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July 11, 2011 • Issue 11:07:01

Street SmartsSM

Networking groups and referral marketing - Part 1

By Bill Pirtle
MPCT Publishing Co.

As I began planning this column, my intent was to interview Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of Business Networking International and the Referral Institute, to show merchant level salespeople (MLSs) reasons to get involved with or start referral groups.

The interview was recorded live and broadcast on BlogTalkRadio.com. The discussion focused on why MLSs and ISOs should consider networking groups. I belong to two Michigan-based business networking groups but knew that BNI, being an international organization, would be a better group for discussion, as all readers of this article can find local BNI chapters in their respective areas.

The Misner interview came as a result of a referral. I told a member of one of my networking groups that I wanted to send a list of questions to Dr. Misner that I thought could help my readers. The gentleman talked to Misner, and Misner contacted me to request a phone interview. I then signed up with BlogTalkRadio and created the radio show so I could record the interview and get a transcript.

Attitudes on mornings

GMARTIN was considering a BNI group but has difficulty with the group's 7:30 a.m. meeting time, as well as the 25-minute one-way commute it requires, "[I] never was a morning person," he wrote. "I know a lot [of people] in the group, and they've been asking quite often for me to join them. This info [will] help [me to] make a final decision."

Misner replied, "Well, first of all let me say, 'I hate early mornings.' I am not an early morning person - never have been an early morning person. When I started BNI, I was not an early morning person, so I feel the pain of all of the people who go, 'Oh, my goodness, 7 or 7:30 in the morning, that's so early!'"

But Misner started a morning group anyway. "So, I put together a group," he said. "And I did it in the morning because I didn't have any customers. I didn't have any clients that were crazy enough to want to meet me at 7 in the morning.

So I knew I'd be free. And now, 26 years later, most of our groups meet in the morning because it doesn't compete with where you're making your money, which is your clients.

"And that's why I did it in the morning. And you know what, this guy who hated early mornings was more than happy to get up in the morning to get referrals. That's why now we have 136,000 members in almost 50 countries. And the overwhelming majority of them meet in the mornings and they're okay with that."

The VCP process

I next asked Misner if there were any way for a processing agent to predict success with BNI, or another networking group, since several on the forum said they did not find success with it.

"I think some of it is expectations," Misner said. "People join a networking group and they think that they're going to start getting referrals the next week, the next month. And it takes time.

What I try to teach people is what I call the VCP process of networking. VCP stands for visibility, credibility, profitability. It's a chronological process. You have to go from visibility to creditability to profitability.

"So you meet people. You get to know them. They know who you are and what you do when you're at visibility. But then you have to go to credibility, and credibility is where people know who you are, they know what you do and they know you're good at it.

Now they may know you're good at it because they've used you; they may know you're good at it because they've been around other people who have used you.

"But you've established a level of credibility that exists. That takes time. But then it takes even more time to get to profitability where people know who you are, they know what you do, they know you're good at it, and they are willing to pass you referrals on an ongoing, reciprocal basis.

"The secret to predict success is for people to come in understanding that networking is more about farming than it is about hunting, that it's about cultivating relationships with other people and that you have to move through the VCP process."

Barbers and business

JDECKARD stated that from his experience, "Most of the referrals were a waste of time. The ones that pop to mind include, 'My barber has been in business for 25 years, and he doesn't take credit cards, never has. ... Here's his number.'" Others in the forum believe that the pressure to deliver referrals contributes to the proliferation of bad ones.

"Is there pressure to bring referrals?" Misner asked. "Well, we definitely want people to refer people. I mean that's what BNI is all about. But the last thing we want is for people to get bad referrals, such as, your example, 'Here's my barber. He may need credit card processing.' I'm not sure that's even a legitimate referral. In order to make it work, you have to make sure it's legitimate.

"A referral is the opportunity to do business with somebody who is in the market to buy your product or service. They know and are expecting your call. Otherwise, it's a lead. So, if you haven't talked to the barber and the barber hasn't specifically said, 'I'm looking for a credit card processing company,' then that's not a referral.

That's a lead, and we would prefer you not give leads. We're pretty assertive about that. A legitimate referral would come from you talking to somebody.

"OK, so you're talking to your barber and the barber complains about the credit card rates or the old machine he has or whatever it is. And you say, 'I know a great credit card processing rep, and I've worked with him [or I know people who've worked with him or I see him every week].'

"Whatever you feel comfortable saying is honest enough. And you say, 'I know this person. I can highly recommend him. Would you like to talk to him? Would you like me to introduce you? Here's his card. Can I give him your card?' And when the barber says, 'Yes, would you do that because I'm not happy.' That's a referral.

"Now if he says, 'I'll take his card, but I don't think I'm quite ready.' That's not a referral. And if you haven't even told the barber, or if you just hear that and then you go tell the credit card person, that's definitely not a referral. That's a lead, and we don't recommend leads. We recommend referrals.

"So, is there pressure? No, I wouldn't say there is pressure. There's an expectation that if you're going to join, that you're there to help each other.

And if you're going to call that pressure, then OK. I can live with that. But if by pressure you mean, 'Look if you don't give a referral, we're going to kick [you] out of here.' Then, no, I don't believe in that either, because what that does is to force bad referrals."

Truth or delusion

I then commented, "So, if you're looking for good referrals, you have to get into the practice of giving the type of referrals you'd like to receive."

Misner added, "Yes, that's a very good way of putting it. But it's also about educating people. When I find that people aren't getting good referrals, I start going deep with them and find that they're not asking for them appropriately. They're going to a meeting and saying, 'Hey, I can help anybody with credit card processing. You know, just keep me in mind.'

"I'm sorry, but that's not good enough. And in one of the books I wrote, called Truth or Delusion, I speak to the common thinking that if you're not getting referrals from your networking partners, it's their fault. This is the 'delusion.' It's all your fault. "If you're not getting referrals from the people you are networking with, it's not everybody else's fault; it's yours. And one of the reasons it's your fault is you're not training them. You've got to teach people how to refer you. So the more specific you can be, the better.

"What happens is people try to say everything that they do in 60 seconds. They're not going deep in explaining the benefits of their products - the benefits of their services. So, for example, with credit card processing, there are many different things to talk about. You can stand up and say, 'I can save you money.' That might be one.

"But that's all you should talk about, that one. You continue, 'And you know, the standard rate is x percent but we can do y percent, and you may not have known that, but it's possible to do that. This is how we do it ...' And so this week you just talk about this one facet.

"Next week your talk might be about ease of operation. 'Do you have this problem or that problem with your credit card processing company? You know, if you work with me, you're not going to have any of that. And here is why ...' "The following week the talk might be, 'You might want to consider one of these mobile credit card units. We picked up one at BNI. We can be anywhere with Internet access; we just swipe it, boom, it's done. People want cards, they want books, they want educational materials. Now we don't have to fill out the little form, bring it back to the office and hope that everything is written down right. We can swipe it right there.' That's a presentation.

"So, my point is it's incumbent upon you as the member ... the person who is the member of any networking group, to adequately train people on what good referrals for you are and to go deep in explaining them in detail.

"At BNI you can talk every single week. So rather than just go, 'Blah, blah, blah. I'm a full service whatever or I can do whatever you need.'This really doesn't teach anybody anything. Try presenting credit card business 101 [or] credit card processing 101.

You create a curriculum to teach people about your business. That way, when they're out there talking to people, they can refer you more effectively. Make sense?"

The point

When I first heard Misner say, "It's all your fault," I was resistant. But he has a point. I know of many people who are successful with networking groups - and just as many who are not. It is not the group; it is how the individual uses the group.

The entire BlogTalkRadio interview I did with Misner can be heard here: www.blogtalkradio.com/mpctpublishing/2011/05/25/dr-ivan-misner-on-business-networking.

The next part of this interview will include further insight from Misner on how to make networking groups and referral marketing work for ISOs and merchant level salespeople. end of article

Bill Pirtle is the President of MPCT Publishing Co. and author of Navigating Through the Risks of Credit Card Processing. He is also a merchant level salesperson for Clearent LLC, Electronic Payments Inc. and Electronic Merchant Systems Inc. Bill's website is www.creditcardprocessingbook.com, and his email address is billpirtle@yahoo.com. He welcomes all connections on Facebook and LinkedIn.

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