Every parent knows the story of the Three Little Pigs and the Big Bad Wolf, and has probably recited it hundreds of times. Three brothers go out into the world, build their homes and get ready for the future. Then, the Big Bad Wolf comes a knockin’, and you know what happens. Homes of straw and sticks crumble, but the brother who really prepared – built a sturdy foundation – was able to withstand the storm and triumph.
Fairy tales are often built on common truths, and this tale is no exception. Looking beyond the rhythm and rhyme, it’s a story about business and life: don’t take short cuts, be disciplined, and build a strong foundation of processes and knowledge as the unexpected will happen sooner or later. When the Big Bad Wolf or another competitor comes knockin’, will your business stand strong or buckle under the storm?
So, I’m in the automotive industry, which is booming now. Many industries are doing well. But sooner or later, a storm will come and you need to be prepared. One of the most basic bricks we can use to build our professional houses is building out your business and referral network. Now, us marketing folk frequently talk about the importance of networking and the “how to” of it. But marketing really is just about being human. Human beings have a basic need to connect emotionally through relationships, and relationships can only be cultivated over time. You can’t build a relationship if you are sporadic in your marketing or networking, if you only “fit it in” when your phone isn’t ringing. Building a relationship requires time and investment, perhaps a change in your thinking and actually doing things for others so they in turn will do things for you. Ultimately, you are building your brand as you market. In our business, to be successful, you should always be marketing – always be on. You never know when you will meet someone special who just may change your life. Marketing can happen every day via the phone, email, a blog and more. Here are a few suggestions to help you expand your business network, and ultimately gain more trust and more referrals.
1. Get to know your industry well and share information. Have you read a useful article or tidbit lately? Share it. If you want to succeed, become both a humble student and also an expert. Constantly seek knowledge and spread it.
2. Send a thank you card or small token of appreciation that shows thought. I’m a big believer in handwritten notes. E-mails are fine, but personal card takes care and time. Even if you have said “thanks” in the past, don’t be afraid to say it again. We have a saying in our family: “Practice an attitude of gratitude.” I’m sure you have something similar at home too. If you preach it at home, you certainly can put it into practice at work too. The currency of business relationships is in the relationship itself. Build it with authentic care.
3. Take advantage of the opportunity to network inside and outside of your industry. I was fortunate to attend a major auto industry event this week and rub shoulders with thought leaders from my industry, Google, Facebook and more. That opportunity was a result of a long term relationship, and I am immensely grateful. And earlier this year, I networked with CMOs from other verticals – Mattel, Disney and more. It’s always an investment of time, and sometimes of your pocketbook, but the investment pays dividends.
4. Always carry cards. Having your business card with you at all times is a given. But how about carrying a few cards from those business contacts that you trust from another industry? It’s an opportunity to help those who help you on a day to day basis.
5. Follow up immediately on every referral. I can’t stress it enough.
6. Volunteer your time and industry expertise for a project outside the scope of your normal business. Get out there, get uncomfortable and get it done.
7. Ask for referrals and cross-sell. There is always more business than you are getting, and more referrals than you are receiving. Make sure you share your story and successes with your partners, and ask for the opportunity to do more.
8. Reach out to dormant accounts. I’m going to wager that every one of you has at least one – if not more – “dormant” accounts. There may be reasons you’re not getting that referral, but you’ll never know unless you make that call. You may need to apologize for not keeping in touch, but the relationship may well be redeemable and may have been “lost” purely because someone (or you) forgot to ring them.
Building a strong foundation in the good times will protect you if and when the Big Bad Wolf knocks on your door. Get started today.