During a discussion with a group of networking contacts recently, I realised that we all knew at least one person who was ruining their chances of getting referrals just by trying to be seen as a “jack of all trades” while networking.
It is easy to become unnerved by the slowdown in business but staying true to your business and its core offering is crucial if you want to be seen as a credible supplier and stand a chance of being recommended by others. And networking is still one of the most effective ways to raise your profile and spread positive word of mouth about what you do.
Here are some of the most common ways in which you could be ruining your chances of getting valuable referrals when you are networking:
This will lead to no referrals because you are not specialising in one area, which will eventually lead to confusion in professional stance and ultimately it will ruin your credibility with others. After all, how can you expect to be seen as a market leader or credible expert when you are presenting yourself as a “jack of all trades”? The result is no credibility and no referrals.
I shouldn't have to mention this one, but sadly it happened to one of my contacts in a networking group. Then what happened? That's right, he told everybody! You should always present a professional image when you need people to talk about how good your products and services are. By slipping up, the result was an instant loss of future referrals.
I always remind people of the following statement: the people in a networking group are your route to market, not your target market. This means that until they are properly qualified they do not require the hard sell. If you do launch into sales pitches, you’ll soon find people avoiding you.
This has two effects on the person you are seeking help from. Firstly, the initial impact on the person that tried to help is "well I won't bother wasting my time like that again!" But it also might suggest you are engaging in a form of oneupmanship — you don’t need to ask for help and you are only going to ignore the advice given. This will also demonstrate that advice was not needed in the first place, but that you thought you knew better! This doesn’t create a great overall impression does it?
I'm not talking about the casual introduction — "oh, you should really talk to xyz, he might know people that need your help" — but proper referrals, a qualified introduction to someone that needs your help (and is willing to pay for it). Result? People get fed up with your taking attitude and don't bother with you.
Until people really understand what it is you do, how can you expect them to give you referrals? Let alone trust you enough to refer you to their biggest client, where their reputation and credibility is on the line? So make sure that you come across as the leading expert in your field — and add some confidence in there too!
Receiving good referrals from your business contacts is a great way to bring in new business. The prospective customer is more comfortable with the possible transaction as you have been recommended to them and a lot of the initial hard work of engaging dialogue is removed. Referrals are good news all round but how do you get more of them?
Here are my top three tips on how to make the most of potential referrals.
Nobody enjoys sounding confused or not being able to answer questions. If they don’t know how to articulate what it is that you do they won’t be able to refer you, so make sure your proposition is simple and that they have the tools to be able to refer you effectively. I was fortunate enough to have an excellent group of non-execs involved in a business a few years back, they were very well-connected but never brought any referrals into meetings. I challenged them on this and after much discussion it became clear that the company proposition was too cumbersome for them to articulate easily when they met potential referrals. I refined it, they brought referrals.
It is essential that if someone takes the time to give you a referral that you follow it up properly. Basic courtesy dictates that even if you feel that the referral is a waste of time it is important that you at the very least email/ call the referred party. You may be wrong, you really never know what potential business is behind the referral until you speak with the prospect. I received a referral a couple of years ago that seemed very random and a total waste but once I spoke to the company it transpired that they were looking to launch something new and that was what they wished to speak about, it was a great piece of business. You just never know until you make the call, so make the call.
This may sound like the most obvious tip of them all but it just doesn’t happen often enough. Whether the referral results in business or not you need to make the effort to thank the person that make the intro. In a recent exercise, a client of mine found that he had received over 50 referrals over a three-year period but not one had referred more than once, a stat which surprised us both. We went back six months and thanked them all, with an email update on what had happened with the referrals, sending an email plus a couple of bottles of wine to the ones which had led to business. From those 14, eight have since referred again. Not only is it the right thing to do, but thanking your referrers actually generates more business!
Craig McKenna is a managing partner at The Growth Academy.
Guest post by Tom Albrighton
Modern marketing is a lot like a party. Work the room right and you’ll attract interest and new contacts. Fail to shine and you’ll be going home alone. Here are the ten marketing partygoers you never want to meet – or be.
1. The counsellor is full of unwelcome ‘why don’t you’ advice for everyone she meets – she’s the answer to a question nobody asked. Marketing moral: expertise is becoming devalued; cultivating strong personal connections may work better than positioning yourself as an expert.
2. The egotist holds forth interminably on his favourite topic: himself. Marketing moral: focus on the customer, not yourself. (See this post for more.)
3. The wallflower stands shyly on the sidelines even though her best friend could be introducing her to plenty of guests if asked. Marketing moral: proactively cultivate and request referrals and testimonials.
4. The geek batters you into submission with an enthusiastic but crashingly dull monologue about his phone, computer or other gadget. Marketing moral: don’t confuse technical features with customer benefits.
5. The clown keeps the jokes coming even if they’re not appreciated, appropriate or even funny. Marketing moral: Humour doesn’t travel and should be used with care – can you guarantee the reaction you’re hoping for?
6. The miser brings Liebfraumilch but drinks Moët. Marketing moral: In modern marketing, particularly social media, you have to give something (of yourself) before you receive.
7. The butterfly is always looking around the room for someone more interesting to talk to. Marketing moral: don’t neglect here-and-now customer needs in the quest for new connections or business.
8. The gatecrasher shouldn’t even be here at all but he never misses the chance to party, even if he doesn’t know anyone. Marketing moral: don’t waste time and money making a big splash when you really need focused exposure.
9. The nervous hostess flits between conversations, asking everyone if they’re enjoying themselves (and the vol-au-vents). Marketing moral: don’t over-regulate the conversation about your brand or content; allowing criticism shows strength and confirms authenticity.
10. The chatterbox just won’t shut up! Marketing moral: We can’t talk and listen at the same time; make time for learning as well as pushing out content.