Do you need new customers or clients but can’t seem to get enough of them? People generally want to make referrals when they can. It feels good to be able to connect those who can help with those who need that help. But, you need to make it as easy as possible for them to do so. We’re all busy, faced with too much on our plate and not enough hours in the day, so the more painless you can make it, the greater your chances of getting the referrals you want.
Here are four key questions to ask yourself to test the strength of your “referability.”
1) Are contacts able to reach you?
Before LinkedIn, it was easy to lose touch with people as they moved around and changed companies. And despite the fact LinkedIn has over 50 million members, there are still a great number of professionals still not on it.
Last year a friend asked for a recommendation to a commercial banker in New York City for a real estate deal he was putting together. The only one I knew had worked at one bank but had subsequently moved to another. Although he did send out updated contact information, it never made it into my address book. When I couldn’t find him on LinkedIn, I couldn’t make the referral.
Being easily reachable is a necessary, but by no means sufficient, condition. Your business card in someone’s desk drawer or a connection to them via social media is not enough. The next three questionsare even more crucial.
2) Can they describe what you do?
Is your elevator pitch clear? Do your contacts really understand what you do? Not what your title is, but what problems you can help solve? By leading with your title as opposed to your solution, you lose people because they have either no idea, or an inaccurate idea, of what it means. Instead, focus on relaying the benefits of what you do so nothing gets lost in the translation.
3) Do they know whom to tell?
Have you clearly described your target customer? This is where job titles may come in handy. Talk specifically about the kinds of people who are involved in the decision to hire you as well as the kinds of companies. Give examples of both job titles (e.g., “I usually work with the vp of marketing”) and company names (e.g., “Consumer technology companies like Dell, Iomega, and HP)
4) Will they?
Once they have all of this information, the big question is will they act on it when they see an opportunity? This comes down to two things. First is their belief in the quality of your work. Because your contacts put their reputations on the line when they make recommendations on your behalf, they have to know that you’re the best person for the job. Second is the strength of your relationship. Have you developed enough rapport so they’d want to take the time to help you?
I’ve said in Smart Networking that you don’t need a huge Rolodex if you have aresponsive one. In next week’s post we’ll talk about more about point #4 and how you can build closer bonds with people you meet right from the start of a relationship so when opportunities come along, they think of you first and make the referral.
** This concludes our series on how to build natural and authentic relationships in every day life. **
Step 3: Convert
All things being equal, we prefer to do business with those we know, like and trust. And all things not being equal, many of us would still prefer to do business with those we know, like and trust. I heard this said at a panel discussion recently and I couldn’t agree more.
The question is: How can we allow that know, like and trust to happen effortlessly and automatically so that networking doesn’t seem forced, fake, or time-consuming?
Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored how we can tap into the natural ability we each have to build relationships organically, letting nature take its course without injecting anything artificial into the process to force them to blossom more quickly.
And we’ve seen in this series that the more we get it right up front–with who we connect with and how we connect with them–the easier it is to converse, and ultimately convert that connection to a true relationship. Those who realize this, for example, understand why you wouldn’t send a Facebook friend request or a LinkedIn invitation without crafting a personalized note, any more than you would phone someone you’ve never met and start chatting away without introducing yourself or mentioning a reason for calling.
This week we’ll wrap up the series with a focus on the third step of the organic relationship building process: conversion.
Conversion is about evolving from simply being known to someone, to ultimately being trusted by them. Trusted enough to buy from you, trusted enough to tell their friends and colleagues about you, trusted enough to offer their help to you when you ask for it.
But there are different categories of conversion:
Supporter: Where there’s a natural chemistry and mutual respect. Anyone who likes you will usually be willing to help you out with a favor or spend time with you to give advice and feedback.
Partner: Where there’s a natural synergy between your respective goals. These are folks who can help you expand your business by collaborating with you to develop new markets, products and services. They help not just to feel good, but also because there are direct and tangible benefits to them for doing so.
Customer: Where there’s a natural need someone has that your product or service can fill. For example, corporate training managers, event planners and others who hire speakers for their organizations would be potential customers for me.
Endorser: Where there’s been an actual experience of working with you. These folks can give a whole-hearted recommendation based on their hands-on knowledge. They can help answer questions the prospect may have, thereby serving as your mini-sales force.
The reason some people struggle with networking is that they focus on meeting only those who fit into the Customer category. Or worse, trying to push everyone they meet into the Customer category even when it doesn’t make sense.
Realistically, only a small percentage of folks you’ll come across will ever buy from you. But that doesn’t mean they can’t play a crucial role in your business success as a supporter or partner.
In fact, when you have supporters, partners and endorsers, winning over customers becomes a lot easier because other people are doing the selling for you.
So the key to successfully converting initial connections into productive relationships is to focus your conversations on winning people over as supporters first. Build your know, like and trust factor by finding out what’s important to them, what they’re pursuing, and how you can help.
When you work on gaining someone’s support rather than to trying to leapfrog over into the sale, not only will you put less pressure on yourself with networking, but you’ll also put less pressure on them. And in that natural, relaxed state will the most robust, productive and profitable relationships take root and flourish.
You are one conversation away from your next opportunity. One conversation away from learning of a key way to re-position yourself for your next job; from gaining a deeper understanding of the needs of a potential new client and how you might address them effectively; or from finding the ideal joint venture partner to help expand your business.
You can get what you want if you just talk to enough people. One of the key ways to uncover hidden opportunities and gain an edge over your competition is through the information you glean through conversations with your network.
The trouble is sometimes we just don’t talk to enough people. We’re so used to turning to the Internet for everything, that if we can’t find it there–on a job board, in a news story, on a company’s website–we think it must not exist. But the need is definitely there. It’s just that we haven’t yet discovered who needs us most or the best way to approach them.
Converse and connect
Conversation is also the way to advance relationships. Last time we discussed the first step of building relationships organically by
connecting with more people around us. This week, we explore how simple conversations can move those relationships forward naturally. Here are some key tips:
Initiate more conversations. When you’re at a networking event, don’t wait for people to approach you, start more conversations yourself. One of my strategies is to position myself in a place where people tend to gather but not engage in deep conversation, such as the registration table or buffet line. With your online network, pay attention to what they’re posting and find opportunities to engage. Even simply asking “What’s new with you?” for example, is an easy way to start the conversation.
Make conversations productive. I did a free teleclass recently called the “Top 10 questions of Six-Figure Job Seekers” and asked people to submit questions to me and I’d answer the 10 most popular ones on the call. One of the questions I got was from a gentleman who said, “So I went to a networking event the other night. I met three people and we talked politics and a little bit of shop, now what?” I told him that wasn’t enough. Small talk helps to break the ice and build rapport as you uncover things you might have in common. But don’t stay there. Move on to having more robust conversations by asking more thoughtful questions.
Ask thoughtful, relevant questions. Questions keep the conversation open. Questions help you enhance your professional knowledge and get to the insights. But they also help you enhance your people knowledge. In addition to asking broad questions about what might be happening in the industry, ask specific questions about what someone might be working on that they’re excited about. When you get people to talk about what’s important to them, they grow to know, like and trust you more than if you did all the talking yourself.
Listen openly. I’ve written in the past about the importance of listening. When you listen to what others are saying, really listening and not just pausing before jumping in with your next comment, you show that you know that the interaction is not all about you.Listening helps you gain a deeper understanding of others’ goals and can help you uncover how you might possibly help. That’s how you build on the rapport you established through small talk and start to turn that into a relationship.
Connections deepen through conversation, and next week, we’ll conclude this series on building relationships organically by delving into the final step of moving seamlessly from conversation to conversion.
We started this series by exploring the concept of building relationships organically, the natural way nearly all of us follow when we aren’t trying so hard to get something.
Without thinking about it, we do go through an instinctive process of connecting, conversing and converting. We connect with the people around us at work, at school, in our community. We converse with them, learn who they are and share something about ourselves. And then through conversation over time, the interaction converts into friendship.
You don’t have to change how you relate to people to network successfully if you just tap into your natural instincts with this natural process.
This week, we cover the Connect step in more detail. How can you connect more organically, without the uncomfortable feeling that you’re forcing yourself on others?
A big part of the solution is to connect more deeply with more people who are already around you, those involved in the same activities, interested in the same issues, or pursuing the same goals. When you already share a common purpose with someone, the rest of the process of conversation and conversion flow more easily.
Here are some things you can do to increase the number and improve the quality of your organic relationships.
Increase and improve
Make a list. Identify people around you whom you should get to know. For example, people in other departments, those whose work is linked to yours, where more cooperation and an open line of communication can help both of you do your jobs better. Learn more about the interdependencies and brainstorm ways to better support one another.
Be inclusive. Rather than eat lunch every day with your usual cohort of colleagues, or hang out with the same three people for every meal at a multi-day conference, invite others to join you. Explore the circumstances that brought you to the same place and you may discover common goals and values on which to build meaningful and productive relationships.
Don’t go it alone. Get involved in things that interest you but do them with other people. In the book Bowling Alone, Robert D. Putnam chronicled that the percentage of Americans joining organized groups–whether they be sports leagues, professional associations, political committees, etc.–has declined dramatically over the last 30-40 years.
Yet, when we share experiences with others, we can’t help but grow closer. You might really enjoy your independence, but mixing it up every once in a while and doing the same activity in a group environment is an easy way to build relationships organically.
Take advantage of whatever environments you’re in to bond with the people around you. Effortless relationships are all around us, ready to be made, if we just open the gates.
Stay tuned next week for more detail on Step 2: Converse.
The follow up process is one of the areas of networking that still seems to confuse some people. Most realize that meeting someone at a networking event for five minutes isn’t enough to build a relationship, and that follow up is critical.
The fortune is in the follow-up
But while they may have good intentions of following up with the contacts they meet at events, once they’re back in the office they find themselves staring at the stack of business cards they collected and wondering what’s the next step?
Follow up can be awkward if you don’t have a plan. Sun Tzu once said, “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought,” and I feel the same could be said about the follow up process. What you do BEFORE the follow up will make it easy or hard.
6 steps to make follow up happen
To make the process as smooth as possible, before you end a conversation with someone you want to follow up with later, make sure you follow these steps:
1) Find a reason during the conversation to follow up. It’s always easier to make the follow up call or send the follow up email if you know the other person is expecting it. Ask enough questions during your conversation to learn about their goals and what’s important to them, and listen for ways you can help.
2) Make sure the reason to follow up is a value-add for them. Look for a reason to give information that will have value for them, not just something that benefits you. In other words, unless they specifically asked for it, promising to email your sales brochure or your resume doesn’t count.
3) Once you find an opening, make the follow up offer. When you find a way to connect them to a resource or contact in your network, speak up. You can say something like, “I have a contact who may be able to help you with that. I’d be happy to send you her information.”
4) Ask how they would prefer to be contacted. Ask for a business card so you have their contact info, but also ask what’s their preferred method of follow up. Some people like email while others prefer the phone. They’ll appreciate that you asked and are likely to be more responsive.
5) Follow up soon after the event. Do your best to send the information you promised within a few days of the event. Not only will it clear up your to-do list and mental bandwidth, but it will also show that you have your act together and that you care about the relationship.
6) Stay in touch. Connecting with each other on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter allows you to stay in touch unobtrusively and follow what is happening with them so that you can continue to find ways to add value and strengthen the relationship.
Follow up doesn’t have to be a numbers game. You don’t have to spend time meeting hundreds of new people every year hoping that a handful of them will convert into good contacts. By following some simple steps, you can turn just about any contact you make into a lasting connection.
Note: For more strategies to follow up effectively and build relationships with ease, grab your copy of the Smart Networking System today.