Is Your Business to Business (B2B) Networking Not Working?
"Help" I hear you cry, "networking is not working". But what's the alternative?
The business world has changed and there's nothing we can do about it. The trouble is, the professionals who we have relied upon for direction are still living in the world of the 1980s and 1990s, telling young business people that the way to generate new business is by continuing with the same out-dated activities they used.
Below are some of those familiar activities: -
- Cold Calling
- Email Blasts
You're probably thinking, "well what's wrong with that?" But, it's tough out there for many businesses and it's not getting any easier. If you're actively involved in running a small business, you'll know that none of these activities provide a return on investment that you could take to the bank.
Let me explain why they're wrong...
For a start, buyers have access to the most incredible resource in existence - The Internet. And now they are so discerning that they don't need someone telling them to buy the latest product or service.
Yep! We've all heard it before. Selling "stuff" is all about relationships. But if you can't get to first base in a relationship you don't stand a chance!
Let's take cold-calling as an example. In the 1980s it was a perfectly acceptable way to generate new business. You could go out and collect compliment slips one day and then spend the next week making phone calls. And many of us were pretty successful at generating new business this way. Now, however, it doesn't matter how good you are on the phone, the simple fact is that the person you want to connect with doesn't want to speak to you. He/she may well have a few staff and all of them will automatically act as a gatekeeper to stop you from speaking to the decision maker.
So how do you get to connect with other decision makers?
Go networking young man (or woman); it’s great. You get 20-30 business owners in a room, you have a few conversations with them and you'll have more referrals then you can throw a stick at! But the reality doesn't quite live up to the expectation. You may find that you're barely covering the cost of the group membership, nevermind the weekly breakfast. And you probably won't be alone. Just ask the next person you meet on your networking circuit how much money they actually make going networking. Very few will be able to say they are making a living from it.
That's not to say that you won't meet some great people and make friends. Because often it’s not about the money and business; it’s about the social side. But, personally I don't know many people who want to get up at 6:00am, don a suit and have coffee with someone they've never met before, just to talk about their kids.
The reality is, networking is a slow burn for a number or reasons. It's not that it doesn't work; it's simply that it can take too long for the majority of businesses to make the money they need. If it takes seven to ten touches in marketing to get on a prospect's radar, and for them to trust your brand, getting a complete stranger to trust you with their customers takes even longer. And if you miss a couple of weeks and so does someone you'd like to do business with, it can be months before you gain any traction.
It's also unlikely, that having spent six months trying to get in front of a new prospect, you're going to dilute your sales pitch by introducing your networking "buddies". Can you imagine? You've just sold your heart out and you've arrived at the end of the meeting and then you say, "great, we're done, but before I go, I'd just like to ask if you'd be up for some reflexology, because I know a great practitioner called Sharon”...Well, you get the picture.
If you can sell to the room and have a product that can everyone can use, that's great. You may not even experience an issue with sales. But if you have to rely on selling through the room, that's where the slow burn will affect a business the most.
Is it recession or is it a perfect illustration of stagnation?
Personally, I believe it's the latter; the business world has changed and the professionals (who never seem to have sold anything in their lives and certainly never run a small business) maintain their stance of telling ‘newbies’ to get out and network. But, it's not working the way we would all like it to. It's take too long and meanwhile business stagnates because it can't get any traction.
In truth networking has become the new cold-calling. A room full of businesses, all of whom want to sell, and not one of them turning up to buy something, means that very little business is actually transacted. And before someone from BNI has a 'pop', even their statistics are skewed as the bulk of transactions are provided by the tradesmen e.g. plumbers, electricians etc.
How long will poor activity continue?
If you consider that more and more businesses begin as Mr Corporate becoming Mr Micro or Mr SME business, then there is a large proportion of these new business people, who don't understand sales, marketing, administration, finance or management. They have to try to survive by the seat of their pants. To add to this inexperience, new business people naturally take advice from so-called professionals. Yet, they can often be the the ones guilty of perpetuating this stagnation in the first place.
Please take me away from all this, I can't handle it anymore!!!
There has always been a degree of stagnation in business, however encouraging an out-dated sales model won't help. The Age of Information is upon us and young businesses need start to thinking out of the box and start collaborating with each other to maximise their effectiveness.
And when I say young businesses, I also mean the new businesses being run by 40-60 year olds who have been made redundant. Everyone has to wake up and smell the coffee; you can't hard sell any more. You now need to be more creative with your approach to business marketing and explore different, more innovative ways of reaching new prospects and customers.
OK, so what are we supposed to do?
- To begin with, start thinking about strength in numbers. Don't waste money on unnecessary marketing, start thinking differently!
- Steer clear of institutionalised recommendations from people who can't prove they know about small businesses. Just because they spoke to SMEs when they worked for a corporate, doesn't mean they know anything about running one!
- If you want to network be strategic in your approach. Begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself, "what are my objectives for being part of a group?"
- Investigate joint ventures with complementary businesses who don't compete with you and use networking to identify possible relationships. If you've been in business a while take a look at sX Syndicates; it may be the logical next step to working with like-minded companies.
- Make sure you're aware of the alternatives available for marketing your business to complement networking. Consider how much content you write and how you can improve it. Read our blog on writing great content - it will point you in the right direction and there are hints, tips and book recommendations if this is new to you.
If you are prepared to spend some time reading and learning how to market your business you will realise that networking is just a very small part of a very big puzzle. If you are some way along your journey, we want to encourage to continue the learning process, as the demand for content, and what that means for your business, is constantly evolving. Visit our website for lots of useful information; everything is freely available and if you use any of ideas, let us know how you got along.
About the Author
Nigel is the Founder & Managing Director of salesXchange and has been helping businesses for over 25 years to develop their marketing, technologies and infrastructure to generate more profits, more efficiently. His recent book "Integrate! The Essential Business Technology & Marketing Handbook" can be downloaded from Amazon.