For many years, I drove to a local country club on Long Island every Wednesday morning to take part in one of the best sources of getting new accounts. I was part of a networking group.
A business networking group's only purpose is to help its members gain quality clients by generating leads, and then to making the best use of those contacts.
The makeup of most of these groups is based on assembling as many owners, presidents, managers, and sales executives of companies offering business services or products who do not compete with each other. A group might have several lawyers with different areas of expertise; for example, one might specialize in labor relations, another in insurance litigation and another in personal estate planning. There are multitudes of different businesses that can profit from each other's leads.
Just to give you some idea of how well I did from the group that I was involved in, I had added over 20 new accounts within a year and a half, totaling over $200,000. This new business was a mix of serving many of the members of the group, and of following up on leads given to me. Two of the larger clients that I sold from such leads included a foreign financial institution that took 32 coffee brewers and 18 water coolers, and a publishing house that owned its own equipment, but placed monthly orders of over $8,000.
A well-run group is made up of quality lead givers. If there are executives who join just to take leads and not give any leads back, the group will eventually collapse. So it is imperative to have member companies that can generate a continual flow of leads. This usually eliminates many small firms. Of course, there are also groups that have mainly smaller-volume members and they can work very well, as long all of them are around the same size.
The format for our meetings was as follows: The president promptly called the meeting to order at 7:45 a.m., after a small continental breakfast at 7:15 a.m. The members then identified themselves and briefly reminded the group of the services or products they offered.
Next, the chairperson for membership often would introduce a new member, who then explained what he or she provided to the business community, and the number of customers they served. A question-and-answer period followed.
New members had to visit at least two of the other members' corporate offices, which gave them some personal time and the opportunity to learn more about each others' businesses.
The first presentation permitted the potential member to attend a second meeting. After that, the group voted to accept or decline the application for membership.
Not only did a new member have to visit two existing ones, but the current members had to make "house calls" on one another throughout the year. This is a very effective way to get to know each member at his or her place of business. Here is where friendships develop and you get hands-on knowledge of what a member's business does. If you are going to recommend a business contact, you must be comfortable with your recommendation.
After the introduction of a candidate for membership, the meeting took up "Business in Progress." During this session, members could ask the group whether anyone had a personal contact at a particular business that the member wants to sell. Quite often, another member knew a good contact person at this business. Between meetings, any member could email the group to ask whether anyone had a contact at a particular firm.
The meeting wrapped up with thank-you expressions from one member to another. This is a great barometer that shows the entire membership what is really happening within the group. Each member must thank another member who was helpful during the previous two weeks. At this time, too, each member must tell the group how many house calls they made, and to which other members. A scorecard is updated biweekly to show which members are networking and which are not.
There is always a temptation to try to bring in a friend who does not have a customer- or lead-list that will satisfy the group. Try to avoid this scenario. Your group will only grow by giving and receiving.
Many business networking groups charge high membership fees to separate those who are not really interested in networking from those who are.
Here is a list of some of the different business services and products that lend themselves to the success of a business networking group: advertising agencies, automobile and truck dealerships, sign companies, heating and air conditioning contractors, office furniture suppliers, banks, accountants, attorneys, insurance agencies (in different categories), providers of computer hardware, software, maintenance and support, general contractors, carpet and flooring installers, interior designers, moving and storage firms, plumbers, electricians, graphic designers, real estate brokers (commercial and/or residential), pest control specialists, corporate staffing and recruiting ("head hunting") organizations, security companies, packaging and janitorial services, telecommunications system providers, stockbrokers, financial planners and related businesses.
I think one of the best ways of finding a networking group would be to contact your local Chamber of Commerce, or to look in your local newspapers under the weekly calendar section. Speak to the person in charge and ask if they would like to have a coffee service and refreshment company as a member.
Alternatively, you may want to start your own group and build it slowly, to get to know all members on a more personal level. A good place to start would be with your present list of clients.
Do not overlook the potential of a networking group. The next account you win because of a quality lead could be worth $100,000.
If you have any questions about networking, please call me at (516) 241-4883, or email me at OCSconsultant@aol.com.
LEN RASHKIN is a pioneer in office coffee service. He founded Coffee Sip in 1968 and after 22 years merged it with Dell Coffee, of which he became president in 1991. Sales at Dell topped $7 million dollars. Rashkin is also a founder and officer of Eastern Coffee Service Association and National Beverage Products Association. His industry honors include NCSA’s (now NAMA) Silver Service Award and NBPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award; he was inducted into NBPA’s Hall of Fame in 1996. His marketing excellence earned him NBPA’s Crystal Bean Award and three NCSA Java Awards. He is a frequent speaker at national and local trade conferences, consults on OCS sales and marketing and has is the author of two OCS training programs.