Referral Networking

I’m not what you’d call a natural sales person. I present well enough, and I’m confident and well spoken, but there’s something that top sales people have that I seem to be missing. Maybe it’s something that will come with experience.

When I  started Strategic Ventures, I had grand ideas of how I would be working with lots of different people in their businesses, driving change and improvement, making things clearer and more efficient. But the early stages of my business have conspired to put me into a deeper sales role than I’ve experienced before. So I did what I do – I started researching, reading and asking questions of people who have succeeded where I’m learning.

One thing that came up fairly consistently was the use of business networks – particularly referral networks like BNI. Although I’d had some understanding of what it was, I’d never attended a networking event like this until recently when I was invited by my local BNI chapter president to visit and see how it all works.

Watching 30(ish) business owners talking about their business, their ideal clients and their successful referrals was interesting, but what fascinated me was the relationships that had clearly been built over time in the group. In my research, I’d found several articles which had a rather negative view on BNI and similar referral networking groups, with a running theme of “They demand too much time, and don’t ensure quality referrals” and “You don’t get any access to high end decision makers which we need for our business”. One article in particular pointed out that the only successful referral network the author had been involved in was built on long term relationships without forced quotas. But I wonder if maybe the author missed the point. Too much focus on the referral quotas, and not enough time spent building real relationships. Maybe those referrals he was looking for were available in the group, but weren’t being given due to a lack of trust. There’s a reputational risk involved in referrals and introductions – if they don’t work out well the relationship can be damaged.

I’m still checking out some other groups and systems to see if I can find one that suits my business, but I have to say that even with the one visit I was able to sharpen my own focus on how I present what Strategic Ventures does, and who we’d love to do it for. I also got to meet some great people who work in all kinds of related fields that I can (and will) be able to refer business on to.

I’d love to hear about your experience with referral networks and business networking groups. Leave a comment below and tell us what you learned when you visited for the first time.

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