Networking groups can definitely help businesses generate referrals. However, I've talked to many people who've told me that despite the fact that they are giving business for other members of their networking group, they are not getting business from other members of the group.

For those of you who want to get more business from the networking groups you belong to, keep this in mind: When attending referral-related networking groups, remember that your efforts should focus more on "training a sales force" than on trying to "close a sale." In other words, if you want to get business from the fellow members of your networking group, it is key that you educate these people about some of the specifics of your business and what to look for in order to refer you effectively.

Let's say you're training a sales force. What would you say in this training process? How would you describe your product or service to your salespeople that would enable them to fully understand the benefits of what you have to offer? This is what you should be doing at a networking meeting.

The only way people can pass referrals is if they know as much about your business and you as time allows. No one expects a referral group's member to be an actual salesperson for all the members; but, if you want referrals, the other members do need to be trained. Thus, the way your introductions are done can substantially impact your results in generating referrals from other networking group members.

I have personally seen people participate in referral groups who were in businesses so unusual that I didn't think it was possible for them to do well; however, what I didn't take into account was their personal commitment, attitude and ability to teach people how to refer them.

Here are some key points to consider for educating people in your networking groups:

  • 1. Do not generalize when asking for referrals. I have heard hundreds of thousands of introductions at business networking events in my 20 years of running a business referral organization. Many people, when outlining what type of referrals they want, use the words "anyone," "someone" or "everyone." I don't recommend it. Here's an example of a general announcement: "I'm looking for anyone who's planning to take a trip this summer." Or, "I can help everyone who is planning to travel sometime this year." This is too vague. Instead, you should ask for a specific type of referral. One travel agency owner understood this point and said, "If you have a friend or co-worker who has been talking about traveling this summer, please refer him to me and I'll help him plan a trip he will never forget!" It is also important to remember that if you are in a group that meets weekly, your presentation should focus on something different each time in order to continue the educational process.
  • 2. Bring support materials to networking meetings. If you have something visual for members to view or leave with, your chances of staying in their minds long after the day's meeting are increased. A flier about a product sale or a newsletter from your company are good items to bring. You might also bring samples of an item you carry in your store or place of business.
  • 3. When introducing yourself, break your business down into the lowest common denominators. In networking, lowest common denominators apply to business introductions, when each week you focus on simply one aspect of your business. In other words, break your business down into very small pieces. You may be tempted to use the laundry list approach-listing all the areas your business covers. Instead, consider that your fellow networkers will learn more about you week to week if you explain one aspect of your business at each meeting.

I once saw the owner of florist shop stand to give his introduction, holding a single red rose, wrapped in cellophane and with a very thin stem. He described the type of rose it was and how long it would bloom. He then told his members he had just purchased it at the grocery store on his way to the meeting that morning. After that, he reached under the table and pulled out another long-stemmed red rose, fully three times larger, with a huge red bud and a much thicker, green stem. He proceeded to describe this rose, emphasizing that it would stay fresh and actually fully bloom and open up, lasting twice as long. He held both by the bottom tip of the stems and waved them back and forth, showing how thin the grocery store stem was as it swayed from side to side with each movement of his hand and how sturdy his rose was, which didn't budge at all. With that, he announced that there was only 3 cents difference in price between the two roses...and his was less!

This is a classic example of how to use a lowest common denominator when educating people about your business at networking events. The floral shop owner did not use general examples. He brought something to show, and he described it in detail.

If you want to get referrals from your networking efforts, remember to "train your sales force" using the three techniques mentioned above. Chances are, you'll see a noticeable difference in your results.