06 December, 2009

Referrals and Relationships - Part Two


“Marketing is not a department.” – Harry Beckwith


I said in my last blog entry that readers who are in "R & R" (relationships and referrals) businesses need to turn their staff and their existing clients into a sales force because leveraging the existing relationships of your customers and employees can bring you that most powerful and most efficient form of new client acquisition: word-of-mouth.

Hire People Who Integrate Their Professional Lives With Their Social Lives

At a recent luncheon I invited a most unpleasant director-level executive to a meeting where she would have the opportunity to network with people who could support her organization. Some of her co-workers actually asked me to add them to my mailing list and inform them of meetings so imagine my surprise when this sourpuss told me she didn’t appreciate my using a professional relationship to invite her to a social function. This unsociable executive is an example of the kind of employee NOT to hire. Not only was she just downright unneighborly, she is trying to totally segregate her professional and social lives, robbing her employer of whatever benefit might be derived from her social network – if she has any social network.

Hire people who join things, people who meet and make friends easily, people who integrate their professional and social networks.

You might be able to get a feel for a job candidate’s ability and willingness to integrate his/her social and professional lives by looking at his/her LinkedIn profile and connections. Not only does the candidate’s LinkedIn profile show me how that person is connected to me, giving me a chain of “back door references” I can ask about his/her character and competence, a candidate’s LinkedIn profile gives me some idea if the candidate knows how to network. I’m not impressed with a job candidate who has 15 connections and belongs to no LinkedIn groups. On the other hand, if a job candidate has a network of 200 LinkedIn connections and belongs to all the LinkedIn groups that are appropriate to his/her industry and profession, I might be dealing with somebody who brings some word-of-mouth and referral potential to the table.

Frankly, in this day and age I have serious reservations about a job applicant who isn’t using LinkedIn to build both a positive professional brand and a sizeable, searchable professional network. Once onboard, staff members should be encouraged to invite each other to their LinkedIn networks so they can easily see how the company is connected to potential clients and who it is on the staff who has the relational bridge to a prospect.

For further reading on the subject of integrating your professional life with your private or social life, see Keith Ferrazzi’s Never Eat Alone. I suggest you make it required reading for your staff.

Frequently Mine Your Employees and Clients To For New Leads

Get in the habit of asking questions like these: What networking opportunities did you attend this week? Who did you meet? Did you collect any business cards? Did you make any interesting new LinkedIn connections? Did you meet anybody who might be able to benefit from our product or service?

Asking these questions yields immediate leads and teaches how to network. When your employees know they’ll be asked which meetings they’ve attended and whom they’ve met, they’ll understand that, at your company, marketing is not a department and that they need to be prepared for the questions. Most of your current employees probably weren’t born with the networking gene but it’s a behavior they can learn if you ask them the right questions.

Spend The Money In Your Ad Budget On Association Memberships and Other Forms Of Direct Contaact With Potential Referrers


"Advertising is what you do when you can't talk to someone." - Fairfax Cone


Some of my readers are in the kind of “R & R” (referrals and relationships) businesses where almost their entire universe of prospective clients and referrers is knowable and finite. I have to be careful here because I don’t want to identify any specific businesses, but I know businesses whose target markets are so specific and so public that they can literally make a list of their prospects by name and by title and organization.

It doesn’t make any sense at all for these R & R companies to spend much money on advertising. Advertising is what you do when you don’t know how to reach your customer – or you don’t know who your prospective customer is. But when you know who your prospects are – I mean you know their names, their job titles, and where they work – it makes no sense to spend thousands of dollars on radio ads, newspaper ads or slick magazine ads as if you don’t know who you’re trying to reach.

For instance, let’s say you’re in the durable medical equipment industry. Oxygen. Hospital beds. Wheelchairs. Maybe diabetic or ostomy supplies. While the end users of these products are not knowable, the gatekeepers who refer these end users to you are absolutely knowable and finite. Case managers. Discharge planners. Pulmonologists. Nurses with a specific certification in ostomy and skin care. You get the idea. In most markets there are only a handful of these professionals associate with each area hospital and you can absolutely make a list and then figure out how to create a bridge or leverage an existing relationship to these professionals.

Here’s where hiring employees who use LinkedIn comes in handy. After you’ve made a list of the professionals who can refer end users to your DME business, look up each of them in LinkedIn and see how they’re linked to someone on your staff or someone you know who would be willing to introduce that referral source to you. Put that link’s name next to the name of the referral source. Ask that connecting link to introduce you to the referral source. Set up a lunch or a coffee.

Also, when you find a target referral source in LinkedIn, consider joining some of the LinkedIn groups they belong to. Join some of the same groups then send a LinkedIn message introducing yourself. Who knows, maybe a real conversation will ensue.

Can’t find a connecting link or can’t find the referral source in LinkedIn? Then ask yourself what meetings that professional is likely to attend or what professional associations that person is likely to belong to. Join and attend as necessary. If you’re in the staffing business you need to belong to Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). If you’re in the DME business you need to attend sleep disorder support groups, ostomate support groups, Better Breathers support groups and you need to belong to sponsor events and meetings for National Association of Social Workers and Case Management Society of America. Someone from your staff needs to be at every meeting, gripping and grinning, exchanging business cards and inviting referral sources to lunch. Send the member of your staff who has the most in common, the greatest rapport with that professional group. Send your respiratory therapist to the Better Breathers and sleep disorders meetings. Send a nurse to the ostomy club.

Your sales rep probably can’t get an appointment with many of the people who make up the Known Universe of Referral Sources and Gatekeepers but if you show up at a meeting you just might find yourself having dinner, elbow to elbow, with someone you need to meet. Also, being seen at meetings gives your current referral sources a chance to be seen behaving friendly with you, an implicit professional endorsement or recommendation and a strong “visual” that makes you seem more trustworthy to observers who have not yet referred business to your company.

Consider Firing Or Repurposing/Redeploying Your Sales Rep

What many R & R (relationships and referrals) businesses need is not a sales rep but someone who can teach the entire staff how to get relationships and referrals that lead to sales.

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a VP at The Carlyle Group who told me about a recent group of acquisitions whose greatest need is for the licensed and certified professionals who run them to learn how to network.

Ideally, this kind of networking leadership would come from the owner or CEO but for reasons that mystify and elude me, some owners of R & R businesses would rather run expensive "ego advertising" than engage in activities that will actually lead to new business. I've seen small business owners spend tens of thousands of ad dollars making sure their high school pals and fraternity brothers or sorority sisters know they own a company or trying to look like the most successful member of the local Chamber of Commerce or Rotary Club while doing nothing at all to teach their staff how to network.

Maybe your sales rep can be repurposed and redeployed as the guy who teaches your staff how to network.

In summary: Hire people who know how to network, how to integrate their social and professional lives. Consider firing your sales rep and becoming or hiring someone to teach your staff how to network. Spend your ad budget on association memberships, on lunches, on opportunities to get face-to-face with somebody. Frequently ask your clients and employees whom they've met recently who can use your product or service.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Only identified commentators will be published. No pseudonymous or anonymous comments will be published. "Handles" and "screen names" are pseudonyms. If you wish to comment, you need to identify yourself or your comment will not be published.