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Is Networking a Waste of Time?

Marketing podcast with Derek Coburn

The simple answer to the question posed in the title of this post is – maybe.

always be connecting

photo credit: dgray_xplane via photopin cc

Networking is actually one of the most powerful strategic activities you can engage in if you do it right. In fact, when people ask me what they should do to market their business when they are just getting started I tell them to start networking.

However, I don’t simply mean print off a bunch of business cards and head out to the next wine and cheese Chamber event and start passing out your new cards.

Effective networking today has taken on a vastly different look but one thing has not changed – networking is not about selling, it’s about connecting people.

Technology, social networks and our propensity to turn online for every need have greatly expanded the elements of networking but connecting is, and I suggest always will be, at the core.

Today networking is the richest source of organic backlinks that still drive SEO. Today networking is building stakeholder maps as a way to shorten sales cycles. Today networking is how you make yourself more valuable to your existing clients.

My guest for this week’s episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast is Derek Coburn. He and his wife Melanie have created a unique network in Washington DC called cadre. The network is based on the idea of people connecting people rather than people promoting themselves.

You know of course the ironic thing about this idea of focusing on connecting and adding value rather than selling is that it’s a crazy powerful way to sell.

Derek is also the author of Networking Is Not Working: Stop Collecting Business Cards and Start Making Meaningful Connections, the best book I’ve read on the idea of connecting.

As he shares in our interview this book and his Cadre community were born out of frustration with having spent thousands of fruitless hours attending traditional networking events. Coburn’s book offers fresh, effective, unconventional strategies for growing and nurturing a powerful network. These strategies grew Coburn’s revenue by 300% in just 18 months and can have a major impact on your business.

Some of the most ideas contained in the book include:

  • How to become the Ultimate Connector
  • How to become the Ultimate Resource
  • How to identify and develop relationships with world-class professionals
  • How to enhance the value you deliver for your best clients
  • How to position yourself for more quality introductions to ideal prospective clients

Connecting is the master skill no matter if you are a salesperson, business owner or someone starting a career.

The Number One Mistake People Make When It Comes To Referral Marketing

Marketing podcast with Bill Cates

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Everyone loves referrals, but let’s face it – the real point of a referral is a customer. If you’re getting plenty of referrals, but few are turning into new clients, it’s time to change a few things about your approach to referrals.

referral introduction

photo credit: Jeremy Wilburn via photopin cc

The number one mistake people make in the business of referral generation is to ask for leads or referrals when they should be asking for introductions.

So many people seek referrals by simply asking clients, or anyone that will listen, if they know anybody who needs what they do. If the referral source can come up with a few names we’re often tickled to have some new “leads” to go chase.

But, what do we really have? Something less than cold call – maybe. Sure, we can name drop, “Bob said I should call you.” But, we’ve all been on the other end of that call and know how that usually ends up.

If you want to make referral generation a significant part of your marketing success you need to start asking for introductions and not simply a list of names. You need to build the trust and leverage that would allow you to ask a client to introduce you to three others that could benefit from the value you bring.

In this week’s episode of The Duct Tape Marketing Podcast I visit with Bill Cates, author of Get More Referrals Now and the upcoming Beyond Referrals. Bill has spent many years coaching financial professionals on the fine art of authentic referral generation and in this segment he shares some well tested tactics.

The key to generating introductions is to make it as easy as possible for your referral source to do so. Offer a list of specific prospects you would like to meet and see if they know anyone on the list. Offer to host an informal educational workshop and allow your best customers to bring a friend or two. Take a handful of customers to lunch and ask them each to bring a guest.

Cates mentions a former client that would ask his clients to introduce him to two colleagues who would take his call just because they asked them to.

Getting your customers or contacts to rise to the level of engagement required to make introductions or bring a friend to lunch requires a level of value that few can muster. This is the key to making this idea work. You must bring value to every interaction, conversation and setting.

When you can do this, people will gladly introduce you to others. When you change the context of a referral to that of an introduction you automatically raise the stakes for all parties and that’s the place where you can do your magic.

5 Things Your Business Should Never Pay For

This post originally appeared on American Express OPENForum.

There is a never-ending list of things businesses must purchase in order to grow. It’s just a fact, and that fact is exploited by plenty of folks that want to sell you things that may or may not actually propel you towards growth.

In the building of your brand, both online and off, there will come a time when a company approaches you with an offer for a service that seems to address a need, but in fact, is so detrimental it may actually do more harm than good.

These offers often address our inherent desire to shortcut the real work required to produce sustainable business and marketing results—but, of course, that’s the appeal.

Below are five things you must do the right way—and that usually means you should never pay for them.

Advertising you can’t account for

I’m not against paying for advertising, in fact, quite the opposite; I think advertising is an essential part of small business lead generation. What I am opposed to is buying any advertising that you can’t or don’t track.

Advertising only works if it’s the right message, presented at the exact right time, to the exact right audience. There are so many variables at play here that the only way to get your bang for the buck is to measure real results, in almost real time. Advertising without accountability is like playing roulette with your money.

Referrals

Lots of companies offer incentives for referrals, and in some instances a little cash for the act of a referral can motivate, but is it the right motivation?

Referral generation is an important aspect of marketing, but when you pay for referrals you change the relationship from social to financial and that changes the dynamic in ways that won’t last long-term.

The proper motivation for a referral is the lending of trust in an effort to help either the company receiving the referral or the individual being referred. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t use creative incentives to keep referrals top of mind, it’s just that if you provide something of value, you shouldn’t have to bribe people to share.

Reviews of your business

Online reviews carry increasing weight in the information gathering routine of prospects, as well as in the ranking factors that contribute to high search engine results. Because of that, smart marketers are paying more attention to reviews and even getting more proactive about stimulating written reviews from happy customers.

So, it should come as no surprise that enterprising snake oil types are offering reviews for fee services that can get your business favorably reviewed by professional Yelp and Google Places review accounts located right there in your town.

On top of being dishonest, my guess is that paying for these reviews may actually get some businesses banned from review participation. Put the work in and make reviews an authentic arm of your message.

Links to your site

This one has faded from the mainstream for the most part, mainly because the search engines police it so heavily, but there are still lots of SEO types willing to sell you links from high quality sites leading back to your site.

Back links to your site are extremely important, but its become extremely easy for search engines to recognize abnormal linking behavior, and even easier to penalize sites that participate in it.

Write good content, point to good content and participate in social networks—that’s how you create organic links to your site.

Opt-in e-mail lists

Every list company, including the largest, most respected names, will sell you a list of targeted opt-in e-mails. The thing is, no matter how many hoops they jump through to make sure these e-mails are CAN-SPAM compliant, they aren’t opt-in, because they did not opt-in to get your e-mails.

Some companies get around this by not actually selling you the list, but instead renting you the ability to send an e-mail from their servers to a list. No matter how tempting this may sound, it’s still spam and not something you should even consider.

It can be difficult to navigate the various offers of help that show up at your door, but some things just simply can’t be bought.

How to Create a Killer Local Partner Team Program

This article originally appeared on AMEX OPENForum

eeEverybody needs a little help from their friends. Businesses large and small can benefit greatly from the partnering mindset, particularly hyper local businesses.

The partnering mindset is simply a business point of view that suggests a great deal of the organization’s marketing mix will involve seeking out and activating business partners with the same ideal client target.

Understand that this thinking in full form takes in a bigger view than simply referring business to each other.

A total local partner mindset is an approach that starts with your product and service offerings and carries through to both making and give referrals as a total team effort.

There are a number of components involved in the creation of an effective program.

Recruit and introduce – the first step is to recruit your team and introduce them to your program and business. One of the best ways to identify good teammates is to ask your current customers to name other businesses they like to buy from. You don’t want just anyone as a partner, these need to be people you can also confidently refer business to.

Next, send them a letter outlining your plans and inviting them to tell you the best way to introduce their business to your customers – that usually gets their attention.

Create content opportunities – Invite your partners to contribute to your newsletter, act as a guest on your podcast or blog. Giving your partners exposure by way of content gets them exposure and you content. Consider taking this up a notch and create a group blog optimized for all of the partners.

Conduct video interviews – Set a meeting with your partners and use the opportunity to record an introduction video so you can have content to run on your website letting the world know about your partners. This will show you mean business.

Acquire special offers – Get your partners to contribute a product or service that you can use as a way to enhance your offering. Free business cards for every logo purchased or free flowers when you make a reservation for dinner, free tickets to give away in y our marketing, or free HVAC check-up when you get some plumbing work. This is a great way to promote your partners while adding real appeal to what your marketing. Make sure you create real perceived value here.

Make referrals – Make it a habit to consciously go out of your way to refer business to your partners. Don’t wait for people to ask, do it as part of your Monday routine. This is how you become someone that lots of great providers want to partner with, but you also increase your value to your customers by consistently helping get what they need in every aspect of their life.

Rate and review – If at all possible become of a customer of every one of your partners. This will make you a much more authentic referral sources (as a user) and allow you to test and filter the truly great experiences. Follow-up on this by actively writing reviews and ratings on Yelp and other online sites.

Create events – Figure out how to bring your partners together to network and create deeper engagement. Let each partner have a day where they educate everyone in the network. Create workshops and offer to conduct them for your partner’s customers. Develop a day devoted to topics that your partners can present useful information on and have everyone promote the event.

With just a little bit of creativity any organization can tap the awesome power of a partner network as a substantial lead and customer generator.

Image credit: Merelymel13

5 Questions You Should Ask Every Customer

Constantly seeking feedback from your customers is a great way to learn how to market your business more effectively. If you’ve never done this before, do it immediately as it is one of the best ways to discover what you do that actually differentiates you from your competition.

questionsI can’t tell you how many times I’ve worked with a small business that had no idea what its competitive advantage was until we heard it right from the mouths of happy customers. Seeking feedback is also a great way to get better and plug gaps. I can tell you that if you’re not receiving a large amount of your business by way of referral or word of mouth, you’ve probably got some gaps in your processes.

Below are five questions I like to pose to customers as they can provide a great discussion base for getting at what’s truly important to you and your customers. Create a form and get in the habit of surveying a handful of customers every month. I think you’ll be rewarded with tremendous insight and you’ll also find that your customers enjoy being asked what they think. One word of caution, don’t accept vague answers like “you provide good service.” While that may be true and good to hear, you can’t work with that. Push a bit and ask what good service looks like and maybe even if they can tell you about a specific instance in which they felt they got good service.

1. What made you decide to hire us/buy from us in the first place?

This is a good baseline question for your marketing. It can get at how effective your advertising, message and lead conversion processes are working. I’ve also heard customers talk about the personal connection or culture that felt right in this question.

2. What’s one thing we do better than others you do business with?

In this question you are trying to discover something that you can work with as a true differentiator. This is probably the question you’ll need to work hardest at getting specifics. You want to look for words and phrases and actual experiences that keep coming up over and over again, no matter how insignificant they may seem to you. If your customers are explaining what they value about what you do, you may want to consider making that the core marketing message for your business.

3. What’s one thing we could do to create a better experience for you?

On the surface this question could be looked at as a customer service improvement question, and it may be, but the true gold in this question is when your customers can identify an innovation. Sometimes we go along doing what we’ve always done and then out of the blue a customer says something like, “I sure wish it came like this,” and all of a sudden it’s painfully clear how you can create a meaningful innovation to your products, services and processes. Push your customers to describe the perfect experience buying what you sell.

4. Do you refer us to other, and if so, why?

This is the ultimate question of satisfaction because a truthful answer means your customer likes the product and likes the experience of getting the product. (You can substitute service here of course.) There’s an entire consulting industry cropping up around helping people discover what Fred Reichheld called the Net Promoter Score in his book The Ultimate Question.

Small businesses can take this a step deeper and start understanding specifically why they get referrals and perhaps the exact words and phrases a customer might use when describing to a friend why your company is the best.

5. What would you Google to find a business like ours?

This is the new lead generation question, but understanding what it implies is very important. If you want to get very, very good at being found online, around the world or around the town, you have to know everything you can about the actual terms and phrases your customers use when they go looking for companies like yours.

Far too often businesses optimize their web sites around industry jargon and technical terms when people really search for “stuff to make my life better.”

Bonus: I’m a big fan of building strategic partnerships and networks. Another question I would suggest you get in the habit of asking your customer is – “What other companies do you love to refer?” If you can start building a list of “best of class” companies, based on your customer’s say so, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve got a list of folks you should be building strategic relationships with.

Image credit: Karen Elliot

5 Ways to Share Content to Create Referrals

Creating valuable, education based content is half the ticket to selling these days. The other half, of course, is getting that content read and in the hands of prospects.

Share contentWriting a blog, hosting content on your website and spreading the word on you social networks are all great places to start, but another great way to use and amplify content is to attract partners that you can share content with and help you turn that content into referrals.

Below is a list of five ways to start thinking about doing just that.

1) Guest post – It used to be that writing articles and publishing them to article directories was sound advice. It’s still not a bad way to get some exposure, but writing as a guest author for blogs read by your prospective market is a far stronger play these days. Blogs generally have a following developed by the publisher and therefor an audience that comes back and reads or content that search engines find highly indexable.

By approaching blogs that seem to have the kind of topics and readers relevant to your market and offering up valuable content you can potentially borrow the trust, also known as being referred, built by that blogger to gain added exposure to your message or expertise.

A couple of thoughts on finding blogs. Use search tools like Bloglines or Placeblogger to find related or local bloggers. While it would be great to get a guest post on the highest traffic blogs you might want to focus on blogs that are smaller and perhaps in the end, more relevant to your subject. Scan past posts to see if they appear to want guest posts and offer up original content either in the form of a full post or by way of an email outlining what you could write about. Make sure you add very brief contact information, but don’t sell in the post.

2) Host a group – Social networking platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Slideshare and Flickr all allow members to create groups. A group can be gathered around a single niche topic or even a location. By forming a group around content, community events or how to do something specific, you have the opportunity to create a place where prospects and partners might want to gather and refer others.

The key to this play is that the group needs to be all about something valuable, a what’s in it for the members only approach, or it won’t garner any attention. You don’t have to think strictly in terms of a group topic that is related to your business either. If you are trying to attract locals, a group that appeals to locals might be a group way to turn content into referrals. This Boston Networking Group on LinkedIn was founded by Jeff Popin, owner of BostonEventGuide.com. With over 3,000 members, there’s a pretty good bet this group serves as a conduit for Popin’s main business locally.

3) Bring a friend – People love free content events such as workshops and webinars. They are great ways to deliver content and great ways for people looking for information to learn from an expert. One way to build audience and generate referrals is to create “bring a friend” events. The idea here is that you can come for free, but you must bring a friend as the price of admission. You can automate the process of sign-up using tools like MeetUp or Eventbrite.

Bring a friend is a great way to expand your referral base and, as long as we’ve got the audience, make a referral oriented offer to all in attendance. If you sell a product or service make them a two for one deal today only. They get to buy today’s incredible program and get a second one free to give a friend.

4) Offer content co-branding - You’ve worked and slaved over the perfect white paper, “how to” series of articles, or video tutorials and people seem to really like them. Why not take that content to potential strategic partners (really any non-competing business that also targets your same ideal customer) and offer to let them use it. Most businesses these days realize they should be producing content like this, but hey, who has the time. Then you show up with a great little package of information all ready to go and you even let them put there logo and contact information inside when they offer it up their prospects, customers and network.

This is a great way to get in front of very large audiences as a referral. Making it very easy for people to do something they know they should is a great way to get the attention of a potential big referral fish.

5) Create an event – This one is pretty closely related to the last two, but once you’ve created a workshop or seminar, you can always take it to potential strategic partners and offer to provide it at no cost to their customer base (you get referred as the expert) – of course, don’t forget to tell them about the bring a friend approach.

To amp this approach up even more round-up four or five of the partners that you worked with in number four above and come up with an entire day or half day of great topics that your target market will find irresistible. Then each of you promote the event to your customer and prospect bases (bring a friend) and fill up the event. You can do this for free or low cost, but the goal is to get exposure and referrals from your partners while providing content that can be re-purposed in any number of ways. You can do this online off and don’t forget to record so you can use the archives in new ways too!

Image credit: miss rogue

The Simplest Secret To Business Growth

Everyone wants to know the one thing they can do to get things going, the magic pill they can take, the one bit or advice from a guru that will turn the ship around. (How’s that for some clichés?) Truth is, business is mostly a bunch of hard work, done consistently. However, there is one thing that every business can do that works in every instance – the one simple secret to guaranteed business growth. Want to know what that is?

Find what’s working and do more of it. In fact, focus every fiber of your business being on that. Wait, wait, wait, I told you it was simple and to that I’m sure you’re saying something like,”well, duh,” but think about whether you really ever do this in you business or your life.

  • When Johnny comes home with an A in Calculus and a D in Spanish our reaction is to hire a Spanish tutor or ground him until that Spanish grade turns around – when it should be to see if the school has a math club or to send him off to meet with Architects, Engineers and Scientists that employ math in the real world.
  • When our new product doesn’t sell well we invest more energy, money and resources into propping it up – when we should be focused on doing even more with the five items that already sell really, really well.
  • When our best salesperson doubles everyone else using public speaking and writing we dock her for turning her reports in late – when it should be to spend hour upon hour with her documenting your company’s new lead conversion process.

Do I speak a little truth here?

We’re so wired to fix what’s broken and focus on weakness that we let what’s working, our strength, linger on its own when the real money lies in making what works better. There’s no doubt that’s where the easiest short term gains and the closest thing to a magic pill resides.


Sketch inspired by Dan Roam’s great Unfolding the Napkin

Take a look at your customer base and the graphic above. Almost every business has customers that are both highly profitable and who refer business. These are gold, something’s working here, you’re clicking with these folks on the logical and emotional level – put everything you can into understanding the who, what, when, where and why of these customers and build your business around that. Often it’s the folks on the bottom left, the one’s that complain the most, that get our attention. Do whatever you can today to eliminate the bottom left!

The same chart can be produced for products and services – stop offering stuff that people don’t want just because you’ve always offered it.

What about all your marketing activities. Figure out what’s working by analyzing and testing everything – then do more of what works.

How about your people? Grab a copy of First, Break All the Rules by Marcus Buckingham or any of the Strengths Finder books by Tom Rath and start figuring out what you and each of your people do well, and build on that, rather than trying to fix weaknesses.

Find what works and do more of it may sound too simple to be and effective strategy, but look around you a bit and you’ll find there is immense depth in these words.