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Stop Selling to Your Network Group and Start Educating Them

The people you are looking to for referrals need to understand your product but pitching them to buy it is self-defeating.

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I’ve noticed that entrepreneurs in business networking groups have a tendency to “sell” to others in the group. Educating your network about the type of referrals you want is much more important to your networking efforts. This demands a shift in how you see your networking partners. They are not the clients! They are, in effect, your sales force! In order for any sales force to get out there and sell you effectively, they have to know who to sell or refer you to and how to sell or refer you.

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When people join a networking group they tend to focus on convincing people in that group to try their product or service.  They show them all the finer points of what is available and attempt to close the deal with their networking partners.

I don’t disagree that in order for the members of your networking group to refer you effectively, they must be familiar with what you have to offer; however, when you are in front of them, it’s important to resist the urge to sell to them!

Below are four tips for incorporating what I call the “3+1 Process of Networking” with your referral partners:

1. Does “anybody” know “somebody”?

I often hear members of networking groups say things like “anyone who needs…” or “everyone who is looking for…” Usually, when I hear anyone or everyone, I tune out, because I know so many “anyones” and “everyones,” that I end up referring no one. This is an interesting dynamic, but I think it has a lot to do with information overload. Using a catch phrase that is so broad and generic will limit the effectiveness of the results you will get.

Related: How to Build a Personal Brand That Elevates Your Company

2. Break your business down into keywords or concepts.

When you are asking for a referral, your request should be specific! It is very tempting to start out your personal introduction with a statement like: “we are a full-service business that does XYZ…” Resist this urge! Don’t waste the opportunity by painting with the “full-service” brush.  Instead over the course of a year introduce a specific element of what it is that you are selling or providing with each and every meeting. Get detailed! Educate your networking partners week by week with a keyword based on a specific product or service that you provide. Each week feature a different keyword or concept. Sharpshoot your talk, don’t shotgun it!

Related: 6 Ways to Go Mainstream and Develop Your Brand

3. Teach your network members what your “dream referral” looks like.

If you could come to your next networking meeting with a walking, talking dream referral in tow, what would he or she be like? Be very descriptive of this person as you talk to your networking partners, so descriptive that it’s like that person is in the room with you. The more details you provide, the greater the chance that your partners will recognize that person when they come across him or her outside of the meeting.

Related: 5 People You Need to Meet If You Want to Start a Business

Plus one more: Share customer stories. This is a highly effective way to educate your networking partners about what it is that you are looking for as a new customer or client. By sharing the qualities and aspects of your current clientele, you are illuminating the canvas for the rest of the group so they can see the picture you are portraying for them. When appropriate, consider bringing in a customer or client to talk about how you have helped their business. These kinds of interactions go a long way toward educating the group as to the type of person you wish to have referred to you.

You should be trying to “educate a sales force” instead of trying to “close a sale.” Shift your intention in the group and you will find that the quality of referrals will shift for the better, as well. Your time to close the sale will come when you are with the referrals that you will receive. By keeping your focus on educating your networking partners about what type of referrals you wish to receive from them, you will find that the referrals will be a higher caliber.  Most importantly, those referrals will have a better chance of becoming closed sales than if you try to sell the members on what you are offering. Keep in mind that when you join a networking group that meets regularly like BNI, you are partnering with a group of people who will become your sales force so, educate, educate, educate them on how to refer you.

Ivan Misner

Written By

Entrepreneur Leadership Network VIP

Dr. Ivan Misner is a 'NY Times' bestselling author and co-author of the bestselling book, 'Networking Like a Pro' (Entrepreneur Press 2017). He is also the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI (, the world's largest referral marketing and networking organization.