From trade associations to members-only, lead-sharing clubs, learn to leverage the power of the group to generate wins for everyone.
We must indeed all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.
– Benjamin Franklin
Statistically speaking, attending association meetings, chamber of commerce functions, coffee clubs, happy hours, and so on, is a dogged way to find people who are ready to buy from you. The odds of meeting someone who fits your prospect profile in any given group are small. On top of that, you must factor in the additional odds of running into this prospect at a time when he or she is ready to buy, and then figure the odds that this prospect is already locked into some other solution or has some showstopper that will keep you from being the provider of choice. When you’re done totaling it all, your odds are somewhere around one in one thousand – really bad when you consider that other activities, such as creating and mailing a decent cold-letter, can achieve a 2 percent or higher return.
Despite these long odds, however, I find that many salespeople spend their networking time looking for sales appointments. They flit around the room offering their business cards to as many people as they can, in the hopes they’ll hit the networking lottery. You know the type: As he shakes your hand and hands you his card, he asks, “What do you do?” (without letting go of your hand). During your response, he realizes you aren’t a good prospect, so he relaxes his grip, pulls his hand away, turns to the next person in your conversation circle and, cutting you off, asks that person, “And what do you do?”
Honestly, I have no idea whether this method produces sales, because I’ve never tried it. But as the person on the receiving end, and one in the conversation after this self-centered salesman leaves the group, I do know a few results it produces – condescending laughter, disdain and lack of respect.
If your objective at networking functions is to find sales appointments, then you’re missing the entire point, because networking is not a prospecting activity, it’s a marketing activity. Yes, the ultimate goal is to build the relationships you’ll need to find and close business, but trying to reach the end goal while you’re at the event is like trying to land the plane before you ever took flight.
While finding sales opportunities at networking events is an incredibly long shot, generating sales opportunities by attending networking functions is actually quite easy, but only if you’re fully prepared and organized. But before we start getting you organized, let’s do a short exercise to see where you are right now.
Exercise: Determine Networking Effectiveness
To complete this exercise, you’ll need to be wherever you file your paperwork, such as clients’ information, competitors’ brochures, copies of contracts – everything related to your marketing and sales profession. If you aren’t at that location, get there before you read on. (If you’re not able to get to your file cabinet, pretend.)
Okay, now that you’re by your file cabinet, do the following:
- Open the drawer that contains your written networking marketing plan.
- Take out the plan.
- Put the plan on your desk.
If you have an empty desk, then you failed this networking effectiveness test, which means your networking marketing efforts are almost certainly not as effective as they could be. Of course the good news, then, is that your investment in this book is about to pay off, because I can help you improve your results.
I don’t mean this to sound condescending or arrogant, but I’ve yet to meet a salesperson who passed that test, unless I had already convinced him or her to get things documented – as I tried to do with you, earlier in this book. (Of course, salespeople who are organized generally don’t need my help, so perhaps that’s why I haven’t met any of them.)
Regardless, of whether you passed or failed, I think the best place to start leveraging the power of groups is to tackle a strategy that will improve the success of not only your networking efforts, but the rest of your marketing efforts as well. Then, after we increase your global results, we’ll tackle some specific types of groups you can join or form, and give you ideas for increasing success there, too.
Organizing And Integrating For Success
Because attending a networking function is a marketing activity, to achieve maximum success, you must have a plan that includes before, during and after activities. I’ve conducted many workshops on networking, and when I get to this portion of the workshop and ask people to define before and during activities, almost without fail, I get the same response – silence and stares.
Honestly, walking into a room of people to shake hands and talk is not a highly complicated task. So it’s not surprising that people struggle to invent before and during activities they can use to produce better results. The first time I tried to figure this out, I too had a blank look on my face. So, if you’re struggling for ideas, don’t be alarmed.
The good news is that the solution is as simple as the problem. Instead of designing before and during activities that will improve the results of your networking effort, design before and during activities that will improve the results of your other marketing efforts. What can you do before and during a networking event that will either increase the success of other marketing efforts, or save you time when implementing those other plans? For some ideas, have a look at the following before, during and after outline included in my marketing plan.
- Prepare and print invitations to my next Breakfast Club or speaking engagement – include an offer for some sort of discount. (I typically used a 5.5" x 4.25" two-color postcard printed 4-up on 110-lb. card stock.)
- Print the list of company and executives’ names that represent my top 20 cash-cow prospects.
- Print the list of all article or book titles I’m about to write.
- Interview people at the meeting and learn about them. Find out what they want to accomplish and what is standing in their way.
- Offer the invitation to people who may be good fits for the respective events. If they want the postcard, ask them whether it’s okay to add them to your meeting announcement lists.
- When I encounter a “name-dropper” (someone who likes to brag about the many companies or top executives with whom he or she works), pull out my cash-cow list and ask whether he or she knows anyone at one of those companies who might be willing to be interviewed for the article.
- If the new contact is a good interview candidate for anything I’m writing, ask whether he or she would like to be interviewed as well.
- If not appropriate for being interviewed, ask whether he or she knows anyone else who might want to be interviewed.
- Send handwritten note cards to anyone I met who should receive one.
- Follow up on all commitments I made at the meeting.
- Add people who gave permission to my announcement list.
- Contact new cash-cow prospects through whatever means is appropriate.
- Call people who should be interviewed or who can recommend a person to be interviewed and set interview appointments.
Let’s examine the results of adding these steps to my networking marketing plan.
First, I have what I call a “referral marketing plan,” that includes a step that says, “Every Monday morning, introduce two people I met last week to two people I already know.” The only way I can accomplish that task is by learning about people while I’m networking. I didn’t even have a referral marketing plan until I created my networking marketing plan, because the act of organizing one spawned the other. Imagine the number of reciprocal referrals you’ll get over the next 10 years, if you add this concept to your own marketing plan today. How many quality introductions do you think you’ll get as a result of making a thousand quality introductions yourself?
Second, during the first two years of the Honest Selling Breakfast Club, enrollment was directly related to the topic – if I had a great topic, I had high enrollment. During the following two years, when I started taking “Member-For-A-Day” postcard coupons to networking functions, Breakfast Club enrollment was directly related to how many networking events I had attended. Regardless of my topic, if I attended five networking functions the month prior to my Breakfast Club and handed out postcards, I always had 50 to 100 percent more people come to the Breakfast Club than during the months I was too busy to network. (Remember, the Breakfast Club was my most productive marketing effort during that four-year stretch – and the more I networked, the better it did.)
Third, by asking people at the networking functions for interviews for the various things I was writing, I virtually eliminated my need to cold-call to get interviews while implementing my writing articles marketing plan – as long as I networked, I got all the interviews I wanted. This saved me an immense amount of time implementing my various writing plans, and allowed me to create relationships with both the executives I interviewed and the people who introduced me to those executives – doubling the number of relationships I created.
I kid you not that it took me fewer than 30 minutes to create the before-during-after list above, and fewer than four hours to create the postcard invitations and method for quickly generating my cash-cow prospect list – and I’m confident you can achieve similar results if you’ll invest the time to organize your plan for maximum effectiveness.
Exercise: Integrate Your Networking Plan Into Your Other Plans
To leverage any networking event to its fullest, you must use your networking time to increase the results of other marketing activities. To begin the process of integrating your plans, do the following:
- Choose any marketing activity you have, such as writing articles, that includes a before step during which you must ask someone for information, such as asking for an interview for an article.
- If you have one, choose another marketing activity that is fee-based, such as conducting a monthly workshop for which members pay to attend or writing a newsletter that’s for sale. Set a discount amount with which you’re comfortable – offer the first visit or issue for free, for example.
- Add a step or steps to your networking marketing plan that will give you the opportunity to get your questions answered or to offer your discounts. Offering discounts can be done in many ways, even by simply writing “Free Admission” on the back of a business card. (Because I do something different – hand out postcards rather than business cards – I often meet people who say, “You’re the guy with those postcards that offer discounts to your workshop – right?”) Any recognition is good recognition, so be different if you can.
- Start implementing your networking marketing plan and tracking the impact it has on the other marketing plan(s) you integrated.
When it comes to the power of groups, or networking, you can dramatically increase the success of your marketing effort by creating and implementing an integrated plan.
Creating Your “Elevator Speech”
Considering it’s composed of only four short words, it is actually quite astounding how a simple question – “What do you do?” – can turn a confident, self-assured executive into a quivering, tongue-tied mess. Okay, perhaps “quivering” is too strong a characterization, but “tongue-tied” is a perfect way to describe what happens to 90 percent of the people who must answer that simple question in a networking environment.
As they say, you get only one chance to make a good first impression, so you must be prepared to seize the opportunity.
What Makes A Quality Elevator Speech?
First, the term “elevator speech”: Imagine getting on an elevator with a top executive – someone you’ve been trying to meet and who can control your future. In this scenario, you’ll have about 30 seconds to make that all-important first impression, so you must deliver an “elevator speech” that will impress, and be remembered by, this executive.
If truth be told, there are literally hundreds of great elevator-speech formats, so I wouldn’t presume to tell you that my way is the best and instruct you to follow it. However, I can and will give you some ideas for what makes a great speech, so you have something against which you can measure the elevator speeches you create.
An elevator speech should always be designed to accomplish three primary goals:
- It will make a positive impression on the person who hears it – demonstrating that associating with you will be a worthwhile investment.
- It will leave absolutely no doubt as to what you do, what you sell or the result you produce for your customers or clients.
- It will cause you to be remembered.
Some things to consider when crafting your elevator speech:
- The positive impression can be created by anything from a perfect description of what you do to a clever analogy to a humorous introduction, so don’t constrain your creativity.
- Situations change, so create multiple versions of your elevator speech that can be used in different circumstances and for different objectives. For instance, your introduction to your peers might be geared toward finding strategic partners, while the introduction you give to prospects might be geared toward better establishing your credibility.
- Curiosity is a powerful force, so create an introduction that entices people to ask about something related to you or what you do, or ensures they will think about you after you’ve gone.
- Controversial ideas are memorable, so if your ideas are controversial, incorporate one of your “pulpit statements” into your elevator speech.
- You must be prepared to deliver the appropriate elevator speech at a moment’s notice, so rehearse each of them often.
As for style and format, the sky is the limit on what you can do – you can say nothing more than “I’m a tax accountant,” or you can attend the function dressed like Mickey Mouse – whatever accomplishes the result you’re after.
Working The Room – A Strategy For Success
Before you create your elevator speech, you should have a clear strategy for “working the room,” because the style, length and content of your speech will be affected by that strategy.
Having shaken thousands of hands at networking functions (most of the time evaluating how people introduce themselves), I have a pretty good handle on what you’ll encounter in a one-on-one networking situation, and how to make the most of your opportunity. So based on what I’ve learned, here’s a simple set of rules you can use to achieve the best result possible.
Rule 1: Eliminate Their Fear
Most people you meet while networking will be uncomfortable, because they haven’t practiced their own elevator speeches. As a result, if you are the first to answer the “What do you do?” question, they won’t listen closely to your answer, because they’ll be worried about having to answer the same question themselves in a minute. So be the first to ask the question – giving them the chance to get past their nervousness before you begin to speak.
Rule 2: Learn About Them First
Remember how I said analogies are a powerful communication tool? (One of the most powerful in your arsenal, in fact?) If you learn about your new acquaintances first – by asking “What do you do?” and following with interviews about their businesses – when it’s your turn to talk, you’ll have the opportunity to tie your description into their business situations.
For example, when I meet someone, I learn about his or her role in the company and ask a question related to sales or selling at that company. If I meet a computer programmer, I might ask, “I live in the world of sales and am always trying to improve my understanding of how sales teams affect other business units. If you don’t mind telling me, what drives you nuts about having to support salespeople?” Or, if I meet a CEO, I’ll ask any question related to his or her role in business development – always worded so it’s a follow-up to whatever he or she already told me. This way, when my acquaintance asks me what I do, I give a short description and then tie my answer to what I learned.
In the programmer’s case (which is a real example), she answered my question with, “The salespeople want real-time access to fulfillment schedules from a system that’s built for overnight batch processing. It seems like I’m constantly going into the raw data and assembling reports for them – I never get any real work done.”
After I answered her question about what I do (related to building world-class sales teams), I followed by addressing her specific pain: “For example, if I were working with your company, I’d teach the salespeople how to get conditional commitments from clients without knowing the exact schedules. That way, they could close sales on the spot, without your having to create special reports and without your company having to rewrite its entire computer system.”
Three days later, I got a call from her company’s chief technology officer during which we discussed strategies for getting the company’s salespeople out of his hair. I didn’t get the engagement, because the company’s top sales manager is, in the CTO’s words, “a real wacko,” but my elevator speech and strategy did the trick.
Rule 3: Don’t Use Your Speech Unless You Must
Easily half of the people I meet while networking never ask me what I do, because I ask the question first and then interview them, instead of talking about myself. At first blush, you might think this is nuts, because I don’t get the chance to make sure they understand what I do in relation to their situations. But because my strategy is a drip process that involves several steps, it actually produces great results:
- At the networking function, I hit homeruns by allowing people to talk about themselves – one of the absolute best ways to make positive impressions and be remembered.
- In my follow-up, “nice to meet you” cards to my new acquaintances, I point them to an article I’ve written that can help them solve whatever sales pain they indicated when I interviewed them.
- Next Monday morning, when I introduce these new acquaintances to others whom they can help or who can help them, I solidify the relationship and generate the impulse to reciprocate.
Remember, shaking hands at the function is only one part of a marketing process that should contain multiple steps – so don’t worry at all if you don’t get the chance to use that wonderful elevator speech you spent so much time and energy creating!
Rule 4: Have Fun
Honestly, if you aren’t having fun, you probably won’t net many results from networking, so I encourage you to design a strategy you enjoy – don’t stop until you actually look forward to your next function.
Once you achieve the have-fun objective, every problem you have networking will disappear, because you’ll be the person in the room who draws the crowd.
Types Of Introductions You Can Use
If you enter a room committed to the mission of learning about others, the importance of your own elevator speech will dramatically decrease. So, you can say pretty much anything you want, and you’ll still be head and shoulders above the crowd.
However, you can increase your results marginally if you incorporate something unique into your speech. So why not do a bit of homework and produce the maximum results possible? What produces the maximum results, you ask? Simply put, anything that is unique.
If You Are Boring, Be Boring
No matter how much we try to make ourselves sound unique and innovative, the sad fact is most of us don’t do or sell anything that is all that much different or better than our competitors. I’m sorry, but attorneys are just attorneys, accountants are just accountants, widgets are often just widgets – you get the picture. In fact, while I’m giddy about the brand I created – Honest Selling – lots of other sales trainers and consultants advocate the same methods I preach.
While this may be the sad truth, it also opens the door for an interesting twist. A tax accountant who is so dull and boring that he has nothing better to do than learn tax codes so he can save me money would be attractive to my business sense – wouldn’t you agree? So if you actually are a boring tax accountant, perhaps you can set yourself apart by saying so:
“What do you do?”
“Honestly, I’m a boring tax accountant. I spend most of my time with my nose in tax books, so I’ll know how to save my clients as much money as possible.”
Now, this is a guy I would gladly introduce to someone with a tax problem.
In the past four years, I’ve heard a hundred versions of “I screen people who are being considered for employment” and “I help business owners make sure they’re hiring good people.” Problem is, I can’t remember the names or company names of any of the people who said these things. However, remember, in Chapter 1, when I cited the one elevator-speech response I remembered best?
“What do you do?”
“I help business owners and HR directors avoid hiring criminals.”
I heard that four-second elevator speech more than 18 years ago. To this day, I remember the word-for-word introduction, the name of the guy who used it and the name of his company.
If you’re naturally a fun-loving, happy-go-lucky person, then definitely try a humorous approach to creating an elevator speech, because you’ll be leveraging your strengths to their fullest. If you aren’t, try it anyway – ask a friend or colleague to help – because you’ll have more fun and most likely get better results.
Using Analogies To Paint Pictures
Especially when you’re selling something that isn’t mainstream and isn’t understood by most people, using analogies can be one of the best ways to describe what you do so you’re understood and remembered.
“What do you do?”
“You know how a business owner will bring in an outside accountant to audit the books to make sure no one screwed up, to verify that nothing was stolen and to see whether any great opportunities were missed?”
“I do that for HR departments.”
The more complicated your products or services, the better result you’ll get using an analogous introduction, especially if your analogy draws a comparison to something that is likely to be understood by anyone you meet.
Generating After-The-Fact Curiosity
Wouldn’t it be great if the people you meet keep thinking about you for days? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every time they saw your competitors’ products they wondered whether they were yours? Creating curiosity is the best way to accomplish that:
“What do you do?”
“Come over here, and I’ll show you. [Walking to the window.] See that restaurant across the street and the – one, two, three, four – five signs it has on the front of the building and in the window?”
“My company creates signs for any executive who wants one – from the signs like those to the billboards along the highway. In fact, there’s a fair chance that, when you’re driving back to your office today, you’ll see dozens of the signs we’ve created.”
This is a great tactic for anyone who produces a very visible product. What could be better than having your competitors’ products advertising your services?
In Chapter 1, I introduced the concept of establishing a personal brand. Using the curiosity example above, this saleswoman could help to establish her personal brand, if she simply added the following:
“I’m the sign lady. My company creates signs for …”
By adding this simple twist, and putting “The Sign Lady” on her business card, this salesperson would ensure that her elevator speech creates a positive impression, is clearly understood and is remembered over time.
Exercise: Craft Quality Introductions
Before you attend your next networking function, create as many of the following introductions as you can. (If any style is simply not a fit for you, skip it.)
- Boring: Create an introduction that is brutally honest about how boring your profession really is. “Spin” it, so it seems like a positive thing to most people who hear it.
- Funny: Thinking about the primary results your products or services produce, which of those results is already somewhat funny, or can be slightly distorted so it sounds funny? Do you sell generators that keep the lights on when the city’s electricity goes out? The next time you attend a retail conference, how about introducing your products with, “We make sure your customers don’t steal your stuff when the power goes out.”
- Analogy: Create an analogy between your products or services and any well-known product, service, current event, etc., and turn it into an introduction.
- Curiosity: If what you and your competitors produce is visible, create an elevator speech that includes your pointing (either physically or figuratively) to an example of the type of product you produce, and end your speech by pointing out that examples of your work are everywhere.
- Personal Brand: Whatever your personal brand, be certain to incorporate it into all versions of your elevator speech.
Finally, once you’ve created these speeches, combine them into a single approach – not to exceed a 30-second delivery – that accomplishes as many of the above objectives as possible. Who knows, you might invent an analogy that is boringly funny and creates curiosity as well!
Additional Group Strategies
Whenever the subject of networking is raised, I often get asked, “Where should I spend my networking time?” Honestly, I have no idea where you should spend your networking time, but I can tell you how to spend it – producing the best results. I attended the Institute of Management Consultants meetings for years and produced only one client, but I learned a lot while I was there, so the trade-off was okay.
Bottom line: You should invest your time wisely and consider all the types of returns on investments you may receive when making your choices. And, you should abandon any group that isn’t producing the results you want. That being said, here are three types of groups you should consider:
- Peer Group: I’m a professional speaker, so I attend National Speakers Association meetings whenever I get the chance. I’m lucky in that most of the people who attend these meetings are not just my peers, but also my prospects, because they must all sell to make a living. But in reality, they don’t fit my premier prospect profile. The primary result I want from an NSA meeting, therefore, is to learn.
- Prospect Group: I try to never miss meetings at which I’ll find a large number of my best prospects, such as the American Marketing Association, which is regularly attended by top sales and marketing executives. At these meetings, my objectives are to establish or strengthen relationships and build my personal brand.
- Competitor Group: Because I practice a disqualification sales model, I must have good relationships with enough competitors so that I can introduce prospects to them whenever I encounter a showstopper that will keep me from getting the gig. So attending association meetings and conferences filled with other sales consultants, speakers and trainers is important to me.
- Generic Group: I attend at least one networking event each week where the crowd is incredibly eclectic, specifically to meet people outside my normal realm. I virtually never get the chance to sell to any of these people, but each person I meet becomes part of my “connection inventory” – one of the people I know who might be able to provide value to someone else I know. By broadening my scope of relationships, I increase the chances I can make connections of value later.
When choosing between networking functions, I always include the above types of groups on my calendar. But another very important type of group isn’t in that list – a type for which the primary purpose is for members to actively help one another close new business.
I left lead-sharing groups out of my list above for one simple reason: I’m not much of a follower, so if I can’t run it, I don’t want to play. In fact, about three years ago, I started a lead-sharing group that included an attorney, a web-strategy person, a finance person, a banker, a local newspaper owner and me. The first few months, we met at a local coffee shop, but it was hard to talk about things openly when sitting next to strangers. So one member offered to host our meetings at his office, and we took him up on his offer.
Problem was, since this member was hosting the meetings, he took the chair at the head of the conference table and began to organize and control the conversations. I did nothing to stop this, because I was trying to let the group members control the direction the group would take. But after three or four months, he had completely replaced me as group leader. Once I realized I had lost control of the group, I dropped and started another one, because the leader of the group always gets better results than the followers, making running a different group a better use of my time.
Always remember to leverage your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses. Organizing and running groups is one of my greatest strengths. Following the leader is not.
Exercise: Building Your Lead-Sharing Group
Regardless of your preferred group size, you can easily get started building a lead-sharing group by following these simple guidelines. After your group reaches the size described in this plan, you can expand or reduce it as the situation warrants. Just be certain to not lose control as I did above – nip every problem in the bud quickly.
- Purpose: Describe the primary purpose of your group in simple terms, such as a one-paragraph mission statement or statement of objective. Include a description of your ideal prospects, ideal group members and primary objectives. (All group members should sell to the same “ideal” prospects.)
- First Member: Invite one trusted colleague to be your first group member. This should be someone whose strengths are different from yours – if you’re an Iggy Inventor, perhaps you should invite a Sammy Schmoozer to join you. Ideally, you and your first member should not be direct competitors.
- Initial Meeting: Conduct an initial meeting to discuss the group. Together, create an outline for how often the group will meet, what will happen at meetings and some basic group bylaws. Then, schedule to meet one month later, but add the requirement that you each bring one potential member to that meeting. Again, none of the four of you should be a direct competitor with any other member, and you must all sell to the same ideal prospects.
- Documenting Your Group: A four-person group is perfect for creating and documenting the group’s mission, rules, and so forth, so hold as many meetings as you must until your group’s mission and rules are defined in writing. Be sure to include a membership document that everyone who joins must sign, and include a description of what will cause someone to get kicked out, and how that will occur if it becomes necessary.
To start, I recommend you create a four-person group, document everything, and then see what happens for six months before you invite anyone else. What I have found over time is that smaller groups tend to generate much higher-quality leads, which often results in no need to grow the group at all. Also, by keeping your group small, you can create several groups, so you’ll get just as many leads as you would in a single, large group, while keeping the lead quality high.
The [Your Name Here] Sales System: Groups
To make the most of your networking time, turn the Sammy Schmoozer in you loose, but be certain that the Rachel Robot in you forces him to:
- Get organized and track results.
- Follow through on all commitments.
- Not make promises you can’t fulfill.
- Participate in only groups that produce a proven, repeatable, positive result.
And if you simply can’t bring yourself to be the Sammy Schmoozer, then create a lead-sharing group, and find a Sammy Schmoozer who can help you overcome that weakness.
I recommend reading “Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap … And Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins. While it’s not a book about sales, it will give you great insights for forming groups, selecting members and allowing the talents of everyone to shine.