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.