By Bill Pirtle
Business Networking International and similar networking groups use reciprocal prospecting methods whereby members will willingly send you business if you are willing to send business to them. My native Michigan has a Local Business Network, which also has a few groups in Texas, but I will limit discussion in this to BNI because it is found all over the country.
BNI groups range in size from 20 to 40 members. Groups with more or fewer members are possible but not recommended. They meet each week on the same day, typically at 7 a.m. The meeting is typically an hour after the official start. The format is:
The recognition or "I Have" section. Each member stands and announces the referrals he or she has that week. Time depends upon number of members and number of referrals.
BNI also has Dance Cards or One on Ones that facilitate deeper understanding among two or three members. BNK encourages scheduling and completing as many of these as possible to get a full understanding of how to help other members' businesses and vice versa.
Understand going in that getting a good footing in network marketing for financial and insurance services is difficult. You risk your reputation every time you refer a friend or client to someone. Be generous and help other members' businesses, knowing you will also get opportunities.
One complaint about BNI and similar groups is that some groups require activity each week, and some members reap referrals but give only marginal leads or contact information that result in cold calls. Search for a group where members actively promote others and give higher quality referrals.
BNI founder Ivan Misner says that there are five levels of referrals. The fifth level is practically closed and will just need a few questions answered to close it. The levels are based on the amount of work needed to close as follows:
In May of 2011, a fellow member of a high-end Detroit-based group called ION asked me to "ask for the moon." I asked for an introduction to BNI founder Ivan Misner and received a call from Ivan the next day. I scheduled an interview using a new service I had found (blogtalkradio.com). The full interview can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/mpctpublishing/2011/05/25/dr-ivan-misner-on-business-networking.
When you use referral marketing properly you will be able to predict your success. Misner refers to a VCP process, which stands for visibility, credibility and profitability. Visibility means people knowing who you are and what you do. Credibility is people knowing that you are good at what you do. Profitability comes when people are willing to refer you to others on an ongoing basis.
We've all been guilty of premature solicitation. It is trying to get people to refer business to you when they do not know you or what you do. Whether at a chamber function or a networking group, it is never a good idea to launch right into sales mode with people you barely know.
There is a difference between referrals and leads. Leads are simply giving the name and contact information of a business that person providing the lead believes could use your services. It results in a cold call because the merchant has no idea who you are, much less who referred you.
Because BNI is franchised by states or territories, I cannot be sure if pricing for the groups are consistent across franchise lines. In Michigan, there is a $199 application fee; one-year's term is $499 and two is $799.
The application asks for your business type, and you will need to list all primary items you sell. This is because the chapter only allows one person from each business type to join. If you sell POS systems and credit card processing, but only list credit card processing; the group may allow a POS competitor into the group. The application also requests the names and contact information for two clients. The Vice-President will call them. Make sure you are giving your best references and that they have agreed to be a reference.
When you are giving your one-minute presentation, do not say you are full service. This carries no meaning for people. Many chiropractors will say, "A good referral is anyone with a spine." But that does not spur people to action. A better thing to say during the 60-second training might be "This week, I am asking for referrals to people with children who competitively cheerlead or play contact sports, as adjustments can benefit them." A good item to mention is EMV terminals. Mobile readers are another with comparisons to Square.
Describe scenarios for your group members. Give real-life examples of specific problems merchants had and how you provided creative solutions that helped them improve their processes while also effectively lowering costs. The story can bring more ideas for referrals as it allows your partners to relate how you helped someone.
Don't join a referral group to gain more business. Any gains will be short lived. Join a referral group to build partnerships and businesses around you. Then others will work to help you as well. This is the concept that Ivan Misner refers to as "Giver's Gain." It is the mantra that drives BNI and other referral groups.
Bill Pirtle is the author of the training book Credit Card Processing for Sales Agents. He is the district manager for Clearent in the Detroit/Ann Arbor/Toledo Market. His email is email@example.com. He can also be reached at 248-444-8009 or on LinkedIn.
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