Yesterday I met with a successful executive coach who is starting to explore opportunities of expanding her business. She was sent to me by a trusted colleague and notable networking expert. The typical goal of these meetings are to learn about our respective businesses and then make introductions or provide advice on how to reach new clients. It’s the life of an independent business owner and consultant.
One of the questions I always ask people looking to develop more business is “who owns your customer?”. Often there is pause. Yes, I want to know who owns the relationship with your customer, not who is your customer. The reason I ask this question is to identify the strongest influencers of those potential new customers. In my experience, it is the shortest path to multiple buyers.
An influencer provides reach and accelerates your ability to grow market share. Research suggests that we “buy” when we are influenced by someone we trust. In fact, ninety percent of consumers surveyed in a 2009 Nielsen Survey said they trust recommendations from people they know.
This is not only applicable in retail situations or online recommendations, but also in business services as well. The business community often gives their business to those that come through their trusted network of peers or with whom they have a past relationship. Why? It eliminates the vetting and testing. In the old fashioned sales vernacular, it saves time and money.
Here are a few recommended steps to reaching your influencer:
1. Identify your influencer, ask yourself who “owns” your customer.
2. Research your influencer. Where do they meet? Who is in their network? Who are their customers? What events do they attend? What association and industry groups do they belong to?
3. Start following. Not literally stalking of course, but follow companies and connections in LinkedIn, through social media channels like Twitter, Facebook Fan Pages and Google+. What are they talking about?
4. Go to events where they gather and start building your circle of influence.
The biggest mistake I see others make in networking to find business is they go to where their friends and competitors go. For example, I am probably less likely to get business at another marketing event, as opposed to hanging out at a physicians conference or speaking at a non-profit event about advisory boards. My competitors do not go to these events, or at least very few do. I get more time to interact. I can learn more about their needs in a particular industry or market vertical. More importantly, I can start to build a network of influencers face-to-face.
How do I get those in the room that have nothing in common with me enter into a trusted relationship? I start by listening. I then offer to make introductions to my trusted network, when there is a good match. I share my knowledge to see where we have similar business interests, like expanding markets, growing revenues. Sometimes I offer to participate in events as a speaker on mutually defined topics of interest. Finally, I look for ways I can help them achieve their business goals and give them a “sample” of what I have to offer at no charge.
The saying, nothing ventured nothing gained seems to work well in the world of networking for business. Sole proprietors and consultants have little time to work on their business, as they are the business. You need to be your own best PR agent and maximize your limited selling time effectively. If you are competing for air time in a room of people that look and talk just like you, that is an educational or skill expanding event. Learn about your craft and further your expertise. Don’t expect to get customers at these events.
When you want to network for business, go where you expect to see the least amount of your competition. The fewer people that are “talking just like you” that are in the room, the better chance you have to find business. You also create more awareness about your services because you are not a peer. You have more “meme” time. That will drive curiosity, and that opens a door to “sell yourself”.
Networking is a skill. Before you say no or turn away from the idea of going to a meeting or speaking at an event of complete strangers, realize that this is where business starts. Venture out. Be different. Go where others won’t go.