by Kai Bjorn, President of BNI Canada.
The business world is like the sports world: some entrepreneurs are true athletes in their discipline and are very successful. Others perform well, but don’t raise their business to the next level. But how are they different? It only takes a few easy cost-effective actions, starting with follow-ups during networking activities. To help you perform, here are two very effective tips that every entrepreneur should master to make a good first impression and stimulate their business development.
Business Development: Where, When and Why
Without business development, a company won’t survive for long. In fact, professional networks are an excellent way to build relationships with other experts and offer your services. This is why entrepreneurs and self-employed workers should engage in networking activities on a daily basis.
With more than 210,000 members, BNI is the largest professional network and is recognized throughout the world. This represents more than $1.6 billion in references and sales per year: imagine the potential and sales opportunities! It goes without saying that some professionals who are true experts when it comes to business development take advantage of this more than others. These SEO athletes master the art of saying ‘thank you’ and following up on every introduction. Yes, with every new contact, whether it’s positive or not. And believe me, as President of BNI Canada and a former Olympic athlete, follow-ups and development are as important in business as they are in sports.
Networking and Follow-up Activities
Let’s be honest. In a networking activity, 50% of the exchange takes place during the initial face-to-face meeting and the other 50% takes place afterwards. These professional follow-ups are actions that make a world of difference and situate your business at the front of the line. Like in sports, you can either be standing on the field watching the action or you can score a goal. The difference is action, diligence and discipline.
How Do You Track Business Development?
After your networking activity, make sure you keep business cards or contact information of the people you met. Don’t choose among them, keep all of them. Yes, even those that won’t result in direct sales. Keep in mind that in business, you never know who knows who. A professional may recommend you to relatives or contacts.
Then you write an email to these people in the days following meeting the person. Take the time to say ‘thank you’ for meeting and discussing with the person. Above all, don’t hesitate to follow up on new contacts; you have a lot to gain:
· You will be at the top of the list: This professional contact will think of you when it’s time to refer you or purchase your services and products.
· You will make a good first impression:Taking the lead with a follow-up positively reinforces the image people have of you.
· You will enhance your reputation: Follow-ups and saying ‘thank you’ are direct proofs of your leadership and professional skills. You will create a solid reputation in this network.
· You will build strong and positive relationships: Saying ‘thank you’ and following up helps build relationships between professionals: you open the door to a conversation and starting a real relationship. This is the difference between meeting someone in a networking event and having a potential partner in their network.
· You will act ethically: Many leaders say ‘thank you’ and are grateful to the people they meet. It doesn’t matter if it’s a start-up or a thriving entrepreneur. Above all, it’s a relationship between two people. Be ethical and professional. Your follow-ups and your ability to say ‘thank you’ will become a hallmark of your code of ethics.
BNI and Follow-ups
BNIs have noticed the strength of follow-ups and a simple ‘thank you.’ It’s so essential to their process that they’ve set up a tool called ‘thank you cards.’ Members can write a note or say it out loud: “Thank you for the reference and the reliable business opportunity. The reference was excellent and we were able to work together.”
Follow-up on Referrals
In addition, follow-ups are useful at every level of your business development. Not only after a networking event, but well after all first contacts or references. If a collaborator refers you to a potential client that becomes a business opportunity, for example, take the time to say ‘thank you’ to the person who referred you. It will strengthen your relationship and demonstrate recognition. And it may very well open the door to other references.
If, however, a collaborator refers you to a client and the client doesn’t need your service or product, also follow up with a ‘thank you.’ Even if the initial contact was not positive or the client doesn’t match your target audience, take the time to do it. This opens the door to a discussion. You can then readjust your objective and reassess who your target client is. And if you’re the one who refers a client to one of your collaborators, follow up with them too. Ask if all went well and if the referral was helpful. The important thing is to follow up and discuss with your collaborators, whether it’s positive or not. In business, it’s impossible for all referrals to become clients.
Take Advantage of Business Opportunities
Above all, remember that a follow-up and a simple ‘thank you’ can open up a multitude of business opportunities. The person you’re dealing with might be a future collaborator, client, representative or supporter. It’s an adventure that begins with a follow-up and a ‘thank you’ and just might lead you to opportunities. The best part is that these actions are fast, free and easy to carry out. Why not put them to work for you?