Everybody knows that they need one, but – what exactly is a ‘network’? How do you build one and what use is it anyway?
There is no single answer to the question of networks. It is in fact easier to say what it isn’t, and that is a simple list of names. Let me explain that before I continue – if a list of names was all a network was then building one would be easy. Just grab a copy of your local phone book! That’s got lots of names in it! Of course you are right, a ‘network’ is the combination of a list and the relationship, the personal relationship, that you have with the people on your list.
The reason the phone book is not a good ‘network’ is that you have little or no direct, personal relationship with most of the people in the book. And that gives us the first clue as to what your network is.
Obviously it is made up of people with whom you have a direct, personal relationship. And it is made up of different groups. Let’s focus on that next.
Obviously your existing customers would be part of your network. Hopefully, they are a strong part of your network, happy to continue to be connected with you and even to encourage others to connect (and do business) with you.
Your potential customers are also part of your network. They do need to be treated differently than your existing customers, but this is where your next long-term customer is now, so they do need to be treated well. When you communicate with them be sure to let them know that you already value them.
Obviously family and friends are also part of your network, and they too need to be treated well if you want to maintain a good relationship with them. You need to encourage them to buy from you, but you may need a different approach than you take with your existing clients.
The people that your customers, potential customers, family and friends know are also part of your network. True, you can’t directly communicate with them, but just like the other segments you need to understand this group exists and plan & implement a strategy for getting in touch with them. An obvious place to start is a referral bonus scheme.
What do you need all these people for, anyway? Well, networks are great places for referrals. Quite simply unless you are very gregarious then you probably can’t make a living from the people you directly know. It would be easier to make a living from people THEY know, but even that – for most people – wouldn’t be enough buying customers. You need you network big enough so that there are people who don’t know you who are happy to refer your business. The extreme view of this existed in the 1970s – back then people in big business used to say “Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM”. People who had never heard of Mr Watson were happy to buy from IBM, and recommend to their friends that they buy from IBM too. The same is true for other large, especially global organisations – can you name any?
Some of you are comfortable with the idea of going out and making a good connection with all those people, others are shaking at the very thought! That’s because some people have lots of friends and others have only a few, really close friends. If everyone needs to communicate with the network we’ve just described then how do the people who like to have only a few close friends do it?
They make sure that at least one of their friends is a person who likes to have lots of friends! The real value in your network isn’t the people you know, nor the people they know, but the people that second group know. Not a friend, nor a friend of a friend, but the people beyond that.
That’s because that’s where the real referrals come from, the referrals that are constant, the referrals that keen you in profit. You do need your own network, and in general the bigger the better, but always remember that you need to cultivate a direct relationship from the referrals you get from the other groups.
Is this the only way to segment a network? No, there are others, and we discuss that in tomorrows article. Make sure you read it to get the full picture about networking!
Do you maintain a great network or is it hard work for you? Leave a comment and tell us your networking story.