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Is your Business Networking Best Practice?

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Many people have a love-hate relationship with networking. We know we ought to do it, but its time consuming, a pain and wins seem rare. If that sounds like you, you’re probably a networking novice; unfamiliar with the finer points and techniques that can make networking a rewarding and profitable exercise.

Networking should be part of your lead generation repertoire, no matter what business you are in. A common mistake for people doing networking for the first time is that they are underprepared; not so much for the networking itself, but for what it takes to get to a point where business can be expected to be done. They tend to simply show up, try and make the most of the opportunity without understanding enough about what they are getting into and how best to deal with the follow-up activity required to make something of it. The result is that there is no result.  So lets examine how best to make networking a real success.

networking-group

Here are three common ‘no result’ networking scenarios:

  1. You introduce yourself to a number of people, grab their business cards and either never look at them again or quickly forget who the actual card owners were and their relevance to you, if any
  2. You meet someone you like or have things in common with and spend far too much time talking to them, with little or no prospect of an outcome
  3. You meet relevant people, get their details, attempt to follow up but somehow never manage to achieve anything beyond that.

These are just some of the things that can happen. Like any lead generation strategy, if you really want networking to work for you, you have to put some thought, focus and effort into it.

There are two levels networking operates at: primary and secondary. Primary networking refers to the activity of meeting people, with a view to doing business with them directly. Secondary networking refers to accessing the contacts of people you know or people you have met through your networking efforts.

There are basically two types of networking activities you can participate in:

  1. Join a structured networking organisation. This usually requires an ongoing commitment, but the structure and processes improve the odds of you achieving some level of success over a period of time. This sort of networking usually focuses on developing close relationships with people in the group. Whilst there is clearly a primary networking opportunity here, the much bigger opportunity is the secondary network. Whilst structured networking is certainly effective, it takes time to build trust before members will start to give you referrals.
  2. Attend ‘informal’ networking events. These events can vary tremendously in size and scope and the way they are organised. They usually have little or no structure and so it’s up to you to make it work. In this context, virtually any gathering of business people can be considered a networking opportunity. Unless you are a committed hermit, this is an opportunity too big to ignore. The rest of this article will focus on this type of networking.

But before we go any further, here are two basic networking realities that will shape the strategies you should use:

  • Most people that you meet at a networking event that you may be interested in talking to further, will not remember you the next day unless you are specifically relevant to their needs at that moment.
  • There is a high likelihood that your network target will receive a number of emails from other network participants the next day, so yours will not stand out. Even if this is not the case, with most people receiving a great deal of irrelevant email these days, your follow up email may not be read, or may not register with the reader

Group of young executives in modern space smiling and making introductions.

So what’s the best way to proceed? How can you make sure that the time you spend networking will yield results?

It’s best to prepare yourself well; have a plan. Make sure that each step of the plan is organised and in place beforehand, otherwise you will lose the initiative. Here are 7 points you need to have in your plan:

  1. Be clear about who would constitute a worthwhile networking “target”; industry, type of business, role within company etc. Choose events where your targets are likely to be found in concentration. Unless you have a good idea of who you are looking for and where to find them, you are likely to waste time and even confuse yourself as to the validity and value of some of the contacts you make
  2. Develop a ‘script’ that you are comfortable with and practise it. Include your elevator pitch and a few relevant questions to ask when you meet someone. This gets the conversation flowing and them talking, which relaxes them and makes them feel good. Without being rude, try and ascertain the degree of fit they represent to your target, i.e. qualify them. Qualify them for further follow up, that is
  3. Don’t spend too long with each person. The idea is to find as many qualified contacts as you can in the time that you have available, not to try and develop a relationship then and there, Relationship building comes later. Work the room, collecting business cards, where relevant,  as you go
  4. On the business cards you collect make simple notes immediately. Write down pertinent points that you can then use as part of your follow-up. Ideally you should have a quality rating system, say a scale of 1-5 that will help you prioritise your follow-up
  5. If a contact looks relevant to you, ask them if it would be okay for you to contact them after the meeting. In this way when you you contact them, you can say “You said it would be okay for me to contact you” – makes it harder for them to fob you off or turn you down
  6. Immediately after the event, send them a handwritten postcard, expressing your pleasure in meeting with them and informing them that you will be in touch with them shortly. This will make you stand out from most of the other networkers they may have met; they will mostly send emails
  7. Next is to make contact with them. Preferably by calling them or by email. It is good to have a promise of something of value for them; this is sure to trigger some reciprocity, which you can use to move the relationship forward, culminating in a meeting where you can explore the opportunity with them further.

Unless there is an immediate and obvious fit, most chance encounters such as those one has at networking events, are not memorable enough for people to remember who you are, or care. For this to happen there should be several follow up contacts done in such a way as not to make yourself a nuisance. Working this all out before you go-a-networking, is a good way of bring consistency and results to your efforts.

7 Key Tips For Business Networking Success

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There is no doubt about it, it’s getting harder and harder to prospect by phone and by email. That’s why networking has become such an important and effective way of generating business. For some businesses, this is all they need to do. For others it’s just one of several lead generation strategies that they may be using.

Networking

Networking is not an activity that should be trivialised. It is a serious lead generation strategy that takes thought and planning in order to achieve success. Getting a good business result from networking is not as simple as it may at first seem. One has to do much more than simply show up and be friendly. Even within structured networking organisations, it takes effort and skill to find the people who meet your needs who either go on to become star referrers or perhaps customers.  So it does not stop at meeting them. You will need strategies for developing partnerships so that you end up with a win-win relationship that endures and you will need to clearly understand the law of social reciprocity to be successful.

So here are the top 7 tips for successful business networking:

  1. Don’t go looking for people who can help you. Go looking to help others. Showing a genuine desire to help others, will make them be more open to trusting you, and being willing to do business with you. The very first thing you should do is provide something useful to the person you are looking to get referrals from. If you do, they will feel obligated to you and much more likely to give you referrals.
  2. Don’t just go and network. Have some goals and have a plan. An exercise that is goal directed will always be more productive than one that is not. Keep track of how you are progressing and adjust your efforts and technique accordingly.
  3. If you are planning to join or are a member of a networking group, make sure to choose your networking group carefully. You will be investing time and effort over a long period of time with your networking group. So check out different groups and make sure the one you choose has the right sort of contacts that you are looking to work with. Remember, the real objective in networking is to gain access to your network partner’s contacts and not necessarily the partner themselves. Make sure that the group’s members are a good fit before committing.
  4. Make use of the Law of Reciprocity. Good networkers understand that time has to be invested in getting to know one another before sufficient trust has been developed and a referral can be expected. So if you fail to invest time with them, don’t expect any referrals. From a different point of view, according to the law of reciprocity, you are far more likely to get a referral once you have given one, or at least made a sufficiently valuable gesture.
  5. Be super clear and concise in articulating the value you provide, and concentrate on making a good first impression. If you are not, you could find yourself being passed-by or not taken seriously.
  6. Make sure you practise proper referral etiquette, or you may risk losing out on future referrals. When you get a referral, act quickly and keep the referrer in the loop in relation to the progress you are making. After all, he is risking his reputation in referring you, and is looking for kudo’s if you do well.
  7. Build a network of trusted referral partners, so that when you meet someone new, you can be resourceful by introducing them to people you know and trust. This will make them trust you more and have more confidence in you, and help you greatly in gaining another new source of referrals.

Of all of these, I think point No 2 is the most important. Most of the people that I talk to that express frustration with the outcomes they get from networking, are guilty of just turning up.  If you are already putting in the networking time, doesn’t it makes sense to use that time as part of a bigger picture plan?

Why You Need a Good Value Proposition

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Whenever a selling opportunity arises, whether face-to-face or online, there is a critical moment of truth… It’s at this moment that your value proposition needs to score a bullseye in relation to your potential customer. This is arguably the most important instant in your sales process – the first red-light-green-light moment that will either see the process moving forward or stopping dead in it’s tracks.

Nowadays people generally are spoiled for choice when it comes to making purchases. One can buy virtually anything you want from a variety of suppliers, local or international. So, as a seller,  you have to be able to show, clearly and quickly, why anyone should buy from you and not from someone else. It’s your value proposition that will be key in determining their next move.

So what is a value proposition?

Simply put: a value proposition is a promise of value to be delivered.

It usually takes the form of a statement that states:

  • how your product solves a problem or produces a desired result

  • how the customer will benefit

  • differentiates your product from alternatives available in the market

What are the common mistakes people make when they present?

As simple as it sounds, unless you have payed special attention to crafting your value proposition, chances are you may botch it.

Firstly, get clear about what in fact your value proposition is. Hard facts. Not words. Don’t set out to compose something. Set out to identify what it is that you do that represents value to your customer. Only when you have that can you start to work out how to best communicate it.

Secondly, your value proposition should not be confused with other branding statements such as your vision, mission or other slogans. Clearly the piece below is not a value proposition.

 

Whereas:

“Harley-Davidson stands for independence, freedom, individuality, expressing oneself, adventure on the open road, and experiencing life to its fullest.” Joanne Bischman, VP of marketing for Harley-Davidson.

Clearly a value proposition.

Thirdly, your value proposition must be written from the point of view of the customer, almost as if he/she was saying it. So avoid using words like “We pride ourselves…..”. You see, the customer is already thinking about your product in their terms, your value proposition must fit in neatly with that internal conversation.

The format of a value proposition

There are no rules here; you can do whatever fits best, as long as it is clear and succinct. It could be a single sentence, a couple of sentences, a heading and two or three bullet points or even a visual image. Avoid cliches.

Why is it important that you have a formal value proposition?

Anyone looking to buy something is looking to get the best value they can for their hard earned dollar. The buying trigger will only be pulled when the balance between value and price tips towards value in their mind. A well articulated value proposition will do that job for you.

So have a look at how you present to new prospects, do you have this covered?

Will your Trade Show be a Balanced Triumph or a Lop-Sided Tragedy?

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Ever presided over a trade show participation that turns out to be a tragedy when you hoped it would be a triumph? It would not be an uncommon occurrence.  There are so many details to worry about, sometimes you can loose your perspective. Where do you direct your effort and how do you make the most of it overall?

[lightbox link=”http://evanrubenstein.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/trade-show.jpg” thumb=”http://evanrubenstein.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/trade-show.jpg” width=”480″ align=”center” title=”trade-show” frame=”true” icon=”image”]

 

Your Trade Show Purpose

Clearly, every company participating in a trade show has their own objectives and work accordingly. Some are happy to simply wave the corporate flag and do a PR exercise, whilst on the other extreme, some are selling off-the-booth, as hard as they can. Most however, exhibit at a trade show hoping to recruit new prospects, who they will then follow- up in the hope of making a sale further down the track, or perhaps gaining a steady customer who will continue to do business for a long time.

 

It is often said that participating in a trade show will bring out the best and the worst of your business. Its best abilities and worst failures. Trade shows are like a business Petri-dish, a temporary laboratory where all the potential business gremlins duke it out. It all happens in a very small space, in a very short time. You meet many people. They often appear enthusiastic and keen. Thy ask all kinds of “buying signal” type questions that get you excited. Then they vanish.

 

Clear Process

Any business worth it’s salt will have a well defined sales process designed to move sales opportunities along a path that will culminate in a sale. It all starts by qualifying the opportunity according to predefined criteria. Selling to unqualified prospects is a waste of time and effort. This is a fundamental principle of sales. Trade show visitors often look, sound, even perhaps smell qualified, but may not be. You see, a considerable proportion of trade show visitors are really just browsing with no intent to ever buy.They ask questions and want details. They look keen, they sound promising. The conversations you have are short and sharp. They give their details, you promise to follow up…..  Qualified? Well, didn’t quite get there so to be on the safe side – we’ll just follow them up. Seen this movie before?

 

Many exhibitors at Australian trade shows are small to medium businesses. They don’t have big teams or big budgets.  The guys who plan the stand, build the stand and man it. They are there for the entire show. They then take everything down, pack it up and go home with their enquiry sheets and business cards. They are beat. It’s a big effort. But the real work has not really begun.

 

The Follow-up

The “real work” is all about how you follow up and who you follow up.  Typically there are lot’s of “leads”; more, many more than you normally get in a similar time period. Following up is time and effort consuming. Uncoordinated or badly planned follow-up will have your sales team haphazardly chasing lots of red-herrings simply because the follow-up process is not properly worked out, coordinated or properly resourced and many of the “leads” are poorly qualified to begin with.

 

If you look at where the planning and effort goes in preparation for trade show participation, most of it is organising and preparing the exhibit. Getting the latest products and equipment organised and coordinating a myriad of details. It’s typically a big rush. The follow-up planning is left for later.

 

Here’s how it should work:

  1. Start your trade show planning by planning the follow-up first. To be effective, your follow-up will require thoroughness and solid implementation. If you take too long to follow up on a genuine buyer, you may find that you are too late. They will have returned to their normal routine and may have lost interest.
  2. Design your exhibition strategy such that it understands and dovetails with the follow up strategy. You will be able to get away with less booth effort and less cost.
  3. Devise a reliable classification system that will identify the A, B and C opportunities that your follow-up system will systematically deal with.
  4. Start following up on the day the enquiry was made at the show. Nothing impresses a trade show visitor more than receiving your first follow-up the very next day. You will stand out.
  5. When you follow up, never use the words “follow up”.

 

Don’t over invest in the exhibiting part of the trade show at the expense of the follow-up. Balance your efforts carefully so that you can shine when you get in contact with those trade show prospects after the show.  A good follow-up process will be well organised and coordinated. It will understand the buyers journey and engage the prospect. The bonus you get when you implement a good follow-up process for a trade show, is that you get a good process to use all year round. Your trade show Petri-dish prototype develops into a fully fledged treatment; a tonic for you sales effort.

 

Get more trade show and exhibition tips and techniques

Why Content Marketing is a Business Website’s Best Friend

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By Evan Rubenstein
Everyone (well almost everyone) in business nowadays has a website, and everyone wants more people to come to their website and give them more business. Right or right?

Not that long ago, the recipe was simple; launch a websites, throw in a meagre ration of mediocre content, add as many links as you could and allow it to rise. On the search results, that is.  In case you have not heard, that does not work any more. Google’s cadre of PhD’s have figured out how to detect and prevent schemes that artificially boost your rightful rankings. Nowadays you have to build a good website that contains high quality content that helps your market and that they value. You also need many more links than before and a lot of social shares to make you rank.

 

All in all, this is now a lot harder to do than it used to be. Building links the way you might have before is now very expensive and time consuming. What’s more, if you don’t have good material worth sharing, you wont get the social shares.
 
So what to do. How do you get natural links pointing to your site and lots of social shares?
 
In a word: Content. Or Content Marketing to give it its new, fashionable name.
 
It has become generally evident that good content produces more links, more quickly that building them manually, and what’s more, it’s cheaper. Not only that, but your quality content will be naturally shared on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and Google+ giving you a double whammie effect.
So what is quality content?:
  • Written word content
    • Articles
    • Blog Posts
    • How – To’s
    • Checklists
    • Q & A’s
    • FAQ’s
  • Video
  • Infographics
  • Slides
  • Podcasts
Those who spent substantial sums on SEO in the past would have watched in horror as algorithm update after algorithm update decimated their investment. As search rankings went into free-fall, SEO providers responded with more sophisticated schemes that cost more money, but ultimately delivered less and less.
 
You have one other thing to look forward to in this new content centric world. Content does not get affected by algorithm updates. Content is an investment in the future!

The Four P’s of Trade Show Success

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By Evan Rubenstein
trade-showYou’ve heard of the Four P’s of Marketing – classic stuff.   For Trade Shows, Exhibitions and Events, there are another Four P’s you should be working through to ensure that your efforts are successful. Trade show success is something that many exhibitors complain about. But, like most things in business, it’s a matter of knowledge.
When considering your next Trade Show or Exhibition, make sure you address the following four areas:
  1. Planning. Like with all things, there is a very low probability of getting a good result without a good plan. The planning process will get you to focus on the crucial elements that will deliver success. Putting your business in front of a large crowd and looking interesting and attractive is not something that can be done haphazardly. It is an orchestration of ideas, people and assets in a cooperative mesh, under public scrutiny and in an unfamiliar environment. Trade Shows are invariably an expensive exercise and there is a lot that can go wrong. Proper planning is the best way of minimising your risk and maximising your ROI.
  2. Promotion. Whilst most Trade Shows do their own promotion, you need your own promotional program to pro-actively communicate your message with your market as effectively as possible.  A Trade Show is a good reason to meet customer’s staff and management. Send invitations, work social media  and make appointments with your targets. Have something of interest for them to come and see and make them feel that their presence is valued and important.
  3. People. Your team should be properly prepared to make the most of every opportunity and eventuality whilst they are professionally representing you. Rosters, scripts, conduct and booth rules are all devices you should make use of to ensure that you present professionally and so that you are focussed on maximising your outcomes. Before you know it, the show is over and whatever was not done properly is what was done. Remember the adage “Proper Preparation Produces Proper Performance”
  4. Post-show Follow-up. In most cases, all the effort of the show culminates in the post-show activities. After all, the principle activity of the event is usually lead generation. Most businesses feed Trade Show leads to their sales team for immediate follow up, but this invariably leads to very little. Most Trade Show attendees go to the show to see a wide range of things in one place at one time – i.e. they are researching; they are generally not ready to buy. They are usually at the very beginning of the buyer’s journey. The sales team have targets and deadlines and most of these leads get forgotten. Systematic follow-up over a period of time is required to produce business – a chore most sales people get bored with.  Good systems will prevent this.Of course, if you have not done the first 3 P’s properly, then you won’t have the issues that the 4th P addresses!

The interesting observation that can be made when talking to businesses that use trade shows is that good businesses get good results from trade shows , and not so good businesses get bad results. In other words, your trade show results are a mirror of how you run you business.

Are you harnessing the power of referrals?

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By Evan Rubenstein
Clever marketers understand that every new customer costs money, and one sure way to diminish that cost is to get referrals for new customers from existing customers – at virtually no cost.
Contemplate this: If every customers introduced you to only two more customers, how long would it take you to have an enormous business? Not long. The simplest way to do this is to ask. The trick is to choose the right moment; when you are in credit in their emotional bank account.
So when are these moments? Well, there are several.
Obviously the best time is when the customer is feeling great. This could be straight after they have made their purchase. At this time they are likely to be very enthusiastic about the product and eager to have their own ego’s stroked or validate their purchase by spreading the good word.
Another good time to ask for a referral is after you have delivered. This could take place either at your place of business or at theirs. As soon as they grasp the reality of being in possession of the new product, that’s the time to ask the question. Their feeling of satisfaction can be shaped into one of appreciation and the referrals will flow.
Surprisingly, a good moment to ask for a referral is if your prospect does not buy.  It may be a feeling of guilt or inadequacy, but you will have the psychological advantage. They will try and make themselves feel a little better by giving you some names of people who may be interested in your product or service.
If you do it right, you can revisit the question of referrals several times during the lifetime of your relationship with your customer. Often they will not be able to think of anyone when put on the spot. Over a period of time however, as they go about their business, their memories will be triggered. As long as you have told them how important referrals are to you, and that you will be following up and asking them. In most cases, when you do, you will be pleasantly surprised.
One of the most important techniques for getting your customers to think of names for you is to use prompters.  The first type of prompter is categories. Have a list of likely categories to go through with them to prompt their memory.   As you run through your list, they will make the associations you need and the names will pop right out. The next prompter is to ask for them using emotional prompts such as: “Who do you know that has been really successful?”, “Who are your closest friends” etc etc.
The last form of prompting is to show them you mean business, When the subject of conversation turns to referrals, take out a pen and paper in anticipation. Get them to brainstorm names – don’t ask questions about each one until you have exhausted their list.
Whenever you get a referral, keep the referrer informed about the progress that you are making. They will feel appreciated and often give you more names. Show your gratitude and appreciation by rewarding the referrer with a gift. If business results from a referral, make it something special!
Make referrals a habit. Practice obtaining referrals on an ongoing and regular basis. Teach it to your staff and make sure that they become enthusiastic about it too. Set some goals with them and track the progress. It will be well worth your while.

Cold Calling is Dead…..really?

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By Evan Rubenstein
There is a widely propagated mantra in lead generation circles, that cold calling has passed its use-by date and is no longer of any use. In fact there are those that would argue that the same is true for a number of other more traditional marketing strategies as well. It’s all about Online and Social media they tell us. These views usually  come from experienced marketers, who’s opinions are generally highly valued. Invariably these marketers have a well established following, and are very active on various social media channels, with lots of followers.  They blog, they read and comment on other people bogs, have their own websites, usually with a fair accumulation of content and are well versed in the do’s and dont’s of Online.

Compared to a typical, perhaps more traditional business, they are light years ahead in their knowledge and understanding of the Online medium. So it almost goes without saying that the concept of cold calling is quite foreign to them.
Consider the case of a business selling something new and different to businesses.

Generating a strong social media following is a big and long term job. To get to the point where you can start to use it organically (as opposed to paying for advertising on social media channels) as a lead generation source takes a concerted, concentrated and sustained effort.  So if you are a new business, what do you do?

With social media now maturing, the novelty factor has worn off and it’s a serious and challenging medium to build a following from scratch. Prospective followers have wised up about who and what to follow and are by now actually trimming their friends and following lists, simply because of overload. Savvy business social media users make use of all sorts of softwares and services to automate and proliferate their message in their hunger for attention. The social media consumer, trying to stay in touch with family and friends and other items of genuine interest, is starting to switch out of the commercial-post-stream simply because it is, at its essence, just another form of advertising to add to the already heavy exposure we face on a daily basis as we go about our lives.

How to work out an accurate marketing budget

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The vast majority of businesses usually use somewhat arbitrary means to determine their marketing budget, such as a certain percentage of sales. Many business books and educational institutions teach methods like this. In fact, there is a far better, more rational, accurate and deterministic way to do this.

It all starts with knowing how much each new lead and customer cost the organisation. This can be determined relatively easily by analysing historical numbers. You simply add up all costs associated with bringing on new business and divide by the number of new customers or new business leads (depending on what you are trying to calculate) to give you the acquisition cost per customer or lead.

The next  step in the process is to decide what sort of customers you are after. For the single transaction sale customer, your acquisition cost must be less than the profit on the first sale. Let’s call this the Allowable Acquisition Cost.  If you are looking for customers who will make a number of purchases over a period of time, then you may be prepared to spend more to acquire them.  Let’s call is the Investment Acquisition Cost (IAC).

The decision as to what type of acquisition cost you should use is a matter of business strategy.  If you are in the IAC category, then you should have a well thought through retention strategy as well. This will cover the various communications and activities you engage in to keep your customers coming back and making repeat purchases. If you forget to work this out and factor it in to you overall marketing budget, you could easily miscalculate.  Call this the Retention Budget.

Once you have this worked out, then the next step is to look at your business goals and determine how many new customers you need to achieve them. This number multiplied by your IAC, is the first component of you marketing budget; the new business part . Add this to the Retention Budget and you now have an accurate dollar value for all you marketing.

Armed with these numbers you are in a position to develop specific marketing strategies knowing exactly how much you can spend on each and how effectively each needs to work. By monitoring how effective each strategy is, you can tweak these over time to improve individual strategy performances, grow you business and make it more profitable.

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