A friend of mine from my networking group called me to ask a question. His son is in the MBA program at Middle Tennessee State University here near Nashville, TN. The professor and his class were discussing networking. Surprised, not even the professor had a good grasp of what it takes to become an effective networker. I find most business people think they know how to network, but shortly into the conversation, I realize they do not have a clue how to network. Sadly, they do not teach networking in school not even at the Masters level apparently. Networking is terribly important to growing a business effectively. Let’s look at how most business people and sales people network with common mistakes.
The first type of common networker we see is called the “slather and gather networker”. This salesperson or business owner is on a mission to gather as many business cards as possible and get out. They just slather, talk as little as possible to people, and grab cards like they are in a contest that gives stuffed animal prizes for the most cards gathered in the shortest period of time. They use this for emails and a mailing list. What could possibly go wrong? These business people don’t remember their slather at all. Not only do they not know who the heck they are when they call, but there is no creditability in what they do. They haven’t built any type of relationship. The most common response from these “so called” networkers are “networking doesn’t work, but I go anyway.”
The next type of networker is a bit more common and known as the “spray and pray networker”. This salesperson or business owner runs around like a honey bee on steroids in a flower shop handing out their business cards and flyers to as many business owners as possible. Then they go back to their home or business drop to their knees and pray someone calls. Sometimes it is bound to work, but overall not very effective. The same issue exists as the before mentioned networker, there is no creditability built among these people. These folks also believe networking is a waste of time. I agree, these methods are a huge waste of time.
Networking is very effective if you actually take the time to learn how to network properly. Since no school teaches this, I suggest joining a BNI networking group. BNI is an organization dedicated to networking. Not only is it a structured environment to pass referral business, but also takes the time to teach effective networking skills of its groups members. A good networker goes into to the event with an expectation of helping someone else grow their business, not their own. They talk to people to find out how their business works and how they might best be able to help them, not the other way around. There is a psychological effect that if I help you solve an issue, then you will feel obligated to help me solve my issue as well. BNI refers to this philosophy as “Givers Gain”. Spend time with a select few people then build the network slowly and efficiently. There is no prize for speed networking other than a big waste of time. People do business with people they know, like and trust. Not people that picked up their business card at a trade show event.
Do your business a big favor by visiting a BNI chapter in your area. Your business growth may depend on it.
“Referrals aren’t given easily. If you don’t take the time to establish credibility, you’re not going to get the referral. People have to get to know you. They have to feel comfortable with who you are and what you do.”—Dr. Ivan Misner
Image by sheelamohan images at www.freedigitalphotos.net
Tim Wilhoit is owner/principal of Your Friend 4 Life Insurance Agency in Nashville, TN. He is a family man, father of 3, entrepreneur, insurance agent, life insurance broker, salesman, sales trainer, recruiter, public speaker, blogger, author and team leader with over 28 years of experience in sales and marketing in the insurance and beverage industries.
38 Responses to Is Networking Important to Grow Business?
This is a good blog. It’s content is similar to one I wrote, “Networking is a waste of time.” The picture that you used is similar to the one that I have on my book, The Networking Guru.”
James, thank you for kind words. I would love to read your article, as I am unfamiliar with it. As for the image, it came from http://www.freedigitalphotos.net so I apologize for any similarities. They are created at the bottom of my article. I hope you don’t think I infringed upon your article. My original article with similarities to this article was written over 3 years ago under https://yourfriend4life.com/which-networker-are-you/
Great article! It’s very important to know how we come across at a networking event!
Tara, thank you so much. Your comments are truly valued. It is important to always inspect what we expect in all of our business and networking venues.
I just ran across this today and it’s really sad when folks don’t get it. Those willing to put in the time, to build credibility and lasting relationships will win in the long-run!
Very well stated Nick, thank you.
Thank you for all of your contributions Tim.
Doug, thank you, you made my day.
Nice article, Tim. I’ve been to a few networking events (like BNI), and the expectation to help others is great. The good news is it’s easy to receive referrals, since everyone needs insurance (auto, at least. Life might be slightly more difficult due to lack of urgency). It can be a bit tough to bring referrals for other group members. I visited a group once where a member was a clown who did magic tricks. Super nice guy, but that would have been a tough referral to give.
Nevertheless, BNI groups can be excellent, and the principle of “Givers Gain” is a true one no matter the circumstance. When you help others succeed, they have a desire to reciprocate.
Ben, I am biased but BNI does a great job of teaching networking, not just letting members figure it out on their own. No one expects you to give referrals to everyone or every clown as the case may be, but find those referral partners to start a profitable relationship. I recommend taking another look at BNI.
Networking is critical for your business. Having a referral based group like BNI has brought my practice to a whole new level. Great article by the way, thanks.
Mine too Paul! Thanks for sharing your experience.
I agree with Ben on getting referrals for life insurance. BNI is an excellent way to learn to network and to commit to the members of your group. I was in BNI for a little over two years. The best part was the 1 to 1 meetings with the other group members. Before BNI I did not have a clue as to what online networking was. I was there that I was taught how to use it and the value that it could give to my business.
Although many going in to a networking group do so to get referrals the main idea is what can you do to help the others expand their business and what can you learn from them to grow your business. I did get a few referrals from the group while I was there but the reward came after I left the group. I still received referrals and from those referrals I received more.
I also have a list of people who I can look to to send referrals if I find clients who need a particular service. So to me networking is an essential part of any business but it’s only worth it if you do it right. Social Networking on sites such as LinkedIn sharing your experiences and contributing to conversations is a big help. It gives people an idea of who you are and how you may be able to help them. Private messaging is very useful for when you want to have a 1 on 1 or more close business relationship. This actually got me in touch with a group that now let’s me work very closely with the Spanish Speaking community in my area.
So as Tim said try it out and see what happens.
Sheron, what a great testimonial to networking. You are spot on what meeting and helping the “right” people can do for your business. I have been in BNI for 5 years and just finishing my best year ever. I mean over 6 figures from my group. It takes a lot of work but the dividends you receive can pay you for years to come. I really appreciate you sharing your story, awesome!
I belonged to a BNI group in the Phoenix area, I hung in there about 8 months and had no referrals. I went to the meeting every Tuesday morning, did as many 1 on1’s as I could and never received one referral. On the plus side I did give out about 5 or 6 referrals in that time. Please don’t think I am bad mouthing BNI because I’m not, I think BNI is a terrific way to get your business to the next level. It just didn’t work very well for me.
Marc, I appreciate you sharing your BNI experience. Certainly, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know enough information to help you. I will say that 8 months is not very long in a BNI chapter, again I don’t know what happened. It does take time. It depends on your business as well. For example, a handyman may join and receive good referrals within a week or two. The risk is low to his business, therefore to give a referral would be easy. A financial planner on the other hand may take two to five years to build credibility and trust within the group to receive one referral. The difference being I may be OK with the handyman repairing my friends broken window but not the financial planner I have known for 8 months to manage my mother’s half million dollar retirement account. Does that make sense?
BNI takes time and I realize we live in the microwave and sound byte world. People do business with those they know, like and trust and there is just not a short cut to building those 3 things. I appreciate you sharing and wish you would consider another BNI chapter in the future. It really does work if you follow the system and give it time. Best of luck to you my friend!
Sheron and Tim, have you felt that the local networking group has been more valuable than the social networking that you do? It seems that both you of you are experienced in both avenues, so I’m curious which one you prefer, and why.
By the way, I’m not saying they’re mutually exclusive – I’m just curious which one you feel has created better results.
For anyone thinking about “joining” BNI, just a word of warning… please understand that paying for membership doesn’t guaranty success! To achieve real “sucess” in BNI does require a commitment of time to learn and then practice the BNI way!
The tools and system definitly work but You MUST do the work for Success to follow!
Even seasoned sales people can learn and become better Networkers and develop meaningful business relationships that flourish into great referal sources!
Kathy, excellent point and thank you for making it! BNI works if you work BNI.
Ben, to answer your question, I believe to be an effective networker you must both network in person and online. In person is by far my best results, but I would not give up online networking in lieu of in person, I get results from both. I will say that the networking skills I have learned in person carry over to online. Most salespeople “assume” they know how to network and I promise you those that refuse to learn are the worst at networking. Networking is a learned skill just like selling. No one is a natural at it, no more than being a natural at surgery.
Great article Tim. Thanks for sharing it…
Thanks for the insight, Tim! I agree that we need both, it’s just fun for me to find out what’s working for certain people. I’ll have to look into some local networking groups, as I’ve recently seen a lot of posts in various groups vouching for their usefulness.
Good luck Ben! I am sure you will do great!
Ben I agree with Tim. In some networking groups it limits who your contacts can be because they limit membership to one person per industry. BNI does this. I find that BNI teaches you how to network and gets you in front of people from different industries especially when you visit other local BNI groups or other local networking groups. Meetup.com works well too. You just need to commit so they can get to know who you are.
Lately social networking has been my only form of networking due to time restraints. There is no traveling involved which works well for me. Again you need to become known in your group. Participate in and or start conversations. Ask questions? Seek and give advice. What I like best on LinkedIn is I can communicate with people in my industry or with ones who are in fields that serve my niche market.
So whether you do face to face networking or only do social networking online you need to be active and not passive. By doing so people will reach out to you.
Great tip, Sharon. I’ll absolutely keep it in mind!
Networking can be key to growing your business, but it isn’t the end all, be all.
In my 55 years working with independent agencies, I have never met even one who didn’t prosper by being in such a group.
BNI is not effective at all in certain industries since members are given goals etc to hand out referrals. Yes you will get referrals but are they quality?
John, with all due respect, BNI works for any business that works BNI and the system. Too many people “think” they know how to network and never take the time to “learn” networking. Second the quality of the referrals one receives in BNI is directly connected to the quality of the referrals they ask for. Because members are from different industries, one must use the lowest common denominator when asking to meet someone. If you have a specific ask, you will get specific referrals. Too many blame BNI, when it really is the fault of the participant. Such is life, we all control our own destinies. Just my two cents.
Sometimes BNI works . Sometimes it does not . I have been invited to join one BNI group and I was even starting to create business for the existing members . Its all about connectivity. Follow Hobbs Law . However when they assessed my background they decided not to accept my ENROLEMENT because someone did not like the fact that I was also part of USANA. USANA is networking at a very professional level . However the manner in which they told me was not very professional and I told the secretary of BNI exactly what I thought.
I have since joined another group – a business hub – and it works beautifully as its just not about getting business for one another its about sharing of information from one member to another to assist one anothers business to grow and prosper . Sharing information and gathering information also shows the level of professionalism of the members and then that information can then be passed out to the other members network.
Its also about being an influencer . A person – a professional – does not have to buy the product or service offered by one other in the group . But because he is engaged and respects the others professionalism and skill base has no hesitation in referring that individual to another.
There is much to learn about networking . First rule – keep your mouth shut and your ears open . Second rule ask questions that will get the respondee to open up. Third rule -Take your time and be patient. You have to start the flow going and keeping people in the funnel.
John, I am sorry for your BNI experience. All chapters are not created equally. Sounds like this chapter lost a good member in you. I agree with your take on networking. Much to learn, takes time and the focus must be on our members and not ourselves. Thank you for sharing.
Without a network, you probably won’t have a business. I have attended BNI meetings in the past, in pervious roles. Great concept, interesting approach, however, it does depend on your type of business and target market.
Chris, I must respectfully disagree with your comment. I believe it has more to do with helping your network with their success and being specific with what you need more than business type and target market.
Maybe. I found that the network members in my local chapter were small to mid sized businesses, owner drivers you may say with typical business entities of no more than 20 employees. So, if my target market was that size business BNI would have been very attractive. Unfortunately, now, that’s not my target market. Hence my comment. I hope that makes logical sense.
Chris, I do understand what you are stating. But, for example, lets say you are looking for introductions into larger companies and your chapter is small or medium size businesses. How many do business with large companies on a regular basis? Maybe there are introductions ready to be made there. In a chapter of 20 people, each business person knows about 1,000 people. It is never about those 20 people but the 20,000 people they know. Then the 1,000 people each of those people know. This is why BNI and like organizations take time to grow, but are hugely effective. I hope that makes more sense than what I stated before. Good luck my friend!
I understand the concept and have seen it in practice. It can be a very effective networking community and I would recommend it so some of my business contacts. But then again, here we are, talking over the internet on a platform designed for business networking, which is extremely powerful and relevant. But it doesn’t replace that face to face, pressing of skin handshake! Good luck to you also and have a great weekend.
Agreed, you too!