Friday, May 29, 2009

"I detest networking"

"I loathe that word, I don't know what it's supposed to mean. I detest the very concept of it."

And with a few words, BBC Radio London presenter Vanessa Feltz dismissed networking on her radio show this morning.

It would be fair to ask Ms. Feltz why she has such strong feelings about networking, particularly when she admits to not knowing what the word means. The same feelings have been traditionally held by many people whenever networking is raised.

Is it a fear of 'Old Boys Clubs' or 'The old school tie'? A fear of being manipulated or played?

Whatever it is, it demonstrates a strong and worrying misunderstanding of what networking is all about. Why would anyone detest the concept of mutual support? What is there to loathe about the idea of people helping each other by sharing ideas, expertise, experience or contacts? What do people have to fear from people working together to achieve more than they could on their own.

More people than ever are beginning to understand the power and the benefits of networking. It seems, however, that there are still many who need to be convinced, including those with the public's ear.

The Disappearing Card Trick

In a recent meeting with a client I was told that a number of companies are dispensing with business cards to be 'environmentally friendly'. I'm not sure this is such a good idea.

My views on business cards are fairly well known. I think they are given away too freely at networking events and in a meaningless way by many people. All too often cards are exchanged at the beginning of a conversation, hastily pocketed and then binned because there was no reason for the exchange.

That doesn't mean I would dispense with them completely.

Perhaps it's the case that the companies who have made this decision haven't clearly thought through why they give people business cards. I remember the first job where I was given a business card, it was almost like a right of passage. I had no need for them whatsoever, but it made me feel important.

That's not what cards are for, I'd have no problem with those cards being dropped for environmental reasons.

Similarly, cards are often exchanged at the beginning of a meeting where the participants have been exchanging phone calls and emails for weeks beforehand. They have each others' full contact details and have no need for any further information on a business card.

I'd have no problem with those cards being dropped for environmental reasons.

Cards do have a use though, particularly when networking. They serve as an aide to enable people who have just met to follow up with each other and as a tool to remind us what we promised. They can also be passed to third parties as a form of referral.

Scrapping business cards altogether is simply short sighted and an overreaction. The companies involved should have simply looked at what cards are used for, who needs them and educated their staff how to use them effectively.

That would be good for the environment, and for their business.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Connecting is not Enough.....the newsletter

The latest edition of Connecting is not Enough, my fortnightly newsletter, is now available here.

This fortnight's edition includes:

- How F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela collaborated to raise funds for their respective Parties

- Badge-ring the Wrong People

- Step into the Shoes of your Referrer

- The Taxpayer

Monday, May 18, 2009

Making more Dough through referrals

During my talk to the Academy for Chief Executives Conference last week I talked about the importance of substantially exceeding clients' expectations if you want them to refer you.

Here's the problem. Most businesses recognise that referrals or recommendations represent their best source of new business. However, few do anything proactive about it. We employ cold calling teams, spend fortunes on pay per click and search engine optimisation, develop marketing strategies and invest in advertising campaigns. Yet we just expect referrals from our clients automatically.

There's nothing wrong with the marketing techniques above, they are all part of the marketing mix. Surely though, there's something wrong when the least resource goes into the most effective marketing channel.

This becomes a major issue when you realise that your customers don't refer you automatically, just because you give them good service. People don't work like that.

Look at the front page of the newspapers on most days and what you'll see is bad news. Bad news travels much more quickly than good, mainly because it gives us a story. Have a good meal in a restaurant and you might compliment the chef, have a lousy one and you'll tell all of your friends.

People will only relate good news if it's exceptional. In other words, if you give them a story.

The Conference last week was held at Warren House in Surrey. On the evening before the Conference Academy CEO Mike Burnage arrived with a guest. They sat in the lounge and asked the waiter for some Scones.

The waiter started to tell Mike that there were no scones available that day but stopped himself. "One moment please sir", he said and disappeared into the kitchen. A few minutes later he came out and said "Chef is making some fresh scones for you now". Twenty minutes later he re-emerged with piping hot freshly made scones.

How do I know this? Because Mike told me.....he had a story where Warren House substantially exceeded his expectations. How often would you expect a hotel that has no scones to make some for you there and then?

Not only did Mike tell me, I then relayed the same story to fellow diners that night, and again I told the audience from the stage the next day.

Give your customers a positive story to tell their friends, colleagues and family if you want referrals. Under promise and over deliver.

Above all, if you want to be referred, substantially exceed their expectations.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Art of Relationship Building - F W de Klerk and Nelson Mandela

Yesterday I had the honour of speaking just before former South African State President and Nobel Laureate F W de Klerk at the excellent Regional Conference of The Academy for Chief Executives. Mr. de Klerk presented a fascinating speech on how to lead in times of dramatic change, and his talk was followed by a question and answer session that left the audience in awe.

One of the stories that Mr. De Klerk shared was in response to a question concerning how his relationship with Nelson Mandela developed. Mr. de Klerk was, of course, the President who released Mr. Mandela from jail and who set in motion the dismantling of the apartheid system of government that had left his country on the brink of civil war and isolated from the rest of the World.

The story of how their relationship developed provided key lesson for all of us when meeting new people with whom we want to work going forward. It was particularly striking when you consider the huge differences in the two men's backgrounds and political beliefs.

When they first met, Mr. de Klerk said that they steered clear of talking about politics. They both knew by then each other's position and instead Mandela impressed de Klerk with his knowledge of South African military history and admiration for Boer Generals. I often stress the benefits of building relationships first by finding common ground and relaxing into an enjoyable conversation, and this is exactly what Mandela achieved. Speaking with de Klerk about something of interest to both of them, where they were not likely to argue but instead find common views, would have strengthened the relationship going forward when discussions would be less amicable.

In their respective autobiographies, both men reported that after this meeting they felt they had met "someone I could do business with".

When you network, how much emphasis do you put on finding people you can do business with, because you can develop a relationship where you know, like and trust people? It is so much easier to work with friends than acquaintances or people you have just met. "Pursue the relationship, not the sale" is a quote I heard almost ten years ago and have used in speeches, books and articles ever since. It remains one of the most important pieces of advice I have ever heard about networking.

If two people from completely opposite camps can overcome their differences by building a friendship first, surely there are lessons for those of us in business. Despite a number of issues and the near breakdown of trust during the tough negotiations that followed, the friendship and respect that emanated from this first meeting held the process together and today F W de Klerk considers Nelson Mandela a good friend.

How likely would that scenario have been just a couple of years before they met? And how much difference did their approach to that first meeting make?

Monday, May 11, 2009

A Career in Networking....10 Years On

Today sees me celebrating a landmark anniversary. On May 11th 1999 I started a new life, having left my previous job to become a freelance writer. To pay the bills while I found some writing assignments I took up a part-time role with the newly-formed Business Referral Exchange.

Ten years, two books, several magazine columns and a blog later, I never did make it as a freelance writer!

The last decade has seen a huge growth in the popularity of networking. We have moved from a time when most people had never heard of the concept and those who did went to the few events available armed with stacks of business cards and the intention of signing up at least five new customers on the night; to a culture where relationship-building is the order of the day and where you can network 24 hours a day, online on thousands of websites or face to face at breakfast, lunch or dinner.

As I write this, one group of networkers have gone abroad for a one week retreat....things really have moved on.

There is still a long way to go though. People still, on the whole, treat networking as an afterthought, attending meetings and joining groups based on invitations and not on strategic thinking. Far too many businesses walk away from networking because it hasn't delivered results, despite never having identified what those results should look like.

I expect to see more tremendous changes over the next decade. and hope that one of those changes is the recognition of networking as a serious business tool that is built into the marketing strategies and development plans of businesses of all sizes.

How long have you been networking and how important a role does it play in your business?

What changes do you expect to see over the next ten years?

Friday, May 08, 2009

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Importance of Networking in a Recession

This article originally appeared in The National Networker

We may be facing tough times, with businesses going to the wall, budgets being slashed and thousands of jobs being lost. There are things we can do, however, to give ourselves the best chance of surviving, and even thriving in this crisis.

The ‘dog-eat-dog’ world of business painted by TV programmes such as The Apprentice is not necessarily the way forward in business today. Instead businesses are more likely to achieve positive results through collaboration. Sharing experiences, expertise, ideas and contacts is essential to business success.

In short, networking is vital. It helps businesses become better known, better equipped and achieve better market penetration than they could manage on their own.

So, how can networking help you get the edge you need to succeed and overcome the current recession?

First of all, networks can help you to build your profile and your reputation. We all know the phrase ‘It’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. Well, more important is who knows you….. and what they are saying about you.

A lack of profile will not help any business succeed. Whether that profile is widespread or among a very closely defined group of people, your reputation counts.

The most traditional way of raising profile, particularly for bigger companies, is through advertising and sponsorship. Yet for so many people, particularly in the current economic climate, such opportunities are out of reach. Instead, networking plays a key role.

Successful businesses recognise the value of having a team of people talking about them and associating them with excellence in their field. More than ever we are inclined to listen to our peers when making buying decisions, and a strong reputation can prove to be the right foundation for building a business.

Understand where you want that profile to go and pick your networks accordingly. Are your potential clients based in a geographic area, within one or more industries? Do the people who decide to use your services tend to be from one or two key roles within organisations, such as Sales Directors or Heads of HR? Wherever you need the word spread, understand who those people will be talking to, where they are most likely to hear about you and network accordingly.

The growth of online networks has made it even easier to raise your profile and spread the word. Clearly, online networks are a much easier way to reach a wider audience and grow a global reputation, but there are also a large number of niche networks on the internet, serving different industries, interest groups and locations.

A word of warning here, it is one thing to spread the word about your business, online or off. It is quite another to manage what is being said about you. It is important that you have a clearly defined view of what your message is and what you want people to say about you.

Attending networking events and continually moaning, whether about the state of the economy, other people in your network or even the quality of the food on offer, is not going to endear you to others. Nor is it likely to encourage them to talk about you positively.

In a similar vein, simply being seen is not enough. Sure, the more people you connect with, the more will be aware of you. What will they think of you though? What will they be saying to others?

Managing the message that others communicate on your behalf is the key to developing a strong reputation networking strategy. Ask yourself the question before you connect with anyone else as part of your business strategy, ‘After someone has met me, how would I want them to describe me to someone else?’

You can be in control of what others say about you, the key is to think about it in advance. Picture the impact you have on others, does it reflect how you would like to be seen? Do people understand what you do, who you do it for and why others would want to know about you?

Naturally there are other dangers, much talked about elsewhere, to your reputation from social networks such as Facebook. It can be easy to be drawn into arguments or banter with other people in your network and forget that this is a window to the World. Have fun, show your personal side by all means, but it is important to ensure that you have your professional image in mind at all times.

Apart from profile building, networks also act as a very powerful self-development tool. As John Donne said, ‘No Man is an Island’ and this is particularly true now. We need to learn from others, benefit from their experiences and expertise and open ourselves out to new ideas if we are to achieve as much as is possible.

Our networks can provide a lot of that support, both formally and informally. There is a good chance that you already have a network of people who want you to succeed and have already been through the challenges you are facing. Have you asked for their advice? Have you sought their support?

If you don’t have the relevant experience in your immediate network, or if you don’t feel comfortable asking the question, there are many networks set up specifically to provide those resources. From the blogs and clubs on social networks to events with speakers, the support is there, you simply have to seek it out.

Many people attend networking events with speakers without any concept of what they want to gain from the talk. Next time you go to such an event have a look around the room and see how many people are not taking notes, or are checking their phones for the latest emails!

Instead, outline your key self-development or business-development needs and seek out the events with speakers who address those issues. Set out a list of questions in advance that you would like answered and listen carefully for the answers to those questions during the talk. You’ll be amazed at how much more you can get from such an event when you have a greater degree of focus.

In addition to listening to talks from experts in their field, there is much you can learn from other people in similar positions to you. One growth area in networking is peer-support, or ‘Mastermind’, groups. These range from formally organized membership groups to many independent meetings, business people at a similar level to each other meet regularly, share their challenges and offer their feedback, advice and suggestions. In the best groups they will also hold each other to account for their actions.

Additionally, you can gain a lot of the knowledge and skills you need from industry associations and networks. I developed my speaking business through lessons learnt over six years of membership of the Professional Speakers Association (PSA). I only did so by attending a large number of meetings and conventions, listening to the speakers at those events and interacting with many fellow members.

A lot of the people I learnt from in the PSA were, and are, on one level competitors of mine. Yet we have a culture of sharing, one that recognises that there are enough opportunities out there for all of us but we stand to make much more of those opportunities if we work together and are prepared to help and learn from each other.

The third way in which networking is a key activity in difficult times is probably the most obvious, and that is as a referral-generation tool.

Please note, I didn’t talk about sales, but referrals. Networking is not selling and should never be treated as such. The people who will really benefit from their networks at present are those people who have been building their relationships over a long period of time. As the old adage goes, ‘making friends while they could, not when they need them’.

You need to be patient if you are to build a referral network. People refer others who they know, like and trust and that doesn’t happen overnight. During tough times though, those referrals are invaluable, opening doors that have been slammed shut on vendors generally and bringing your business to the top of the pile.

It’s not just businesses who depend on referrals. With the number of redundancies being made at the moment, any good job being advertised will be swamped by high quality applications. Yet I would venture that in most cases the job will have already effectively been filled beforehand, by someone who was recommended to the recruiter.

For people to refer you, two things need to be in place. And both have been discussed in this article.

First of all, they need to trust you. You might get introductions from people you have just met, but the better someone knows you and the more they have belief in you, the more likely it is that they will go out of their way for you and offer a strong referral.

They also have to understand your business. They need to be able to recognise your prospects and the problems those prospects have that you can resolve. Above all, they have to be able to convince that person that they want to speak to you and find out what you can offer. That also takes time to develop.

If you surround yourself with people who do have that level of trust and understanding in you, you can ask for the connections you need to drive your business forward in good times and bad. Doors will open for you that others will be struggling to break down and you can manage the quality of business you attract.

Times may be tough, and they may get tougher yet. There is no denying, however, that there is still something you can do about it. Build a strong network and work with that network to ensure you are better known, better equipped and have better market penetration than you could ever manage on your own.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

GUEST BLOGGER: How to Become a Master Networker by Dr. Ivan Misner

Dr. Ivan Misner, Founder of Business Network International, recently conducted a survey of networkers and, from that survey, ranked the top ten traits of Master Networkers. I asked Ivan to share those findings with readers of this blog.

How do you rank on this list? Are there any traits of networkers you feel are missing?

Networking is more than just shaking hands and passing out business cards. Based on a survey I conducted of more than 2,000 people throughout the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia, it's about building your "social capital." The highest-rated traits in the survey were the ones related to developing and maintaining good relationships. For years I've been teaching people that this process is more about "farming" than it is about "hunting." It's about cultivating relationships with other business professionals. It's about realizing the capital that comes from building social relationships.

The following traits were ranked in order of their perceived importance to networking. They're the traits that will make you a "master networker."

1. Follows up on referrals. This was ranked as the No. 1 trait of successful networkers. If you present an opportunity, whether it's a simple piece of information, a special contact or a qualified business referral, to someone who consistently fails to follow up successfully, it's no secret that you'll eventually stop wasting your time with this person.

2. Positive attitude. A consistently negative attitude makes people dislike being around you and drives away referrals; a positive attitude makes people want to associate and cooperate with you. Positive business professionals are like magnets. Others want to be around them and will send their friends, family and associates to them.

3. Enthusiastic/motivated.
Think about the people you know. Who gets the most referrals? People who show the most motivation, right? It's been said that the best sales characteristic is enthusiasm. To be respected within our networks, we at least need to sell ourselves with enthusiasm. Once we've done an effective job of selling ourselves, we'll be able to reap the reward of seeing our contacts sell us to others! That's motivation in and of itself!

4. Trustworthy. When you refer one person to another, you're putting your reputation on the line. You have to be able to trust your referral partner and be trusted in return. Neither you nor anyone else will refer a contact or valuable information to someone who can't be trusted to handle it well.

5. Good listening skills. Our success as networkers depends on how well we can listen and learn. The faster you and your networking partner learn what you need to know about each other, the faster you'll establish a valuable relationship. Communicate well, and listen well.

6. Networks always. Master networkers are never off duty. Networking is so natural to them that they can be found networking in the grocery store line, at the doctor's office and while picking the kids up from school, as well as at the chamber mixers and networking meetings.

7. Thanks people.
Gratitude is sorely lacking in today's business world. Expressing gratitude to business associates and clients is just another building block in the cultivation of relationships that will lead to increased referrals. People like to refer others to business professionals that go above and beyond. Thanking others at every opportunity will help you stand out from the crowd.

8. Enjoys helping.
Helping others can be done in a variety of ways, from literally showing up to help with an office move to clipping a helpful and interesting article and mailing it to an associate or client. Master networkers keep their eyes and ears open for opportunities to advance other people's interests whenever they can.

9. Sincere.
Insincerity is like a cake without frosting! You can offer the help, the thanks, the listening ear, but if you aren't sincerely interested in the other person, they'll know it! Those who have developed successful networking skills convey their sincerity at every turn. One of the best ways to develop this trait is to give the individual with whom you're developing a referral relationship your undivided attention.

10. Works their network.
It's not net-sit or net-eat, it's net-work, and master networkers don't let any opportunity to work their networks pass them by. They manage their contacts with contact management software, organize their e-mail address files and carry their referral partners' business cards as well as their own. They set up appointments to get better acquainted with new contacts so that they can learn as much about them as possible so that they can truly become part of each other's networks.

Do you see the trend with these ten points? They all tie in to long-term relationship building, not to stalking the prey for the big kill. People who take the time to build their social capital are the ones who will have new business referred to them over and over. The key is to build mutually beneficial business relationships. Only then will you succeed as a master networker.
Called the "Father of Modern Networking" by CNN, Ivan Misner, Ph.D., is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the founder and chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization. His latest No. 1 bestseller, The 29% Solution, can be viewed at Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

"Speak to me"

A few years ago I attended a networking lunch with the prime aim of meeting the guest speaker. As soon as he finished his talk, I approached him for a conversation and we sparked a friendship that continues to this day.

I sat back down at my table and talked to one of the other people present. Shortly afterwards, the speaker walked past our table. The person to whom I had been speaking looked up as he went past and pleaded under her breath,

"Speak to me, speak to me, speak to me."

She was desperate to approach the speaker but didn't feel confident enough to do so. I suggested that there was no reason why the speaker would want to come to a networking event and be on his own and I encouraged her to speak to him. As I left the event fifteen minutes later they were deep in conversation.

If you see someone you want to speak to or approach, do something about it. You may be pleasantly surprised by the outcome. If you do nothing, the outcome is really quite predictable.

This lesson was brought back to me last week. My co-author on my first book, Stephen Harvard-Davis, told a group of us how he was pleasantly surprised after he made an approach to someone a couple of months ago.

Stephen had been eating dinner in the restaurant at his Gatwick Hotel prior to flying out to Mexico for a speaking engagement. He noticed the former Speaker of the House of Common, Betty Boothroyd, sitting at the next table with a couple of friends.

Stephen has been a long time admirer of Baroness Boothroyd and wanted to show his appreciation for everything she has achieved. He asked the waiter if he would offer the Baroness and her friends a drink on his behalf.

"I was quite happy for them just to raise their glasses across the room", Stephen told me. "However, we ended up in conversation. Baroness Boothroyd offered me her business card and asked me to contact her next time I was in London so that I could be her guest at the House of Lords."

So it was that last week Stephen was given a tour of the Palace of Westminster and treated to lunch in The House of Lords by one of the most respected British politicians of the last 30 years.

The twist came at lunch. Stephen and Baroness Boothroyd were joined by two other very senior and well known politicians, one of whom was very interested in what Stephen does for a living and has invited him for a meeting to find out more.

The courage to approach someone, in an appropriate and respectful manner, was the key that may have left Stephen with a meeting that promises a huge amount for his business.

He could have just sat in his hotel at Gatwick and thought "speak to me, speak to me, speak to me."