Is Your Business to Business (B2B) Networking Not Working?
"Help" I hear you say, networking is not working, but what's the alternative?
Well, the business world has changed and there's nothing we can do about it. The trouble is, the professionals who we have to relied upon for direction are still living in the world of the 80's and 90's, telling young business people that the way to generate new business is through the following activities:
- Cold Calling
- Email Blasts
You're probably thinking, well what's wrong with that! Well, if you're actively involved in running a small business, you'll know that none of these provide a return on investment that you could take to the bank. It's tough out there for many businesses and it's not getting any easier.
Explain why its wrong...!
For a start, customers have access to the most incredible resource in existence - The Internet. And now, they (we) are so discerning that they (we) don't need someone telling them (us) 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're screwed!
Take cold-calling. In the 80's is was a perfectly acceptable method to generate new business. Now, it doesn't matter how good you are on the phone, the simple fact is that the person you want to connect with you 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 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 and all you have to do is talk to them - but wait for it...”show me the money!”. Just ask the next person you meet on your networking circuit how much money they make going networking - you know, get them to tell you their return on investment, including the early morning meetings, full breakfasts and bulging waistlines.
I promise you, they'll tell you that it's about the wonderful people they've met and it’s not about the money and business, it’s about the social side. Well, maybe. But 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 out there to make the money they need.
If it takes seven to ten touches in marketing to get on a prospects radar and for them to trust your brand, getting a complete stranger to trust you to their customers takes even longer.
If you meet every two weeks and you miss a week and so does someone you'd like to do business with, it can be months before you gain any traction.
Having spent six months trying to get in front of a new prospect, you will not 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 of 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
I believe that it is the latter; The greater 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. The stagnation comes from the national/global business model needing more traction.
Networking was 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, hence very little business is actually transacted. And before someone from BNI has a "pop", even their statistics as skewed due to the fact that the bulk of transactions are provided by the tradesmen. i.e. 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 SME business. A vast proportion of these new business people don't have a clue about sales, marketing, Admin, finance or management and they have to try and get by, by the seat of their pants. To add to this inexperienced situation, new business people naturally take advice from so-called professionals who are the one's guilty of imposing this stagnation in the first place.
Please take me away from all this, I can't handle it anymore!!!
This stagnation will always be with us until the out-dated sales model is changed and young businesses start to think 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 probably don't need to immerse yourself in social media either and if you haven't found out where your customers hang out, then you definitely don't need to do social media.
OK, so what are we supposed to do?
To begin with, start thinking about strength in numbers. Don't waste money on unnecessary marketing, startthinking differently!
Steer clear of institutionalised recommendations from people who can't prove they know about small businesses. Just because they spoke to SME's when they worked for a corporate, doesn't mean they know anything about running one!
Investigate joint ventures with complementary businesses who don't compete with you and use networking to identify possible relationships.
Make sure you're aware of the alternatives of marketing your business to complement networking and be strategic in your approach to networking, beginning with the end in mind.
About the Author
Nigel is the Founder & Managing Director of salesXchange and has been helping SMEs for over 25 years to develop their marketing, technologies and infrastructure to generate more profits, more efficiently. His recent book book "Integrate! The Essential Business Technology & Marketing Handbook" can be downloaded from Amazon.