If I had $1 for all the times people have complained about their networking groups, I could go on vacation for the rest of 2012. We like to talk about things that have a solid impact on people professionally and personally, and I realized this week that I have never really hit on this topic. I hope this resonates with you!
I would define a networking group as a group of people that get together on a monthly, semi-monthly or weekly basis with the hopes of sharing leads. (Personally, I think weekly is WAY TOO OFTEN) I think the basic premise of these groups is solid… the fact that people will refer business to people that they like and trust, so you need to get to know people that are out in the community selling to the same companies that you are. The problem is that most networking groups suck. Not pulling any punches here.
If we can agree that the primary goal of being a part of a networking group is to find leads and new opportunities for your business, how do the groups you are involved in measure up? Are you getting regular leads to good companies that actually need the product or service you are offering?
Often, networking groups become a hit and miss social event. Once or twice a year you might get a good lead from someone in the group. You know it, and I know it. There is also a social stigma attached to how people are going to feel if you LEAVE the group because it is not an effective way for you to grow your business. When I say all these things in public speaking engagements, I get a whole bunch of head nodding… everybody gets it and wishes it were different.
My advice? Take the opportunity THIS WEEK to leave any group that isn’t having a measurable and positive impact on your business. The impact can be leads, business advice from your peers or simply brand visibility… but your investment of time needs to have a return.
First, let me describe how a typical networking group operates. The members go around the table and do a 60 second elevator pitch on what they sell to make a living. Then, there is social time. Then, at the very end, people say to each other, “Hey, if you know of anybody that needs <insert your product or service here>, be sure to send them my way!” Here is the problem… you are putting all the burden of the referral on your peer, who might even have a good relationship with your prospective client.
What I mean by this is that:
Sound familiar? The exception to this rule is when you refer a good client to them and they feel obligated to return the favor… often with a half-assed attempt so they can cross that burden off their list.
The best thing you can do to make your networking group more effective is a simple change to the program. Go around the table and give each person 5 minutes. In that time, they need to tell the group the 2 or 3 most recent clients they have signed up, and then talk about 2 or 3 prospects they are trying to land as customers. It’s that easy.
Do you see the difference here? Now all the burden is on YOU to be prepared when you come to the table. Think about it… you mention the 2 or 3 clients that you are starting to do business with and all of a sudden various people around the table are saying, “oh yeah! I do business with them too!” I like to call that moment Real-Time LinkedIn. The simple fact that you are doing business with the same companies will create trust and respect. You will find that all kinds of conversations are stirred up based on the simple fact that you started doing business with a company that others know about or do business with also.
If you are tired of feeling like your networking group is a waste of time, I really hope that you will try my suggestion on a format change. Please let me know if you agree with me about typical networking groups, and especially let me know if my suggestion makes a difference in the effectiveness of your groups!