The next extract from the e-book “21 Business Stories”.
A key part of your strategy will be about how you are going to tell what you do in person. There are several ways of going about this – networking, traditional selling, exhibiting, running workshops.
The main difference between selling and networking is that one is a systematic process aimed at closing an actual customer while the other is about developing contacts and advocates who can introduce or refer you to clients. If successful it has a much higher entry point into the sales process.
Traditional lead generation and selling should be a highly structured activity with well defined ratios at every step in the process. Your networking should be just as structured if not so rigid.
You need to know who your market is and who they take notice of. Then you need to meet these advisers in an environment that’s conducive to them – where they can interact with their peers and maybe learn something that’s useful to them. Or else just have a good time. You need to be aware of the different types of influencers – some like being subject experts (or mavens) some are connectors, some are salesmen. Some are motivated by their reputation, some are motivated by money.
In any case your goal should be to meet and get to know the most influential individuals in your industry network. They need to get to know you, trust you and like you before they will start referring you into business where it’s important for their own reputation that they only put forward people who are reliable. An introduction to these ideas can be found in Malcolm Gladwell’s “The tipping point” and it is elaborated in Seth Godin’s “Unleashing the Ideavirus”
Because the truth is that real world networking is quite like the online world. It is lumpy – some people (or blogs) are very much more influential and connected than others. Your aim is to be known and recommended by these super connected few since it will help you leverage your connection most effectively. We discuss this in more detail later on.
Most industries are in practice surprisingly small. Most of the players already know each other; your task is to build a trusted niche for yourself as part of the local ecosystem. That’s where the power of networking and reputation comes into play. If you have a recommendation from a high prestige player in your local area, then your selling overhead can be dramatically slashed. Not least because you will have effectively outsourced a good chunk of the sales and marketing budget.
You will have saved having to manage a lot of recalcitrant salesmen when you could be delivering, creating or counting the money.
So your task is to identify BY NAME the influencers that matter in your particular pond and find ways to hang out with them.
Who these are will to some extend depend on how big you are and what is the company sector that you are trying to connect with.
How you go about this depends on your business size and aims – what part of the food chain do you want to belong to.
Obviously your needs as a 1 man band are different from being the owner of a 10 man company. Their networking needs may be as much aimed at finding partners and suppliers as at sales. People who are running globally active businesses have different requirements from those who can fulfil all their needs by local contacts. Finally the needs of individuals in the corporate or public sectors must be considered. They may not be able to effect much delivery directly, but their ability to develop influence depends on their ability to build a strong network of people who take them seriously.
There are different tools available that suit the needs of different people. Some are membership organisations that meet regularly once a week – for example BNI or BRX. Some have strict codes of conduct about acting as advocates for each other and meeting weekly on pain of being chucked out. Others take the view that individuals self select who they associate with and are more relaxed about it. Some have a strong online component – Facebook and linked-in are particularly structured while small platforms such as Ecademy allow a combined approach on line and off line marketing.
In our previous projects we have established that the most successful practitioners combine off line and online activity. I think this is because they are effectively preparing the groundwork for their own sales activity. The question for you is which combination makes the most sense. We are currently running a research project into what works best. Look out for a future e-book. (If you want to take part you can do so here)
 The internet resources page including Godin’s book is here http://www.howtodobusiness.com/Publications.aspx?cat=I