Jill Konrath

Article Summary:

How to use an internal or external business networking group to break through to decision makers in the companies you want to reach.

Deliberate Networking: Using Business Networking Groups

Why does most networking lead to absolutely zero referrals into big companies? Because if you're like most people, you're hoping to meet a someone who will graciously refer you to the perfect buyer for your products or services.

But let's get real here. Let's suppose you really do know a key decision maker in a large corporation. Then imagine that you're at this networking function talking to a bunch of people you've never met before. You ask each one of them, "What do you do?"

  • The first guy (who looks a bit nerdy) gives you this boring dissertation that seems to go on-and-one and includes a ton of technical terms.

  • The tall, thin man explains that his company does incentive programs, eagerly shows you a few trinkets and presses a catalog into your hands.

  • The professional looking women explains that she's a management consultant and name drops her relationship with some well-known people in the business community.

Now think about it: Would you really introduce these strangers to your key contact in the big company? I mean really?

Perhaps you might, but I can assure you that after meeting them just once, I sure wouldn't. When someone uses my name as a referral source, it implies that I've put my stamp of approval on him or her. Until I have a better sense of this person's capabilities, character, values, style and more - I will not risk my good name!

That's why most networking doesn't work. Nobody in their right mind would refer someone they just met into a big company when their personal reputation is at stake.

So is there a way around this? You bet!

Try a deliberate networking process. This can be done internally with the people in your own company or externally with a structured business networking group.

Bruce Malmgren is Vice President of Client Resources at Right Management Consulting, a career transition firm. People in his business live and die by networking. They don't do the 'after hours' type, but instead focus on finding contacts at very specific targeted companies.

"In our company, on a monthly basis, each salesperson names one company they want to network their way into," says Bruce. "We publish this list internally. And, we ask our clients, friends or anyone else we're comfortable with about people they might know in this organization."

"We also have all-employee meetings once a month and everyone who provided a contact into one of the listed companies gets a small bonus," adds Bruce. "It keeps the whole organization involved."

Professional services firms are way ahead of other businesses in this arena. Partly it's because many people in these firms detest "cold calling." But also it's because doors open wide when you're referred in by a respected colleague or friend.

At the various professional services firms I've consulted with, circulating company names looking for possible connections is a very deliberate account entry strategy.

If your firm is too small, too spread out, or not into deliberate networking, don't despair. You're not out of luck.

That's why organizations such as BNI (Business Network Int'l) have sprouted up all over and become so strong in the past few years.

"If you do it right, you CAN get into any company you want to get into with a warm referral," says Beth Anderson, Assistant Director of BNI Minnesota. "Already this year, the members of her chapter have realized over $500,000 of business from contacts they've made."

BNI members learn that they aren't selling to people in their own networking group. Instead, they're first getting to know and trust their fellow members. And then, when a relationship is established, they're getting introduced to the contacts supplied by the people in their group.

It's not a quick hit type of process. It's slow and deliberate - but effective. Here are a couple examples of how people in these networking groups got into big companies:

  • Ted, a hairdresser, referred a telecom sales rep to the CEO of a large health center. The result: a $40,000 contract. Ted says, "David had to rethink his idea that a mere hairdresser couldn't possibly make any connections for him. But if CEOs trust us with their hair, why wouldn't they trust us with who we know that could help them in their business."

  • Pam, who sells corporate recognition products, got her foot in the door of big company from a referral by someone in her group. Even though the prospective buyer already had a vendor, she was willing to give Pam a try when it came time to refill inventory. Within a year, Pam's gross sales were $55,000 in this account.

  • Ric Moxley, President of WriteWorks Agency in Kansas, is also involved in a structured networking association. A local franchise owner was in this particular chapter too. This person introduced him to the marketing director from their corporate headquarters. As a result he has an ongoing and profitable business relationship with this firm.

    Ric says, "I do networking events not because of who goes there, but because of who the people who go there know."

Remember, networking has two primary purposes:

  1. Finding the right people to help you get into an account. Make sure you can tell others exactly who (position, title) you're hoping to meet.

  2. Finding people who have information that will get you to the next step in your account entry strategy - whatever that might be.
To be an effective networker, you must be deliberate about it. Success doesn't happen serendipitously. Stop hoping to meet the right people. Instead, put a plan in place to make it happen. You'll see results much more quickly.

Jill Konrath, author of the hot new book Selling to Big Companies, is a recognized expert on selling to large corporations. She helps her clients crack into corporate accounts, speed up their sales cycle, and create demand in the highly competitive business-to-business marketplace. A frequent speaker at national sales meetings and association events, she provides a big wake-up call to sellers, then shares the new skills and strategies required for success.

Jill publishes a leading on-line newsletter which is read by 20,000+ sellers from more than 85 countries. Most recently she's been featured in Selling Power, Entrepreneur, The Business Journal, Sales & Marketing Management, WSJ's Start-Up Journal, Sales & Marketing Excellence, Journal of Marketing, Business Advisor and countless online publications.

For info on speaking, training or consulting services, please call 651-429-1922 or email her directly, or visit www.sellingtobig companies.com.

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