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The Green Sheet Online Edition

July 25, 2011 • Issue 11:07:02

Street SmartsSM

Networking groups and referral marketing - Part II

By Bill Pirtle
MPCT Publishing Co.

This article continues with more views from Dr. Ivan Misner, the founder of Business Networking International and the Referral Institute. I mentioned to him that I have heard networking expert Tim Green speak several times and recalled one of his favorite phrases: "If you try to be everything to everyone, you wind up being nothing to no one."

I then said an example Green uses is a chiropractor who wants to talk to somebody with a spine, which doesn't trigger anything. But if you say, an "accident victim," suddenly you can visualize real people.

In response, Misner said, "Yes, an accident victim, sports injury, muscle spasms, each one of those are a different discussion every single week. TMJ - the problem with the jaw that a lot of people have where it clicks, could be your presentation for the week. ... The next week you might talk about muscle spasms, the week after that a sports injury. Not just a sports injury - talk about a foot sports injury. And then the next week the talk is on a knee sports injury.

"When it comes to presenting what you do in networking environments, what you have to remember, and this is where it's counterintuitive, is that when it comes to explaining to people what you do, specificity is terrific. The more specific you are, the more likely you are to teach people what to look for to refer you."

Membership perks

I posed a question from GS Online's MLS Forum member NCRUM: "What factors make up the cost of BNI membership?"

"We have almost 6,000 groups, in 50 countries around the world," Misner replied. "There are more than 1,000 people who work for BNI globally. I think a lot of people don't realize the extent [of it] because they only see the tip of the iceberg.

"But BNI is an organization just like any other. We have a pretty extensive multitouch marketing campaign. We spend a lot of time developing and marketing the organization."

Misner also said BNI has an online newsletter, weekly podcasts, a blog, and manages groups on Facebook and LinkedIn. The organization also publishes articles about networking and provides videos, books and CDs from its international headquarters in the Los Angeles area.

"We have a foundation - BNI foundation.org," Misner said. "We sponsor a thing called the International Networking League. And, of course, we have BNI websites. There is a new system that is being implemented called BNI Connect, which is an online social media [site].

"The question really is, for the few hundred dollars that it costs to participate, are you getting that much in referrals and business? And if the answer is yes, then this is a great place for you. And if it's not, then it may not be the thing that works for you." Misner added that to gain the most from a networking organization, it's more about committing time rather than money.

Referral Institute training program

Misner founded the Referral Institute to help train people on how to refine messages and learn to create powerful referral marketing partners.

Jared Sparr is a merchant level salesperson (MLS) in the Detroit area. Last year, he was signing five to six businesses a month. After completing the Referral Institute training, he now signs 30 to 35 each month and expects that number to reach 60 by year's end. Business owners are sold on him as a trusted adviser, and he signs them without negotiating on the rate. I asked Misner, "Can you tell us a little bit about the Referral Institute and how it compares with BNI?"

"Well, they're completely different organizations," Misner said. "BNI is sort of where the rubber meets the road. You're going out, and you're actually generating business through referrals with people and building relationships with people who will refer you.

"The Referral Institute is an educational program. It offers seminars; it's a training company. It's sort of like comparing apples and oranges, but there is training and education that happens at BNI, too."

Misner said another way to look at BNI it is to view it as a kind of vocational school. "That's where you actually apply the programs, ideas and concepts that you're being taught," he said. "The Referral Institute is graduate school. That's where you really go deep in understanding how to build a solid referral business.

Their trademark [phrase] is 'Referrals for Life.' They teach you how to create referrals for life. And BNI is one of the mechanisms that the Referral Institute recommends for people to create referrals for life."

"For payment professionals, might the Referral Institute be a better investment than BNI?" I asked.

"Well, to me it's not either/or," Misner said. "It's kind of like saying, you know, should I take checks or should I take credit cards? They're different. And BNI and Referral Institute are different. BNI is where you get referrals. If you go to the Referral Institute, you're not going to get a referral every week.

"And when you go to BNI, you're not going to get an hour's worth of training every week. BNI is where you are going to generate the referrals, or at least one of the places where you will generate referrals, and the Referral Institute teaches you how."

I told him I could see his point. "You could make a living on both of them quite well if you combine the two," I said.

Misner added, "The Referral Institute will say - go join a chamber, go be in a local BNI group, and here is how you work it. Here are the things that you do. Here's how you present yourself. Here's what you know. But it goes beyond that.

"The Referral Institute teaches you, 'OK, so you have customers. Are you asking them for referrals? How are you asking them for referrals? What are you doing to ask them for referrals? Do you have your referral checklist in place?

"These are all the things that you need to start the process. Are you following up? What are your touch points?' The Referral Institute goes in deep. BNI is one of the mechanisms for you to generate your referrals and that's why they work so well hand in hand - the two organizations. They really and truly are strategic alliance partners."

Makings of good referral partners

NCRUM also asked about the best referral partners to seek. I typically sought office products salespeople and CPAs and asked Misner if he had additional suggestions for partners that would be good fits for ISOs and MLSs.

"Those two are really good, particularly the accountants and CPAs - anybody with their fingers in somebody's books, in their accounting," Misner said. "Those are the people that make good power team partners. Marketing or other management consultants might be good on a power team. And a power team is comprised of people who are in symbiotic professions - noncompetitive professions [those not pursuing the same market as yours].

"It'd be interesting to see who he [Sparr] uses. But clearly the people who are involved in any way whatsoever with accounting, bookkeeping, or any consultant who is working on cutting costs or improving performance within an organization, would be good fits.

"You might partner with a marketing consultant who can help you with sales development. Also, a web developer, [especially if he works in e-processing setups] would be a great partner."

Maximum networking ROI

NCRUM also asked, "What three things can a BNI member do to guarantee a return on investment - investment not only on the money they are spending, but on the time they are spending?"

Misner answered the question from a general perspective for people who are not BNI members. "There are three things to keep in mind," he said. "First, the VCP [visibility, credibility, profitability] - is critical. It's that whole idea that networking is more about farming than it is about hunting. I think [this] is absolutely critical in building a powerful personal network. "You also have to understand that it takes time. This is not a get rich quick scheme. It's a way to build a solid foundation for a long-term, successful business. So you have to enter into it understanding that.

"Secondly, you have to do your homework. You have to prepare. I think most people kind of wing it when it comes to networking. They look at word of mouth as really important, but there is not much you can really do about it. So they don't do anything.

"You need to have good, practiced introductions. You need to break down your business into its least or lowest common denominators so that you can talk about different things under different circumstances.

"And you need to be prepared for your elevator speech - you know, that quick, brief presentation that you might give to somebody you are meeting for the first time.

"Thirdly, you want to learn. You want to do a lot of one-to-one meetings. You meet people at networking events, but you've got to pull [them] aside and have other opportunities to connect with them. We really recommend doing one-to-ones with people."

He added that tools are available to help in preparation. "For example, in both Referral Institute and BNI, we talk about what we call the gains exchange: goals, accomplishments, interests, networks and skills," Misner said. "This is a document that you share with somebody. It states, 'Here is my background, here is yours,' and outlines overlapping areas of interest. And those overlapping areas of interest lead people to create friendships, which lead to business."

In summary, Misner said the three important things to remember are:

  1. You can't wing it.
  2. You've got to be prepared.
  3. You've got to practice.

"I think the kind of networking I teach is not only a great way to get business, but it's an even better way to do business," Misner said. "It's really all about this philosophy that we teach, and at BNI - givers gain. If I give you business and you give me business, we'll all do better as a result of it. So it's about helping each other."

Misner also pointed out that in a recessionary economy, people are hesitant to let go of a friend. "They'll terminate a vendor in a heartbeat, but they don't want to terminate a friend," he said. "They don't want to terminate that relationship. So, if you can create trust and friendship with your clients and maintain that, you're going to get ongoing referrals and ongoing business."

The third article in this series will include recommended reading material, comments from Sparr about his path from six to 60 applications per month and how two other groups have put their own spin on networking. 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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