are a host of possible reasons but I thought this might be a good time to share some ways in which you can get more of a return from your networking.

Take a long-term view

When I was MD of Business Referral Exchange someone came to us wanting to open a group in his local area. At the time we insisted that a group needed fifteen members to start meeting. It took him time to recruit and when he had eight he came to us to beg to be able to open the group.

“I need business NOW”, he said.

My advice was to pick up the phone and cold call. If you need an immediate return, networking is not the tool for you. Networks are built over time, trust is a key factor in people recommending and referring you, and it does not appear over night. Patience is a key factor, as is a long-term view.

Long-termism in networking also allows you to think on a grander scale. As you develop and build your network, investing into the ‘emotional bank account’, you are creating a stronger bank of support to withdraw from when you need to. If you take from the very beginning, people will soon stop networking with you.

Define success

Are you clear in your mind what success looks like from your networking?

It is vital that you understand exactly what new business you want to generate, which introductions you need, what support you are looking for. Once you are completely focused on this in your mind, you will find it much easier to determine which events you should attend, recognise opportunities when they come along and to clearly communicate to others how they can help you.

Hone your message

If you’re not getting support and referrals from people in your network, stop blaming them and look at yourself.

How well are you expressing yourself? How easy do you make it for people to support you?

We all lead very busy lives. As much as we want to support those closest to us, the harder it is to do so, the more likely we will move on and do other things. Make it simple for people. Communicate the support you need, be very specific and, above anything else, when someone is in a position to help you, ask them. Don’t simply assume that they will recognise the opportunity to help you if you don’t point it out.

Of course, this step only works if you have built the relationship with them first and they want to help you.

Stay with it

A short-term view in networking unfortunately leads to people writing off various groups and networking sites before giving them a chance to produce a return. Although things are improving, there are still people who attend groups seeking a set number of leads, rather than treating each event as a step in the right direction. As a result, they end up visiting lots of different meetings, collecting bundles of business cards and never building relationships.

If you have taken the advice above and set longer term objectives, you can join the right networks to take you there, with a clear idea of the commitment needed from you to achieve those goals. It is rare that a network will produce to its full potential in the first few months of membership.

Engage, don’t broadcast

The growth of sites like Twitter has shown both the best and worst of networking. At its worst, there are people who use sites like this to simply broadcast their message, without listening.

Just as with event sponsors who expect people to buy from them just because they have a stand and a couple of minutes to plug their product at an event, they will be disappointed when the results aren’t quite what they had hoped for.

Networks have moved us towards a society where communication is two-way rather than one. Companies have to listen to their customers now, rather than just sell to them. Similarly, we need to engage with people in our networks, listen to them and join in conversations.

As people find out more about us and as we help them more, they then let us know when they are ready to listen to us and possibly buy from us or pass our message onto our target market.

Give and take

‘Givers Gain’ is the mantra of members of Business Network International (BNI) and both sides of that equation are equally important.

Thanks to BNI’s motto, it is now commonly recognised that you need to give to your network before you can expect to receive. And those gifts you offer should be without expectation of return; networks don’t always deliver your reward from the same direction in which you gave.

Where many networkers fall down however, is in being ready to take in return. We can be in so much danger of not being seen to ‘hunt’ that we are frightened to ask for help when people are ready and willing to offer it.

Know who wants to support you in your network and understand how they can. Then help them to do so and accept their help without guilt.

A wider perspective

The power of networks lies not in the people in our immediate vicinity but in those they know. And that power is exponential. If we have a strong relationship with 150 people, who each know 150 people well, that means we are within one strong introduction of 22,500 people.

Yet so many people can’t see beyond the person in front of them. They go to events and target ‘low hanging fruit’, talking about products in the lower range of their offering because they think those are more relevant to the attendees at those events, or turning down invitations because they won’t meet prospective clients.

Build relationships with people you get on with and don’t ever worry about selling to them. Instead, develop their trust and they will introduce you to the people they know.

If they are ever in a position to buy from you themselves, if you have developed the right levels of trust and understanding they will do so. In the meantime, they could be referring you to a number of their contacts, which could be a lot more valuable to your business.

Everyone’s an individual

Just because you have built your network to large numbers, it doesn’t mean that they will all act in the same way and respond to the same requests.

I received some national press coverage last year because someone in my network asked how he could help me. Instead of reeling off a list of prospects I’d like to meet, I mentioned that I’d like to build my media coverage. Why? Because he was the former executive editor of a national newspaper. I knew he would be comfortable referring me to someone else from the media.

Get to know your network as individuals. Offer support based on their specific needs; ask for support based on their individual ability to help or their circle of influence.

It’s not about YOU

“I want to talk to xxx because we want to work with that sector more”.

I have heard so many requests for introductions over the years which focus on why the person wants the introduction, not on the value they offer to the person they are asking to be introduced to. Remember the all important words, ‘What’s in it for them?’

When someone agrees to introduce you, they are going to enter into a conversation where you are not present. They need to be able to answer the questions that they will face confidently and leave the other person interested in speaking to you and eagerly waiting for your call. That means that they see your relevance to them, how you are going to solve their problem.

Focus on communicating that relevance effectively and people will find it so much easier to refer you.

Take risks

‘You can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs’, as the old saying goes. If you are going to maximize your return from networking, you are going to have to get out of your comfort zone and take some risks.

These include:

- Approaching people you don’t know at networking events
- Risking losing referrals by being specific, rather than covering everything when explaining what you do
- Passing up a quick sale to build a long-term relationship
- Using social networks occasionally to tell people about your successes or ask for help

Whatever the risk may be, look at what you want to achieve and ask yourself a simple question.

Which approach is going to take you closer to your goal?