Most people think you can use networking to increase sales to new customers or clients. This leads to those awkward impromptu pitches at events and online that pretty much never work and serve only to annoy the people being pitched to. The real power of networking to increase sales, however, comes not from networking to sell, but rather networking with people you have already sold to.
Hopefully this will get the penny to drop. It did for me.
The stats bear out the fact that you will be able to sell to existing customers around 60% of the time – if they had a good experience with you previously. In contrast, you most probably only have around 25% chance of selling to a new customer. According to this article, increasing customer retention by 5% increases profit by 25% to 95% because you don’t have to spend so much on marketing to them.
I know what you’re thinking;
“That’s all well and good but you need to get new customers first before you can sell to them again.”
That’s true. So can we use networking to sell to first time buyers without being annoying or sleazy?
Selling to First Time Buyers Without Being Annoying or Sleazy
This is the hard(er) part and there is no “quick and easy” way that networking can help you with this.
It can, however, help you identify prospective customers/clients. How? By tapping your existing network for “signals” that the people they know might be interested in buying from you.
So how does this work?
First, you need to find an easy-to-identify “signal” that indicates someone might be in the market to buy what you sell. If that signal is difficult to spot or long and complex and /or has different facets, it won’t work. Simplicity is key.
Second, you need to ask your network connections to look out for this signal. And if they come across anyone in their network that is exhibiting this signal, they can pass your information on to them (or pass the prospect’s contact information to you).
For example, let’s say your business is making and selling garden furniture. You could ask those in your network to introduce you to any estate agents, gardening services, or home maintenance company owners in their networks. These are people who have direct access to homeowners and who might be interested in referring their clients to you. Obviously, your mutual connection would have to know and trust you to vouch for you in this way.
In most cases, this tactic is not going to drive vast amounts of sales your way, but it may add a few here and there. That said, if you sell big-ticket services or products or if you are a professional, it may become a lucrative source of business. For the initial sale, you will most probably have to rely on traditional methods of getting new business. This might include advertising, website SEO, and promotional activities, amongst others.
Networking With Existing Customers
Once you have made your sale, you can start treating them like a part of your network; contacting them regularly, giving free resources and advice, finding out more about them, and so on. If you are able to build a relationship with them, they will become loyal customers and brand ambassadors.
However, there is one caveat. We need to make the distinction between a client and a customer here as it will determine the approach you will use.
Clients vs. Customer
A client, for the sake of this article, is that a client is someone you engage with on a one-to-one basis, typically providing professional or personalized services. As such, you will interact directly with them and will most probably establish some sort of rapport or relationship with them.
On the other hand, a customer buys a commodity from you and you have no real direct relationship with them. Customers are typically “faceless and nameless” and are treated as a monolith.
Networking to Increase Sales from Clients
People would rather do business with someone they know and like than with a stranger. So, if you deal with clients in whatever capacity, why not endeavor to make your existing clients your friends?
The personal nature of the vendor-client relationship makes establishing a more personal relationship with these buyers more viable. Remember that this goes beyond simply sending newsletters to them periodically – although it should certainly include this.
You should create a profile for each client and group them together. This way you can pay special attention to them so you can nurture them to give you repeat business.
Due to the fact that you will establish a personal relationship with your clients, you will most probably have fewer than 50 or 100 of them. This makes managing personal relationships with each of them viable. Obviously, the fewer clients you have, the easier it will be to build those relationships up. It also allows you more time and effort that you can invest in each of them. However, this all depends on your business.
Networking to Increase Sales from Customers
In contrast, you may have hundreds or thousands of customers, most of whom you do not (and cannot) know. The truth is that you can’t practically establish a personal relationship with each of them. However, you can use the principles of networking to nurture your relationship with them as a whole.
This might include the following;
- Giving free resources (downloadable content, links to articles or videos, and so on) to them from time to time through your newsletter.
- Inviting them to ask questions and then give free advice.
- Telling them about new products or services you are developing and create a way for them to participate. They can so this by giving ideas and feedback or testing your offering out for you.
You would obviously have to get them to opt into communicating with you. The easiest way to do this is to ask them to sign up for your email newsletter and then using that as your communication conduit with them.
Your Client Retention System
Since real networking can only be done with clients, we will focus on these buyers from here on.
Before you start networking to increase sales with clients, you have to design a client retention system; a sequence of actions you will take that removes the guesswork from staying in contact and makes it easy to delegate to others in your team.
Client Retention System Attributes
Your client retention system should have the following attributes;
- It should be centered around a network connection relationship management system such as tribemine.com or one of the many sales CRMs on the market. You should be able to build a detailed profile of each client over time.
- You should design a strategy document in which you plan out in what order your communications to each client will go out and what those communications will contain. This will allow you to mix up the themes of your communications to your clients so that the relationships don’t become predictable or seem mechanical.
- You can create a series of scripts that can be used for your interactions. Developing a series of scripts sounds like it makes the relationship impersonal, but it simply makes you more efficient. After all, a script should only be a framework for your message and it should be adapted for the situation and the client. However, scripts help you save time by making sure you hit the necessary key points you need to when communicating with each client.
Tips for Building a Relationship with a Client
Right off the bat, just as with the other people in your network, you are looking to build a relationship with each of your clients. As such, you need to stay in contact with them on a regular basis. To do this properly, you should consider doing the following;
- Before reaching out to them, scan their company website and social media profiles for information and news that will help you get to know them better. This harvested data should then be added to the client’s profile in your CRM.
- You should personally reach out to them periodically (every two or three months or so) with something of interest to them. This might be a download that you have produced, a link to an interesting article (using the harvested information in their profile). It mustn’t be a sales call, however, but rather something that they are interested in – a hobby or sport for example.
- If you find out they are facing a challenge, offer to help or see if you can connect them with someone else in your network who might provide the necessary help.
- You must find out when their birthday is and send them a card or a small gift when it rolls around.
Don’t Sell But …
Once you have built up your relationship with them, ask them if they wouldn’t mind being included in your newsletter distribution list. This is where you can “sell” to them without making it intrusive or overbearing since the newsletter is sent to all of your clients. However, stay away from sending out a newsletter too often or they will become desensitized to it.
Things You Can Ask For
However, things you can (and should) ask clients in your network for are
- a testimonial and
- introductions to anyone they know who might want to use your service.
That said, do each only once, if possible, when you and your client have had at least one or two successful transactions and three or four post-transaction conversational exchanges. Asking them referrals again and again is tantamount to selling.
When your relationship with them starts to become established, most of them will start to mention you to those they interact with of their own volition.
As you can see, networking to increase sales is possible when you approach it in the right way. You can network effectively with clients due to the personal relationship you have with them. The impersonal relationship you have with your customers, on the other hand, makes networking impractical – although it is possible to employ some of the principles of good networking to improve your relationship with this group.
So get started building relationships with the people who buy from you and hopefully you’ll not only see benefits in your bottom line but in the quality of your network too.