One of benefits of registering for OPEN Forum, or perhaps any social networking site, is the ability to connect with other business professionals and create relationships that may produce new suppliers, partners, mentors, prospects and customers.
However, like many marketing and business building tactics, there’s generally a right way and wrong way to go about it.
Online vs. Offline
Online social networks, a relatively new phenomenon, open up a potentially lucrative stream of new contacts, but the act of effective networking, whether online or offline, is essentially the same.
Few business professionals would walk into a Chamber of Commerce mixer, head for the nearest nametag, and spill the sales pitch on the spot. So, maybe you’ve been the victim of such a tactic, but either way, it’s not very effective.
The ease of access to prospects and relative anonymity of the social network platform seems to lead some to forget that effective networking is about listening, adding value and engaging, and not primarily about selling.
But, create the right level of engagement and you will open up doors and gain access to people, products, and services at a level never before imagined. That’s the power of connecting online.
Craft your network
The first step in the art of connecting online is to adopt the proper state of mind. By that I mean, first identify all of the products and services your current customers might need in order to succeed and focus on building a network of “best of class” providers that you can refer to your customers.
You can start that process here within the Connectodex. As I said in a previous article, you can use the “find a business” feature and filter through OPEN Forum members to find business owners who might offer those products or services your customers need. You can also set your “seeks” to those products and services. Then, as more potential partners join, they find you more easily.
When you build a formal network with your customers in mind it forces you to engage in a very different way. First, you’ve got to focus on finding the highest quality connections, ones that value service like yours. Secondly, your first act is to listen, to learn how a potential connection might be a fit for your network.
Once you accomplish these first two steps, you are more than likely ready to engage at a deeper level that may involve receiving referrals and recommendations.
Once you identify a potential network partner, either through research here or by asking your customers, invite them to educate you.
Ask them to tell you things like, “how you would spot their ideal customer,” “how to best talk about your unique approach,” or even “some of the trigger phrases their customers use when they need their product of service.”
Trigger phrases are very powerful way to educate referral sources. For example, if you sell accounting software, it’s rare that a prospect might walk up to a golf buddy and say, I sure wish I had some better accounting software.
But, he might says – “I have no idea how healthy my business is because we never have timely data”, or “I feel like I’m being help hostage by my accounting firm,” or “we keep everything on spreadsheets and it’s a real hassle to update.”
Teach your prospective network partners how to educate you and you’ll surely get the opportunity to do the same in return.
Partner in a box
Once you identify a potential strategic alliance, it’s good idea to have some ready-made suggestions for how you might work together. All too often people connect and agree that working together would be a mutually great idea, but nothing ever comes of it because they never get around to figuring out how to make introductions in a way that doesn’t feel forced.
If you come with ideas in hand, or as I like to call it the “partner in a box” solution, you stand a much greater chance of moving the relationship to point where is might actually produce sales.
A couple tried and true applications of this are:
- Make them a product of your work - allow your network partners to sample what you do for free or very low cost. This allows them to experience your work first hand and certainly makes them a much more authentic referring partner.
- Co-brand information – Create a valuable free report that drips with information their customers would love and allow them to brand it and send it to their customer base as value added service. Of course, the report also gently introduces your organization.
- Win-Win Workshop – Bring two of your network partners together and suggest they hold an educational workshop for their customers with you presenting a hot topic. By brining the two partners into the mix they get to provide your great content to their customers and network with the other partners customer base – a win for all!
As you can see effective networking, online or off, is more than creating a profile, shaking a few hands and doing a deal, but done right, the opportunities for creative connecting are endless.Image Credit: Mr. Curtispope