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Networking by and large is an informally interconnected group or association of people. These associations might be personal relationships with friends, family, and others you come across in an informal meeting. In addition, they can also be business relationships you develop with customers, supervisors, subordinates, vendors, and even competitors you meet during the course of your career. Networking seems to be a popular buzzword these days. Every person is talking about it,including Buzz Marketing and Word of Mouth Marketing. However, not many of them seem to be presenting specific strategies for making the most of local networking groups.
There are a variety of organizations that run networking groups across the country. A large number of them offer their members the chance to attend weekly meetings and develop new professional relationships to help them grow their business. A good number of chambers of commerce are now organizing "leads groups" for their members as well. These groups are intended to offer members a way to connect with each other and potentially refer each other business.
In most "leads groups" each group allows no more than one representative from any industry, so if the group has a mortgage broker, other mortgage brokers have to join another group or wait for the seat to open up. The basic idea is that by restricting membership, you eliminate competition within the group. The agenda at most structured networking meetings is pretty straightforward. Each member is given an opportunity to introduce themselves, then there is a short presentation by one or two members (each member gets the chance eventually). The meeting ends with members discussing potential referrals for each other.
This means that most of the members get about one minute to present who they are and teach the other members of the group how to refer to them. The majority of people do a great job of presenting themselves. However, most people do not think to ask for referrals. At most networking events, you are not expected to ask for a referral or explain what a good referral for you is.
However, at a leads group it is not only acceptable, it is expected! If you are involved in a networking group, use this simple outline below to create your elevator pitch (quick introduction). When you deliver your elevator pitch to a leads group, your goal is to educate everyone in the room about your company and what you do, as well as to teach them the best way to refer others to you.
In addition, you want to make sure that you actually ask for a specific referral. I will go through each piece of the outline in detail, but here are the basics.
The introduction piece of your presentation should stay the same every time you give it. You might say something like, "My name is Jim Smith. I am a mortgage broker at XYZ mortgages in Mytown, USA.
We offer an inclusive line of residential and commercial mortgage products. You can add some additional detail, but you should really focus on keeping this short and on point. At each meeting, you will have the chance to differentiate yourself from the competition by telling a short story during your presentation. The story can be related to a specific challenge you helped a client overcome, a unique feature of your product or service, or you can simply talk about a new development at your company. Consider writing out your stories in advance so you know what you are going to say at each meeting. In addition, you can schedule the content so that the other members of your group learn more and more about you at each meeting. You need to focus on educating your group a little more each week.
The "call to action" is very crucial and the piece that a large amount of people overlook. You need to tell the other members of your group exactly what type of referral you are looking for. For example, our mortgage broker, Jim Smith, might say, "Today a good referral for me would be a Realtor at ABC real estate company." Jim may also say, "Today a good referral for me would be anyone who purchased their home more than 10 years ago."
I always recommend that your "call to action" is as specific as possible. If Jim stands up and says that a good referral would be anyone who needs a mortgage, the rest of the group will have a harder time thinking of people to refer. If Jim asks for an introduction to a specific person at a specific company, someone in the group may know that person or know someone at that company who can facilitate Jim's introduction. The more specific the request, the more likely it is to trigger someone else in the group's memory.
A last minute hint: Keep focused on the networks of the people in the group, not on the people themselves. In other words, when you are participating in a networking or leads group, you should not focus on gaining the business of the people at the table. Instead, you should focus on gaining their trust so that they will refer to you people in their network.