Lesson Five: Cross-reference your database. “Who do you know who…?” is often a question you are asked by colleagues and friends when they are seeking the right person for a business partnership, career position or task. When you are ready to make a referral, you need an efficient system that will help you find and connect people through a quick search. Because your database contains all of your important contacts, you want to design it so it stands ready to help you when you need it the most.
Database software helps you to design a robust database so it works best for you. When my technology consultant set up the database for my business, she began with an important question: “What do you want to be able to do with this information?” She opened up my eyes to what was possible. Together, we designed a custom system that meets my specific needs.
When you set up (or revamp) your contacts database, add a variety of fields that will create different lists. For instance, you can retrieve target groups of individuals, like men, women, chief executive officers, vice presidents of sales and marketing, women business owners, etc. simply through the identifying codes you use. You can also run lists of people by occupation, like human resources, sales, marketing, training, finance, etc., or by geographic location. When a client was looking for a facilitator in the Washington, D.C. area, I was able to retrieve my facilitator colleagues in that area and make several recommendations. “Point and click” makes it easy to make a referral.
As you review your database and its various demographic groups, consider how you can make referrals and bring people together. Who can you connect today?
Lesson Four: Take advantage of electronic networking groups. The most revolutionary change that came from entering the new Millennium was the introduction of social networking sites. Professional and personal e-networking groups like LinkedIn, Facebook, Meetup and Twitter, to name a few, allow you to “cast your net(work) far and wide.”
This is how social networking sites work: Sign up as a member of the group. Send an email to anyone in your network of contacts who you want to include in your electronic network. Your invitation is either accepted or rejected. For those individuals who accept, what happens is quite fascinating: Your contacts, who are in different networks, become intricately linked to each other so networks expand and grow. Your professional profile travels far and wide via the Internet. You also have the option to join special interest groups within these e-networking groups based on your background, profession or personal interests, keeping the lines of communication open with your contacts.
For professionals, LinkedIn allows you to introduce and refer people to each other or recommend or endorse individuals within their areas of expertise. When viewing their profile, you can see who they are connected to. If you see someone you want to meet, you can ask your contact to provide an introduction. LinkedIn’s internal messaging system makes it easy to refer people to each other. A Facebook page can either represent a business or a person. Your contacts can choose to “like” your Facebook page, which is a form of endorsement, or “like” a post. For people who prefer to put a face with a name and meet in person, Meetup brings together people online who share specific interests. Events are held offline within geographic areas around the world (either where you live or where you may be traveling). If you live in Cleveland and are visiting London on business, you can check to see if a Meetup event is happening during your stay. Twitter allows you to post short comments (less than 140 words) and also to follow top Thought Leaders and news sources. People can follow you on Twitter and re-tweet your tweets, which is a way of saying “I like the way this person thinks.” To me, that’s a form of endorsement.
As a busy professional, you can use e-networking groups to keep in contact with colleagues and friends, make referrals and expand your network. With a click of the mouse, watch your network grow.
Lesson Three: Join a “lead” generating group. In lead generating groups, individuals usually pay an annual fee to become part of an exclusive business networking group. This means that only one or two individuals from specific industries are represented.
Lead exchange groups limit the number of members from various industries, like law, accounting, insurance, marketing, real estate or interior design, to name a few. Most groups meet weekly, bi-weekly or monthly with the specific intent of delivering business referrals to each other during the meeting. Traditionally, the group as a whole gets permission from the other members in the group to share their names with anyone they come in contact with who might be interested in doing business with them. That’s different from randomly giving out names to other people without the other person’s knowledge (as you already know, I do not support that practice).
Some lead groups work better than others. Do your homework first. Get as much information about the group as you can. Talk to people who are already members. See if you can attend a function as a guest and observer. Carefully study who else is in the group. Make sure they are people you want to associate with before you commit.
For a lead group to work well, four key criteria must exist: 1. Mutual respect for each other; 2. Trust among group members; 2. High business standards/ethics; and 4. A generous or giving spirit. When those four criteria exist, the group will work well for you.
You have available to you the gift of technology to connect people and refer them to each other. The great benefit of connecting people using electronic technology is that you have a thread of the connection, easily accessible with the click of a mouse.
Lesson Two: Make e-connections. I have met many colleagues who are in the same fields of work as I am – training, speaking, coaching, facilitation and consulting. Occasionally, I will meet a new contact and discover that there is someone in my network who they “must” meet. In my mind, it is a perfect fit. In this case, I will send an email to both of them, and make an “e-introduction.” Within the body of the email, I include contact information for both of them (name, title, company, address, phone, email) and a brief paragraph description on each person so background information is provided in advance of their connecting. It is up to them to contact each other. The intent is not just of referring business to someone, it is also to bring two colleagues together for mutual benefit. Try it. The result: People will respect you for your thoughtfulness. It positions you as a considerate business professional, one who is thinking of other people first.
Throughout the years, I have referred a number of people to each other through e-connections. People respond positively to this simple method because of the background information that is provided to them. Who do you know in your network who you believe needs to know each other? Get busy and make some introductions. Your colleagues and friends will look to you as a great resource and thank you for expanding their network of contacts.