Networking is an outdated term that conjures up all sorts of negative feelings. Learn an alternative approach that’s proven to work for everyone from extroverts to introverts!
People do business with people they know and trust. And chances are, you refer people that you know and trust as well.
When it comes to growing your business and expanding your pipeline of potential customers, it is important to establish a healthy network of people who believe in you, believe in your value, and believe you have something valuable to offer and are willing to pass your name on.
It’s not networking (stop using that word). It’s about building value-added relationships.
When I was working for a leadership development company, this was called the “Center of Influence” concept (COI). It’s something that was originally coined (I believe) by Paul J. Meyer, one of the fathers of the personal productivity era. You can read his whitepaper about the center of influence concept here (gotta love the font and the clip art – classic 80s!).
Observing the Center of Influence Strategy in Action
I saw this strategy demonstrated by a mentor over a several year period. His pipeline was always full – but he also knew the value of his service and was always willing to ask for the sale. Even if you execute the COI concept well up front, you still have to ask for the leads!
While it’s not the only tool in your tool belt, having a center of influence network is a valuable strategy to keep in mind as both a marketer and sales professional.
To build “Center of Influence” network, it takes time, authenticity, and mastery of your craft (or product/service – whatever you’re selling; it has to be of high value and quality). The steps below will help you further refine your approach with this strategy.
1. Define a Center of Influence: What does it mean?
An individual who makes a great center of influence for you is someone who:
- Believes in what you are selling, and what you have to offer
- Is influential with a number of people
- Is willing to give you names
- The names given to you are at least partially qualified prospects, more than just leads.
2. Brainstorm potential people: Who fits this description and definition?
- Current and former clients/customers
- Former employers/co-workers
- Family members
- Networking contacts
- Professional service providers (banker, accountant, lawyer, etc)
- What others can you come up with?
3. Schedule a meeting with at least 5-10 potential center of influence candidates.
- At these meetings or during these calls — Talk with each person about your business goals, and your desire to meet with them 2-3 times a year as a center of influence.
- *NOTE – it is important that you believe in their business as well and are willing to do the same in acting as a center of influence for them! You should be comfortable sending business their way as well because you believe in their success.
4. Refine your list.
- Identify the most valuable center of influences — these will prove to be mutually beneficial relationships.
- Make sure you have their contact info, as well as a good understanding of what they do and how you can help their business grow as well.
5. Communicate regularly.
- Send personal emails each month with recaps on leads, updates on your business, and ask how you can help them. Take them out to lunch regularly. Check in via text or phone calls. Ask how you can help.
6. Nurture your network.
- Continue to nurture your center of influence network. And keep an eye out for future relationships, knowing that a COI may not be right forever, but for a certain period of time.
- Learn the value of the F-word. Seriously. I once worked with a person who w constantly at the top of the sales charts, and her advice points right to value of follow-up. She calls herself Sally F-U Smith. Follow-up, follow-up, and follow-up. We’re all so busy that the winner is many times the one who stays in the game (genuinely) the longest. Keep up your stamina, and reap the benefits.
Last but not least — examine and analyze your center of influence network on a yearly basis!
The Center of Influence is a sales strategy will contribute to the activity needed to keep your pipeline full. It’s not the only way, but it’s a highly effective strategy, combined with other activity.
If the COI approach does not produce results, you may want to reconsider your product and value proposition. And question whether you’re genuine in your approach. If people don’t believe in you and/or what you’re selling, you may want to do some soul searching!
Do you have additional suggestions?
Please – feel free to comment and add additional sales strategies or ideas for building your network!