A Community Affair
There are some very basic rules for any sales professional. One of the most obvious is that they need to be in front of people. While there are many ways to do this, one of the easiest is to get involved with networking groups. There is no better way to consistently get in front of so many different people at so many different venues. While this is a long-term lead development strategy, there are ways you can make it more productive faster.
Lead Exchange Groups
The first thing to do is to compile a list of the groups available in an area. The local newspaper will likely have this list, as well as the local Chamber of Commerce. A quick Google search may also work. Once a list is compiled, a determination should be made as to what type of a group to join.
There are groups such as Business Network Intl. (BNI) that exist for the sole purpose of getting business professionals together for lead exchanging. I have been to several of these groups and have seen them work with varying degrees of success. If poorly managed, they become nothing more than a social group. If well organized with structure and attendance, these groups can be a very effective lead generation source. Most will only allow one person from an industry so that you are not competing for leads. With strong leadership, this policy can work well.
There can be some problems with this type of group, however. Sometimes the emphasis is so strong on requiring attendees to bring a referral that the quality of leads is diminished. Look for a group that has members involved in related industries or members whose customers are the same people you need to reach, such as a realtor.
Make sure there is a strong procedure in place for eliminating members who do not provide good customer service. Nothing can destroy a group like this faster than members who do not want to refer a fellow member.
Give more than you take. This excellent life rule will serve you well in these groups. The more qualified leads you can provide to your fellow members, the more they will give qualified leads to you. Members who do not give back to the group do not remain members long.
Make sure you follow up on the leads given you. When I first started Moti-Vitality, my friend Tony knew I was in the market for a website designer. There happened to be a website designer who was a member in a morning group to which Tony belonged. Tony gave him my card and number and told me about the referral. I had not heard from the designer when I accompanied Tony to this morning meeting three weeks later. There, I met the gentleman to whom Tony had given my card, but I had already contracted with another company. It does not make sense to just show up for the coffee.
Community Service Groups
There are a ton of these groups out there: Kiwanis, Optimist Clubs, Jaycees and many more. The key difference between the two types of groups is that if you join a community service group with the obvious intention of doing business networking, they will shun you. The members of these groups are there because they are passionate about giving back to the community. I am past president and still a member of my local Optimist Club. I did not join with the intention of earning a lot of business, but after being an active and participating member, donating water for all of our events and, more importantly, not shoving what I do down their throats, I have received as many qualified referrals and sales as any member of a BNI group. I would also bet that the process has been a lot more rewarding, even if it has taken longer to develop these relationships.
Find a group that reflects your interests. It will be easier to stay motivated if you care about what you are doing. Be subtle about offering your services. Do not give the impression that you are there just to network.
Finding a group that appeals to you is pretty easy. Our club is always looking for speakers for our weekly breakfast meetings. Most other groups are the same. Simply call the current president of each club and ask to be placed on the speaker list. You will usually have a captive audience of 10 to 20 other professionals from the community for about 20 minutes. I usually do a tea test or a general water treatment quiz and simply use the questions and answers as a guide to my presentation. It is amazing how many people have questions about their water after your presentation.
Unfortunately, in every case where salespeople have joined either type of these groups with the expectations of leads miraculously pouring in, they abandon the groups with disappointment and excuses as to why they cannot create their own business.
The key to business networking is to be seen, be involved and strive to give more than you take. Following these fundamentals will make business networking much more effective.