Referrals By Design

(Published in the Oakland Business Review, Sept 2013)

When you attend networking functions at the Oakland Metro Chamber or other professional organizations your goal may very likely be to grow and/or promote your business by meeting others and getting their business, or by getting referrals from them. If your intentions do include getting referrals from other business owners, and you don’t have much, or any, experience with referral marketing, it is to your disadvantage to jump into it without preparation. The definition of referral marketing, according to the Referral Institute, is a business strategy to attract new clients or customers through a process of building relationships which result in a flow of personally recommended business.

The purpose of referral marketing is to get people to actually give referrals to you. In order to do that, they need to know exactly what you do. That includes the product or service you make or provide, under what conditions you do so, how well you do it, and what separates you from your competitors. This must be communicated to your would-be referral sources. And, to be effective in that communication, you must know the same things about them.

 

It seems straightforward. After all, we know what we do for a living. However, can you communicate what it is that you do in your business to your potential referral sources in a clear and concise manner? You might find that when you try, it is not so easy to do. If your potential sources are unclear about what you do or what you sell, how can they be expected to give you any good referrals?
Before you jump into networking in the hopes of getting quality referrals, pause and get a clear picture of where your business stands today.

Four simple questions to answer about you and your business are:

1.    Why are you in business?
You got into the business you are in for a reason. The more clear you are about this, the more attracted others will be to your cause.

2.    What do you sell?
Be specific. What are your specialties in your business? It is not just a product or service that you sell, but yourself as well. How do you want others to see you?

3.    Who are your customers?
Consider the defining characteristics of some of your best or favorite customers including such things as gender, age group, financial position, or, if a business, the size of the business, type of business and what they make or sell. How do they like to work with you?

4.    How well do you compete?
Regardless of the amount of competition in your field, differentiating yourself will make it easier for others to refer business to you. A quality referral may not be as sensitive to price. What is seen as your perceived value?

Armed with this information, prepared in a simple and concise format, you will have the start of a referral marketing plan, and it will help you tell others what your business is about.

Effective One-to-One Networking

(As published in the Oakland Business Review, Oct 2013)

Have you ever had a one-to-one networking meeting with someone that you’ve met through the chamber or other networking group? The purpose of a one-to-one is to find out if there is a good connection for your business such referring business, supporting each other in marketing efforts, or in other ways.
The first one-to-one is often about getting to know each other. Finding out where we connect on a personal level is very important. If there is no affinity, the relationship will likely be unproductive. There will be a discussion of what each person does in their business, and within an hour or less, you’ve got a feeling for whether you would want to continue the relationship with that person.

The difficulty comes with the follow-up one-to-ones. How do you maintain focus so that as you get to know each other there are measurable results from the growing relationship? People often avoid further one-to-one meetings as they appear unproductive. This hurts the chances of developing profitable, long term business relationships. With the proper preparation and intention, regular one-to-ones with the right people will lead to getting more business done.

The first step to preparing for a one-to-one is to determine the topic. Is it to be learning about your businesses? Is it how to recognize what is a good referral? Is it strategizing on introductions? Is it determining ways that you might collaborate on projects?  Having a focus will help you stay on topic with during the meeting.

My top five tips for effective one-to-ones are as follows:

1.       Meet in a professional environment. Busy locations are distracting. The noise may make it difficult to hear what the other person has to say. Notes can’t be taken easily if the space is cramped or messy.

2.       Be on time and come prepared. Honoring the time of your partner is invaluable. How you show up for a meeting reflects how you show up for your clients. Be on time, bring the appropriate materials, and be dressed appropriately, and cleanly, for your profession.

3.       Have an agenda. If you find that you are talking about something other than what is on the agenda, and that’s not as productive as you intended, go back to it. This honors their time and your time. A simple agenda might be:
a.       20 minutes getting to know each other or catching up socially.
b.      20 minutes of talking about them and how you can help them.
c.       20 minutes of talking about you and how they can help you.

4.       Commit to the follow up. If you’ve agreed to do something, like make a contact or an introduction, put it in your calendar. Include a time to follow up with your one-to-one partner.

5.       LISTEN.  You have two ears and one mouth. Use them proportionately.
Effective one-to-one meetings will take your business networking to the next level. You will get more results in less time, and you will be helping others in the process.