Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 4

How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle

Previously:
Bridging between the web and the real world
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 3

 

“The filofax of the twenty first century?”

One could easily assume from reading the previous sections that my opinions are anti- networking. I have been accused of this twice  by people who use networking successfully .

In fact nothing could be further than the truth.  I am especially against misleading people to expect the impossible from networking as many self professed gurus tend to do. It does not work for everyone and not in the same way.  I also resent being accosted at networking meetings, or spammed incessantly. I do recognise the power of networking to deliver spectacular results for some people when used intelligently.

Fundamentals of networking

Traditionally we all rely on support networks to advise us about what worked for others,  let us in on the next big thing and very occasionally to buy from us(invariably in expectation of substantial discount) and once in a while to recommend us.  Nothing about this is new and it is a critical activity for most of us.  It helps to know an expert on telephony and instead of three days of comparing deals you call your trusted old school pal and ask him to recommend a deal. You trust him and make the purchase.  Add on the saved time and effort and you have a bargain for sure.  This is not someone you casually met at breakfast, or online though, so be careful when drawing comparisons.

When I needed two telesales people, I ignored the agencies and told my eighteen year old daughter, who told her Facebook friends and within 45 minutes I had three interviews set up. That is powerful, but it is using technology to speed up what we always did. It is not some mystic new black art.

Mass “networking” is another thing altogether. It is “the filofax of the twenty first century”.  Many people approached via internet research and focus groups expressed the belief that they had to be seen as networkers and that if they didn’t use twitter they were yesterdays people. The hours wasted for little or mostly no financial gain is eating up their personal time as well as business time. Sometimes they just shouldn’t be doing it at all and other times they are approaching it all wrong lead astray by “Web2 gurus” who last year were “SEO experts” , before that “web design  gurus” and before that “filofax gurus” and studying to be “Twitter gurus”. God help us!.

Who does it work for?

If you enjoy spending a small amount of time chatting to people you wouldn’t otherwise meet, or writing a blog, or learning from forums, good for you, it is working for you and keep on going.

 If you are the local builder who completes two bungalows a year, local networking may be your sole marketing effort and it works very well.
If you are an insurance salesman you will have been indoctrinated in this from day one and you’ll be the guy at every dog fight collecting numbers and turning the conversation to pensions. A friend of mine did this all his life and made a tremendous income out of attending Indian weddings.

The formula is ultra simple.

Cast your mind back to the basic sales process we discussed in the last instalment; tyre kicking,  need, facts and figures ,trust building,  desire, urgency , etc.

However you organise your funnel, whether you base it on a buying, or a selling process, you will have steps like these that qualify your potential customer through stages to the point where you are presenting and negotiating for business with them. Most people call this a “potential” in CRM speak

Let’s compare two scenarios:

Widgets

1 person in every thousand buys my widgets.  My process is to:

  1. identify people who buy the product in sufficient quantity and  start the conversation
  2. ask permission to pitch for a small piece of business, or offer a trial
  3.  convince them of the benefits and our USP,
  4. establish trust
  5.  time a motivating offer with a current urgent need
  6.  win a customer
  7. develop the relationship.

At point A,  there are 65 million or so people to talk to until we have done our qualifying. For a reasonable chance of a sale we need to get 1000 people in the room. How much do you think it would cost to build relationships with all of them?  Let’s say five of them know someone who might be in the market, what do you think is the likelihood they will go to the trouble and take the personal risk, of recommending us, or anyone will respect their opinion?  Not great.

Accountancy

Every business with few exceptions uses an accountant and they tend to change every three years on average. In order to stand a reasonable chance of doing business we need only three or four in the room per accountant present.
In this case, as long as the ratio of accountants to SME in the room is better than 1:4 we can start on the relationship building phase with complete confidence. Everyone knows what the product is and only buy because they have to. The decision points are price and trust.

Three simple things to “DO”

  1. Divide your networking into two separate functions “Hunting” and “Farming”.
    Hunting is about meeting new potential contacts and finding out quickly whether they fit in your network as potential suppliers or customers.

    1.  Restrict your network to a size you are able to maintain contact with (Accepted scientific research put’s that at around 150 contacts maximum).
    2. Don’t try to be everyone’s pal, find people who share your views and attitudes and are likely to value your product, or service. (positioning)
    3. Spend your farming time with people who are likely to become a customer, or that are likely to be a useful supplier in the near and foreseeable future and those who have bought from you and are likely to buy again or to be recommenders and ambassadors.
  2. Be a listener and use your judgement to keep evolving your products and services according to the feedback from trusted and commercially viable customers
  3. Control your networking time and budget, it still deserves no more than a few percent of budget and a few hours a week. If you could be completing paid work, do it and spend the profits on traditional marketing, you will get better and faster returns every time.

 

Three  simple things to “NOT DO”

  1. Don’t expect people to buy your product because you are their pal
  2. Don’t forget to attend to all the aspects of the sales/buying process for every prospect regardless of how well you know them, they still need to have their questions answered and fears allayed and they need to justify their decision to others
  3. Don’t pounce on everyone who looks remotely interested and try to “sell to them” get an invitation to pitch first.
    1. Don’t fill their inbox with spam just because they gave you an email address.

 

A revolutionary new idea you are not going to take up because it makes sense and there’s no voodoo involved.

Make your customers your sales force.  Treat them so well that they are delighted to sing your praises.

Spend that marketing budget on discounts to people they recommend, so they get kudos and you get extra business recommended by your existing customers. 
Spend on taking them to the races, inviting them to parties and useful free conferences and encouraging them to invite a colleague or contact.
The budget you set aside for telling them how much you value your customer’s,  spend your budget on taking care of them.  Action speaks louder ..
Have a banker answer the phone about queries, not a call centre in Pakistan and have them develop a relationship (network) with the customer and the customer’s friends.

Spend your time networking within this great group of customers and hot prospects learning about their needs and improving your offering.

It will require great research, great positioning, crystal clear branding, and an enlightened staff open to new ways of working, but it could be transformational. There’s no Voodoo here, just common sense and delivering on the promise, but you won’t do it, so we won’t labour it.

Coming next:

 

What is the right stategy for me?

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 3

Previously:
Bridging between the web and the real world
Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2

Are there really clear parallels between Soviralnetbusworks and Sales and Marketing theory?

This is bound to be  an area of some contention, for the reasons mentioned previously. Most networkers, especially online, are motivated by a need to be out and about finding customers combined paradoxically with their powerful fear of and resistance to actually selling their services.

If you draw parallels then you have to face the big purple elephant again I.E.  Why are you in a business that you are afraid to sell to customers? If you don’t believe in it, who will?

There is a fairly popular and utterly flawed theory that underlies most networking activity, which supports the latter folly and it goes something like this:
 If you meet the same 60 people every month for a year and you tell them what you do and then you are nice to them every time you meet and if you pass a few scraps of leads to a few of them, eventually one of them will order from you.
The reasons it’s flawed are simply these:

1.   I won’t, and neither will you, wait for the next meeting to place an order with somebody who said hello to me. When I need a widget today, I’ll either call someone I used before, or turn to Google.

2.   If I need something very complex and very reliant on the person supplying it, e.g.  Interior design, or a management consultant, then I will turn to people I trust, who can make recommendations, but the recommendation will only be as strong as the trust attached to it. Again the chances are not good , though admittedly better, that I will turn to my networking for a supplier.

3.  The 60 or so people I know though networking are only likely to contain one or two potential clients, unless I’m an accountant, marketer, or lawyer  etc and plain mathematics would tell any sensible person that it is never gong to produce much of value for me. Above all, it is never going to produce anything proportionate to the time put in.

What do Soviralnetbusworks offer that might be different

The bits we have discussed so far are networking, but of course there is more to soviralnetbusworks than networking.   When Trout and Reis announced “marketing “ to us, they made a few hints at an aspect of human behaviour which back then, they had very little influence over.  The need to “be part of a gang”, to “ conform”, to “be accepted”.  Good marketers have always known how to give the impression that “all the in crowd are wearing this fragrance” or “ hanging around on social networks”, but in the past the ability to influence this stopped at traditional advertising.

Facebook, Linkedin and especially Twitter have begun to provide a new type of influencer. It shortens the message to almost subliminal levels and delivers it like hail stones. The result is that users are bombarded with a sense of what “the gang” is doing and thinking  and it provides powerful potential to really influence huge volumes of people to blindly go where you want to send them.

The best parallel in the natural world is a flock of starlings in Northern Europe doing acrobatics in the sky before settling in for the evening.  They gesture to each other and in an instance either conform or influence their surrounding group. Quickly the group automatically selects a few who seem to be more influential via the timing or style of their gestures, who knows and the whole flock attempts to ape them as they free fly around the evening sky creating incredible shapes and patterns. 

Learning how to influence the social scene in the same way will undoubtedly deliver massive dividends for savvy marketers going forward, but just like TV advertising quickly ran into traffic problems, so too will this format. What we should be doing is looking  for the next big thing.

What do they have in common? And what is different?

Marketing and selling is first of all a debate in itself that often gets heated.  My own favourite take having spent a lot of time close to direct marketing is that marketing is predominantly about generating enquiries and creating the right environment in which to generate enquiries. Where I disagree  with some traditionalists is that I don’t believe you should do it if you can’t measure it.

Marketing and sales is there to generate potential leads, generate leads from those, qualify the leads, build and maintain relationships and convert some leads into orders in sufficient numbers to run a profitable business. How well you do this affects the cost and value of your product as much as anything else does and has a direct impact on customer experience.

The order in which I described this is not all that important, because in truth things happen in all kinds of orders in the real world, but generally, all of the various switches have been pushed before you end up with a customer.

In a social networking environment, the trust building may start the ball rolling and the product enquiry come later, in the traditional environment the  product enquiry may come first, or in between.

People like CRM vendors often have a blind spot about process and struggle to see how things can wander safely and securely via their own paths and yet arrive in the same place. This is just a human failing and nothing more and they shouldn’t be allowed to interfere with how people work.

There have always been weak sales people often described as the “ personality salesman” who believes that his amazing charm is all that matters and pays no attention to the product, the customers need etc.  There is also the “technical salesman” who thinks that all that matters is features and benefits and mathematics and fails to consider the customer’s need to trust him and the supplier and the emotional drivers.
 Neither of these is typical, but both failings are very noticeable in the flawed theory often put forward by networking gurus and ecommerce gurus.

What the internet has changed forever about marketing and selling is that it allows the sales process to begin much earlier and it greatly extends the “Tyre Kicking” phase.

When a new customer enters your showroom now, he has kicked your tryes many times, talked to your friends and knows you intimately. He has downloaded all the datasheets and knows the products as well as you do. He may well have talked to previous users or even your previous customers.  This process goes on all the time and all happens earlier in the buying process than where we used to begin when Trout and Reis were teaching us their tricks.

The big mistakes you can make are:

  1. To assume every tyre kicker is a potential customer and pounce on him. Most will run away and never return.
  2. To ignore the need to support this tyre kicking process sufficiently to be on his list of maybes when he is ready to talk business.
  3. Hang around the car lot waiting for tyre kickers instead of focusing on the ones who are ready to buy, or the ones who did and need support

 

What can shrewd marketers learn from traditional marketing to make their networking more productive?

What is critical going forward is to understand the importance of the  website,  social networking and traditional marketing and how they interact, how they  satisfy tyre kicking, attract a halo of  interested parties, build a funnel of leads, qualify leads, build relationships, support the buying process and generate orders without making your product too expensive to be saleable.

It is vital to apportion the right amount of time and financial investment at each level so as not to put your self out of business.
 A typical example of getting this wrong is spending vast sums on website traffic only to find that they don’t buy anything. Why?  Because they are not at that stage yet.
Better to use different search terms and target people who have done their tyre kicking and want a better deal. Positioning is still everything. The rues have not changed, just the tools.

  1. The next time you are drawing your sales funnel, or configuring your CRM, add another slice 50 times wider than the biggest one. In here you will put all the” tyre kicking, just looking, maybe some day” people. The ones you’ve been networking with go in here too.
  2. Create a manageable strategy to understand the information and contact needs of this big slice and provide it with minimal effort and expense
  3. Test and establish a way to qualify your people from the tyre kicking slice into the lead slice and back out again without losing them altogether.  This upper slice becomes an ecosystem like the halo over a glass of water. And you need an inexpensive way to keep it in place and growing.

 

Coming next:

 

How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle?

 

What is the right strategy for me?

Bridging the gap between the web and the real world part 2

Part one: Bridging between the web and the real world

This one is a real enigma, no matter what angle you approach it form you get an entirely different viewpoint and just when you think you’ve nailed it along comes somebody to spoil your party with a new twist in the tail.

What is it?

This is the fun bit, it is not at all unusual to follow a conversation on this subject for some time and see everyone nodding sagely in agreement only to discover later that they were all talking about different things, sometimes very different things. Even when I pointed this out recently to a group, they seemed unperturbed and continually agreeing what a wonderful thing “it” was as though I had been merely a figment of their imagination.

I recently started a discussion on networking on one of the social networks.  I have done this every year since 2004 and previously it had always been obvious to the users of the “online network “what I was referring to.  This time, it was not the case.  This time person after person steamed in to tell me how well they are doing out of ”networking” and when questioned, “networking”  covered every flavour of human communication from trade shows, to conferences, breakfast meetings, Facebook and Twitter and meeting your pals in the pub.

The thing that stood out in fact was the deliberate omission of online networking in the majority of answers and those who did mention it were rarely very positive.

Also significant for me was the volume of private messages I received that were negative about all forms of networking online and offline, but especially online. The negative comments about offline activity mostly focused on bad manners at events.

My conclusion was that there is no definition at all out there for networking and it basically means communication.  If you want to narrow it down and have a useful discussion then you have to enforce some rules very aggressively on the conversation.

 Based on responses so far, I am defining networking as: ” making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones for the purpose of gaining business”

This is not necessarily my definition, but this is as close as I could get to a consensus of opinion.

Define boundaries by agreeing  what it is not.

Many people responded to this with remarks to the effect that it is “not selling”. When probed, they defined selling as approaching a stranger and trying to sell them your product or service. I tried probing to discover why it was OK for the other networker to assume they were looking for business, but not OK for them to be up front about it.  I.E. Everyone at a breakfast meeting  is there because they want business and therefore they know why you are there, so why carry on a pretence, or why be scared to ask for business?  I found almost everyone evasive and extremely reluctant to pursue this discussion.

For the purpose of this discussion I am defining networking as:” making new contacts and keeping in touch with old ones in the hope of getting business from them”

 

What is the demographic of networkers? And what can we learn from it?

This bit was very easy, over a five year period there has been no change at all in this and it is driven home by the owners of all the major online and offline social networks, the users of business and social networks of all kinds are self-employed people who work either alone or in very small companies and partnerships and these are primarily knowledge workers as opposed to artisans, or sellers of goods.

 The only exception to this on a fairly large scale is recruiters who dominate LinkedIn in particular and they only differ in that they work for large organisations, but act independently for the most part. They also differ in that they are actively targeting and approaching customers with immediate propositions.

The key piece of information in this, I believe, is that we have a large group of self-employed people who need to find themselves new customers from time to time, but have no sales , or marketing training or ability and suffer from  a classic sales phobia (over active cringe gland). Interim and contract agencies capitalise heavily on this market need.

Is anyone making any money out of it?

Linkedin have built a huge job board for passive candidates and they are making a fortune. Others online networks are doing well too, The likes of BNI are doing well out of it. 

Stories of people actually building up sizeable small businesses, let alone large businesses are pretty thin o the ground and when you challenge the claims, it is even hard to find many self-employed consultants that have earned considerable fees via online networks.

In terms of offline networking, then it is somewhat different.  Financial advisers and management consultants have always used referral selling as the number one source of new business. They sold intangible products that were bough on trust and these huge financial and consulting firms recognised the need to invest in building this trust, so they focused on building strong relationships with good customers and then asking for referrals.  The new “prospects” were receptive because a large part of the critical trust building had already been taken care of via the recommendation.

Professional firms continued to curt their big influential clients by inviting them to events networking with them. This still continues and generates the billions turnover in consulting business.

I do believe that, in a ham fisted sort of way, modern networking follows this same principal . I certainly believe that modern networking offers professionals the chance to achieve the same ends on a smaller scale, though the skills are still required and the training and back-up is missing.

In conclusion

The key to understanding modern networking is to realise that no two people are talking about the same thing they are mostly just talking and indeed that, for them is the end goal.

Hardly anyone is gaining very much from online networking and in many ways it is probably because it needs to mix with offline interaction on order to let people build trust before making business arrangements, but the role of online is steadily growing and in my personal view it will steeple some time in the next  ten years as the Facebook  generation become influential in the marketplace.

Offline networking is producing gains, but in truth it is far inferior form the professional networking carried out for two centuries by the best financial and consulting firms, it is suffering bad press due to rude predatory members and just like so many bartering clubs in the past, it falls foul of “too many sellers and no buyers” syndrome

 

 Next:

Are there really clear parallels between Soviralnetbusworks and Sales and Marketing theory?

 

 

 

How can Soviralnetbusworks become a key part of the marketing mix as opposed to an alternative lifestyle?

 

What is the right strategy for me?