Sunday, October 30, 2011

What Should I Wear?

To some this will seem like a benign topic, but when you consider that according to most studies more than 60% of communication is non-verbal, personal appearance counts.

So we might ask, what will appeal most to the people that I am looking to attract? How will other people be dressed? What are my standards? Is there a dress code for the event?

Are we over thinking this? Yeah, probably. Here's the rule. Dress how you want to be perceived.

If you want an absolutely professional appearance then your best business suit and well polished shoes are appropriate. Some people want to be viewed more approachable. If this is the case, then a slightly more casual ensemble should be your plan. Logo wear might be a standard way to dress in your profession and certainly this can work very well.

The goal of your appearance should be to invite conversation from the people that you are looking to connect to. You might find additional success wearing distinctive or colorful clothes. Ultimately, your appearance when networking should be congruent with how you want to be perceived.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Connecting with Your Centers of Influence

  • A center of influence is someone who can help you by virtue of who or what they know 
  • Our best referrals come from current or former customers
  • We cause the most customer referrals, passionate advocacy, when we have a deep bullpen of resources whose knowledge and relationships help us solve customer challenges

As we learned last week, the first place to focus, when you are trying to understand who your centers of influence are, is to learn who your best customer relies on. Who are your best customers most valued strategic relationships? They could be consultants, vendors, suppliers, advisors, etc... The supposition is that these individuals:
  • Are qualified because our best customers has faith in them 
  • Have relationships with other companies that look like our best customer
The goal then is to get to know these individuals well primarily because they are likely great service providers (resources) for our clients and future clients and secondarily because they likely have knowledge and relationships that are potentially valuable for us. When you call for the meeting, let them know that you have customers that may need their service and you would like to meet to learn more about what they do. Ideally, you’ll meet at their place of business…you’ll learn much more. The next meeting can be at your shop.

When you meet, learn about the individuals background, what they’re doing now, and who is a good connection for them. The more you learn the better. You want to know if this is someone who you would refer to your best customer. Would they make you look good?

Whether in this meeting or another, you want to agree how they will handle a referral from you. You might just ask, "If I were to call you with a referral, how would it be handled?" If they say anything other than "right away, with great care." you will want to have an open conversation about your expectation and if they can meet it. When and if you call them with a referral, it is ok and sometimes advisable to ask them to follow up with you after they have spoken with your client.

Your first priority with centers of influence is to solve customer problems. Having a deep bullpen of resources will allow you to do it best. You may, someday, get a referral from someone you've referred. Celebrate it. Don't expect it or this fragile eco-system dies. When we solve problems with our customers best interest in mind, we always win.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Determining Your Centers of Influence , part II

Reminder...a center of influence is someone who can help us by virtue of who or what they know.

When applying the center of influence concept to business building the first place to focus is to develop a base of centers of influence that will help you better serve your customers. Not only will this help you provide better service thereby creating more referrals from your customers, but it will also help you develop relationships with a cadre of non-competing industry professionals who will help you increase the depth and breadth of your connection to valuable knowledge and relationships.

Follow these steps to determine the shortest path to growing your greatest number of high value connections. 
Two steps to Identify your centers of influence for business building:
  • Identify your best customer - You can define best customer however you want. Maybe it is the customer that does the most business with you. Maybe it is the customer who provides you with the highest margin business. Maybe it is the customer that refers you the most business. However you define best customer, it is critical that you realize that you have only one best and that you identify them by name. You should be able to complete this best customer is      XYZ Company     .

    Best customer test - Think for a moment about your average customer. Can you think of the value that your average customer brings to you as compared to your best customer? Imagine that you have a one time opportunity, in this moment, to receive either 100 more of your average customer or 5 more of you best customer. Which would you choose? Approximately 95% of the people who do this exercise find that they would take 5 best customers over 100 average customers. If your answer is different double check that you have truly identified your best customer.

    Paradigm shift - If you choose to receive 5 more of your best customers, then why are you networking to your average customer? By taking 5 more or your best customer you have just said that your best customers are at least 20 times more productive than your average customer...
  • Identify the resources that serve your best customer - Do you know who your best customer relies on? Who are your best customers most important suppliers, vendors, or counselors? What professionals have helped your best customer get where they are?

    Having trouble with this? - If you don’t have this level of intimacy with your best customer are you vulnerable? You certainly are...a smart competitor will unseat you very quickly by learning this information. But this is not a customer retention exercise.

    So how do I find out who my best customer relies on? -  Er...Ask your customer. This is not a direct question. Learning who your best customer relies is a bi-product of being a student of your best customer and it is knowledge that is built over time. Some simple questions that will begin you on this journey include: Looking Forward - “Can you tell me about some your goals in the coming year?, Why are they important?, Are there specific internal or external resources that you will rely on to help you accomplish these goals?” Looking Backward - “Can you tell me about your company growth over the last 5-years?, What have you learned that you’ll apply to your objectives for the next 5-years?, Are there specific resources/vendors that you have found to be most valuable?”
Hopefully, you have been able to identify a path to discovering your centers of influence. Having gone through this exercise, you can see that this is a discovery process that never ends. Your understanding of who your centers of influence are is a journey. A continuous application of these two steps will allow you to focus and improve your networking to a level you never thought possible.
Next week we will discuss what to do once we begin learning who our best customer relies on.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Determining Your Centers of Influence , part I

Ever ask someone, “Who are your centers of influence?” I am always amazed at the answer when I do. Ninety-nine percent respond by describing their average customer. This identifies a significant disconnect between the leverage that is possible in networking and the lack of focus that most people have in their efforts.

If you don't know your centers of influence, you can't focus your effort. If you can't focus your effort, you can't articulate who your centers of influence are. If you can't articulate who your centers of influence are, you can't empower others to help you connect to more centers of influence.

So what’s a center of influence and why is it critical that we know as many as we can? Simply put, a center of influence is someone who can help us by virtue of who or what they know. Centers of influence are the source of just-in-time knowledge and relationships. Centers of influence can help us in any facet of our life.

If some one in your family becomes seriously ill, the right center of influence can help you find the best doctor. When your car breaks down, you need a center of influence who knows the best mechanic. When you want a night out on the town, it’s opportunistic to have a center of influence who knows a great babysitter who’s available when you need them.

Centers of influence are not customers. They are people with knowledge and relationships that will save you time and investment by helping you make meaningful connections. Centers of influence help you find short-cuts between where you are and where you want to go.

Next week we’ll reveal a simple exercise to help you identify your centers of influence for business development.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How are Networkers Like Onions?

Have you ever chosen not to speak with someone at an event? In some form, we have all done this. Maybe you evaluated their appearance, how accessible they seemed, saw the company name on their name badge, or heard them speak in a less sophisticated way and judged that getting to know them would be of little value. Premature discrimination is one of the largest inhibitors to successful networking.

Let's reverse the perspective...think about your appearance at the last networking event that you attended. You were most likely well dressed, outgoing and well spoken, but take the simple example of your name badge. It has a company name on it. Whether it is your company or the name represents your current employer, is the company name on your name badge the sum total of your professional experience and background. Does the name of the company work for represent all of the contacts that you have and all of the communities that you are connected too? Would someone be short changing them self by assuming your depth of knowledge does not extend past this experience? Think of the diversity of knowledge and relationships that you possess which goes far beyond what you are doing now.

Like onions each of us has layers. Every person that each of us walks by at a networking event has incredible value, it's just not obvious. Take a risk. Extend your hand to people because they look and sound different. Learn about them. You’ll be amazed at the wonderful stories that you will hear and the powerful connections that you will make.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Which Professions Are Best at Networking?

By understanding which professions really practice effective networking we can begin modeling our own activities into a set of best practices. In last weeks post we discussed how current and former customers are generally our best source of referral. Therefore the first place to focus our networking effort is to build a pool of resources that will help us better serve our customers - let’s call it customer centered networking. So who does this best?

Well I wouldn't be very true to the title of this blog if I did put
doctors on the top of the list. I've interviewed hundreds of doctors to learn about their networking practices. Here are two unique attributes of why doctors are such good networkers:
  • They specialize - Specialization allows doctors to be very specific about what they do and don’t do thereby empowering others to easily understand each doctor’s unique expertise. You would never see a dermatologist try to do the work of a pediatrician. This is significantly different than other professions where a sense of scarcity causes the practitioners to promote themselves, accountant, architect, consultant, etc. Have you ever heard someone at a networking event say that “everyone” is a prospect? This is not only naive, but it also disempowers the listener to make good connections. How can you possibly help someone make good connections to “everyone?” Specialists will always have and easier time networking than generalists. Doctors differentiate themselves and empower their network in a way that very few other professionals do.
  • They are customer centered...I mean really customer centered - When you ask a doctor why they refer there is no confusion. Their only focus is to make the patience well. They refer the patient to the best resource they know regardless of their relationship with the resource. Other professionals are often compelled to refer based on loyalty to the service provider. They want to help a “friend” get business. This is not the case with doctors. Doctors are customer centered and have proven that healthy and happy patients make the best referral sources.

High performing Realtors are also great networkers. One of the most amazing things about Realtors is that they all have the same inventory. In most communities, it doesn’t matter which real estate office you go in, you can select from the same properties. So how do the high performing Realtors differentiate themselves and become a customer centered? They have a great network. They are hubs of knowledge and relationships in their community.

When a client has an accepted offer on a new home, high performing Realtors have a ready bullpen of resources that will help their client successfully acquire the property. Whether the client needs a mortgage broker, home inspector, or contractor the high performing Realtor can help.

The best Realtors have a variety of resources in each discipline so that no matter what the client needs they have the right referral. Whether the client has impeccable credit or is credit challenged the high performing Realtor refers the mortgage broker who best fits the customer need. If a high performing Realtor doesn't readily know a resource for a specific problem they leverage their network to uncover the best provider for the client.

A high performing Realtors network goes far beyond resources related to home sales and service, they know their community. If their client has children, the best Realtors can make introductions to the best daycare service and if the client has a particular hobby the Realtor can connect them to local opportunities to enjoy their hobby.

Customer centered networking is the key differentiator that puts doctors and high performing Realtors at the top of the networking food chain. By putting their patient and clients success above all other priorities, doctors and the best Realtors are regularly and passionately advocated by their customers.


  • Specialists win in networking. None of us serves everyone. Make it easy for those you network with to understand what you do and who you do it for. Remember, the Anesthesiologist does not do surgery.
  • Build a bullpen of resources to solve your customer’s challenges. Not only will you serve your clients better by connecting them to just in time knowledge and relationships, but you’ll also make networking a lot more fun. When you go to events, you’ll no longer focus on talking about you. You’ll focus on meeting and learning about people who would be good resources for your clients. Make sure that you get together with them after in their place of business. See their work. Stay in touch. Do this for 12 months. You’ll be amazed at the results!