It's been a long journey to get ready to sell our house and buy another. I have been in the Chicagoland area for almost 50 years. Over that period I have moved at least a dozen times. But, you never really move far from your network. You know what grocery stores have what. You know what restaurants have great food. And, you have friends that may be miles away but are always ready to meet halfway to have a beer or a meal. But when you move to a different state, it's a whole new ballgame.
I could have waited to build a network while I was there, but that's not how I roll. I jumped on LinkedIn and started to reach out to connections who were in the area. Many responded and we had phone calls or Zoom meetings to give me a leg up on building my new local network.
My first book, “It's Not About You, It's About Bacon” is primarily about marketing, but at its core, it's about networking and relationships. I have joined and started dozens of business networking groups over the years. There are many formulaic groups such as BNI that have membership charges, stringent rules, and vet you to become a member. There are also some free form groups that allow competitive companies to come in, and ebb and flow. Some have fees and rules while others have neither.
Rules can be good because people have to be very committed to a group to want to pay to follow them, but don't be fooled that just because they are structured, you will get results. Unstructured groups have a combination of the regulars and the tinkerers. The regulars show up because they know each other and they generally like to spend time with each other. The tinkerers come in to practice their elevator speech, or with the hope of swooping up business cards to add to their phone like a trophy!
Local networking tends to be more transactional than relational. It is easy to find a plumber, auto repair, or insurance person. If you need what they sell, you can give them a try and then move on to another until you find the one you know, like, and trust. Once you do, you have no problem recommending them to your friends and neighbors. I still try to provide at least 2-3 options when recommending a service provider. That way the person you recommend them to has choices. If they choose someone who does not meet their expectations, it was their choice. If you only recommend one, that could be viewed as your fault it did not work, straining your relationship in the process.
B2b Networking is Different
Most B2b sales are VERY relational. It usually involves your company or even your job. People have to really get to know, like, and trust each other to want to bet on a big purchase that could change the course of their business. That means you have to invest more than just money. You have to invest time to really get to know a person, their company, and their solution.
Often, B2b networking is most effective when you have an established network of other business relationships that bring value. Often that starts with having a person confide in you about a problem they are trying to solve or a need they have. Then, you can become a connector with someone you network with to make an introduction. It's rare to have two or three people who provide a specific enough product or service to meet most B2b business needs. Hence it's a bigger risk, so you have to take more time to vet them. But the real value you bring is your trusted relationships. You have to share first, before you can expect to get a referral in exchange.
Business can be found, but it takes sharing, caring, and patience. If you are joining a B2b business networking group, it can take 2 years or more of meetings and relationship-building to find your return on that investment.
Associations and Masterminds
I have also joined quite a few Associations. These can be as simple as Chambers of Commerce to very specific industry groups that contain your perfect clients. People do join these to network, but just like a country club, there is a hierarchy that gives the people who have been there longer more clout. Chambers of Commerce are more like transactional groups mentioned above, where Associations tend to be more like B2b networking groups with a long waiting line.
Masterminds are another way to meet your perfect clients, but people often pay top dollar to be in them. They join to solve business problems and are slow to trust. It simply takes time for people to build trust in you and your business. You will defiantly learn new things, but it's an expensive way to find new clients and you should be in it for the long haul.
Relationships take time to grow so you have to really want to be willing to spend the time and money with associations or masterminds to start to build profitable and lasting relationships.
When I move to our new hometown, I plan to search out groups and join a few. I have already joined the local chapter of the American Marketing Association. Although the AMA has more competition than customers, there is an inherent value of getting to know people who have a pulse for the local business environment and business climate.
I've also reached out to some local Chicago B2b networking groups to see if it makes sense for me to open a Raleigh chapter once I get established. Since they have the structure and resources it makes sense to not have to reinvent the wheel. But, if I have to, I am not opposed to creating my own groups using the network of people I have already built up in the area through Zoom and in-person meetings. It's an opportunity to get a return on investment in the time and money I have invested into my CRM and Golden Rolodex!
“Business, after all, is nothing more than a bunch of human relationships.”
— Lee Iacocca
I would love to hear your thoughts on your networking experience dos and don'ts? What challenges have you faced? What value can you and do you bring to networking, associations, and masterminds? Do you have a success or horror story to share?
Comment below and share your thoughts, ideas, or questions about the give and take of successful business networking.
To learn more about this and other topics on B2b Sales & Marketing, visit our podcast website at The Bacon Podcast.