Unproductive Networks

A Canadian friend recently brought a problem to me that is common enough to warrant a comment: the unproductive network.  Margareta, for so I will call her, has built a substantial network and works hard at maintaining it, but it generates only a dribble of leads.

If this happens, ask yourself three questions:

Am I networking with the right people?

Long ago a colleague of mine worked an association for two years.  She was welcomed, cultivated, wined and dined at the annual meetings.   Popular because of her personality and potential to pass out leads to the other members, she got attention, but little else in return.  On reflection she realized that few of the members would ever be in a position to give her leads.  She refocused her efforts elsewhere and had more success.

Ask yourself if your network contains enough buyers of your services and people who have influence with buyers.  If not, you must find ways to meet and stay in front of such people and reallocate your time to those activities.

Do they know what I do?

Yes, at some level they know, but how fresh and accurate is that knowledge?  Two weeks ago, I missed an opportunity to make a referral to a friend, because I didn’t see the client’s request as something he would help with.  Fortunately, he got the introduction through another channel.

I was embarrassed, and realized that I hadn’t reviewed the kind of work he did with him for over a year.  Shame on me.  Shame on him.  “We’re seeing an uptick in healthcare work.”  “We are getting a lot of requests to help renegotiate contracts.”  Remind your contacts of what you do with brief statements like these.  Sit with them from time to time to refresh your understanding of what each other do.

 But don’t, don’t, assume that they know.

Do they know what I want?

Never assume that your contacts know you want referrals, either.  Never make that assumption.  If you don’t make it clear that you want referrals, you won’t get any.  “Right now we could use a client in the casualty insurance industry.” “The revenue cliff is a little closer than we like to see it.”  “We’re busy, though, of course, we are always interested in new clients.”  “Our lead flow is down.  How about yours?”  Your words should remind your contacts of your interest in new business.

Reviewing these questions with Margareta, we developed some language she could use to make it easier for her contacts to recognize opportunities for her.  She will also make it clearer that she wants referrals.  Let’s see what happens.

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2 Responses to “Unproductive Networks”

  1. Ian Brodie Says:

    Great tips, as usual, Ford.

    I find that one of the challenges with referrals is that – just like with clients – no matter how clear your messages and effective your communication; your “referral partners” are busy people with much on their minds. Over time you and their good intentions towards you drift to the back of their minds.

    I find it useful to think about treating referral partners with a high potential to refer to you in the same way that you would treat high potential clients & prospects.

    After an initial approach to a high potential client it’s normal practice to try to nurture that relationship with a series of planned contacts designed to add value and demonstrate competence and trustworthiness. All with the aim of keeping “front of mind” so that when a need does arrive, we’re the first choice.

    Yet we rarely take such a planned approach to referral partners. Typically we meet them, have a follow-up, communicate what we’re looking for from them, and then do little else other than chat to them when we meet them at networking events. this is unlikely to get us to the front of their minds if they’re asked for a recommendation in areas relevant to our services.

    By a strange coincidence, I popped a post on my blog a few days ago highlighting an approach a local contact of mine uses to keep front of mind with his referral partners (http://www.sales-excellence.co.uk/articles/staying-front-mind-referral-partners.html). Of course, different approaches will suit different professionals and work best in different circumstances. But I found it instructive to see the approach one person had used to address this challenge.

    Ian

  2. Ford Harding Says:

    Ian:

    Thanks for the link. It is always useful to learn what a successful networker does.

    Ford Harding

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