I’ve been asked this question over 100 times:“In business, what is the one secret to success when it comes to networking?”
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My answer is always the same. In order to be successful in building relationships that will lead to business referrals and opportunities, there are four principles to focus on. Understanding this formula can improve your business networking success in amazing ways.
No. 1: Quality Connections ONLY!
Quality is first element on the list for a reason. The process begins by being very selective about who you bring into your circle of business networking relationships. You want quality business professionals who have a positive, supportive attitude. You also want people who are good at what they do. Effective networking is also dependent on the quality of the relationships that you actually develop in the group. If your network is a mile wide and an inch deep, you won’t be getting the referrals you expect. Therefore, it is important to build deep relationships with your referral partners if you want to generate more referrals.
In order to ensure quality participation, there has to be accountability in a group. One of the strengths of a good network is that many of the members are friends. One of the weaknesses of a good network is…that many of the members are friends. Friends don’t like to hold friends accountable. However, when you are networking for referrals and business opportunities, you simply have to understand that there is a place for the friendship – and a separate place for the business interaction.
You need to be held accountable for the referrals you give to your business networking relationship – and they need to be held accountable for the business opportunities they pass to you. If you expect the best from your referral relationships, you’ll get it. If you expect less than the best from them, you’ll get it. Why accept mediocrity when excellence is an option? Accountability going both ways will help you achieve excellence.
No. 2: The More, The Merrier
Years ago I learned that there is a dramatic correlation between the size of a quality networking group and the number of referrals that are generated by that group. Groups under 20 do not generate as many referrals (proportionately) as do groups over 20 and the math proves it. If you have a group of 16 people, that group has 256 connections (16x16). [See Diagram A] However, a group of 32 people has 1024 connections (24x24)! [See Diagram B]. I call this the "Squared Connection Effect.”
Hence, the quantity of people you build networking relationships with truly makes a difference in the total number of connections and inevitably the amount of referrals that can be generated from your group.
So as you begin to build your own network of referral relationships, keep in mind that the more, the better! The bottom line is that the more connections you have (based on quality relationships of course), the more referrals you can generate. The math is pretty significant and consistent.
No. 3: Get Engaged
Engagement involves a promise and an action. In order to achieve success in your group of networking relationships, you and your relationships must promise to support one another and then take the actions necessary to fulfill that promise.
There are many ways that you can become engaged. Have you taken the time to regularly meet with the people in your network? Have you taken the time to educate them regularly on the key features of your business so that your products or services will be top of mind as they are out and meet someone with a need for them? Have you taken the time to become educated on the key features of your networking relationships’ businesses so that you can do the same?
The higher the number of people in your network engaged in these activities, the more likely the entire group will be generating more referrals. The reason for this is a shared vision of success and a shared implementation of that vision.
Another way to be actively engaged and educated about each other’s businesses is to do regular and consistent meetings. Over and over, I see that business owners who have regular “one to one” meetings with their business networking relationships tend to both give AND get more referrals.
Lastly, are you focusing on your “elevator pitch”? The best way that your referral sources are going to remember what you do is when you focus on breaking your business down to laser specific elements of your business. Sharp-shoot your pitch, don’t shotgun it. In each of your regular “one to one” meetings, talk about one key element, product, or benefit of what you do.
According to Psychology Today, research has found that people who are “actively engaged” in a business environment are “43% more productive” than those who are not.
Furthermore, they state that engagement includes “regular dialogue, quality of working relationships, perceptions of ethos and values of the organization, and recognition.” There’s research behind my recommending reciprocal engagement between you and your referral partners. In fact, it’s critical to your success – and theirs.
No. 4: Share Stories!
Here’s the last, although possibly the most important piece of for success in networking. Tell stories. Listening closely to the information shared by those in your referral network will help you tell positive stories about them when you see opportunities to refer them. Doing those regular meetings with each of them will help you to tell stories when you give referrals. Think about your many experiences and write them down.
A number of years ago I met Robert Dickman, author of The Elements of Persuasion. He taught me the formula for a good story:
- A story is a fact
- Wrapped in an emotion
- That compels us to take action
- That transforms us in some way
The key here is that a good story compels people to take action and that this action transforms or helps them in some way. I always try to re-live a story, not just re-tell a story. Make it sound fresh and alive. That is an important aspect of story telling.
Remember that “company facts tell, but stories sell”. If you want to build your network in order to generate more referrals, overlay story telling on top of your efforts.
Called the "father of modern networking" by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI (www.BNI.com), the world's largest business networking organization. His latest book, Room Full of Referrals, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute (www.ReferralInstitue.com), an international referral training company.