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!