The idea of growing your business through word-of-mouth marketing is a concept that crosses cultural, ethnic and political boundaries. It resonates within entrepreneurs all over the world. It resonates in Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas--because we all speak the language of referrals.
Years ago I began to dissect just what it is about referral marketing that makes it so successful. I determined that the lowest common denominator is that people want referrals! The public wants referrals, the business community wants referrals, everyone seems to want referrals.
As I put together business-development networks or referral groups in many countries around the world over the last two decades, I was frequently told that this type of networking won't work in other countries. It was ironic to hear "this won't work here, we're different" the first time, because it was said by someone in one part of Southern California talking about people who were 25 miles away in another part of Southern California!
Although I didn't realize it at the time, I later came to understand that this person just didn't want to do the hard work necessary to slowly build his referral business. Rather than say, "I don't want to do that," it was easier to say, "we're different here" (even though "here" was only a few miles away from "there").
Over the years I was amazed to come across some people who absolutely refused to follow the tried-and-true fundamentals that were proven to work in generating referrals as I developed networking programs through BNI across the U.S. and later the world. In many cases they used the "we're different" argument or said things like "that won't work here."
When talking about self-development, I have a friend who often says, "When it comes to ourselves, we're always the exception." Everybody else should do what's been proven to work. It seems that the "we're different here" mantra that some people spout actually prevents them from following proven methods of self-development. Only truly successful people understand that everyone who has achieved success has succumbed to the basics.
Building a Personal Network of Trust
If you want to build relationships that generate referrals, you have to take the time to gain trust and credibility within your network. Here are a few basic networking lessons you should keep in mind when building relationships with foreign--and local--businesses:
- Whether you like it or not, you do become part of a network, so make sure you leave a good impression.
- Maintain and cultivate your network--even if only by sending holiday cards every year. Encourage people to visit and stay with you whenever they're in your area.
- When seeking to use your network for information or advice, try to empower individuals in your network to feel that by helping you they're helping someone else.
- Be prepared to quickly build rapport and reinforce the positive expectations people have been given by their contacts.
- Be cross-culturally aware.
The value of having your personal network of trust applies wherever you operate. It's particularly valuable in areas such as the Far East, where the culture of the community requires you to take time to build a trusting and mutually respectful relationship first.
My experience has shown that people in any entrepreneurial economy can use a networking system to improve their business. If this system is done within the cultural context and not outside it, I've found that the same networking concepts and techniques are almost completely transferable from one country to another. It's basically due to the truth that business is business when it comes to relationship marketing, no matter the culture, ethnicity or political persuasion. It's true that people are different around the world, but normally all businesspeople want to conduct business more effectively. When the goal is to harness the power of relationship marketing, driving businesses further and faster through B2B networking can be an effective result.
The author is an Entrepreneur contributor. The opinions expressed are those of the writer.