We've made it! You've now reached the last commandment. And what better way is there to end this book that's chock-full o' marketing secrets other than by telling you about something I truly hate. I hate networking. Really, I do!
I hate it because, in my experience, it hasn't brought me anything substantial in return. You're probably saying right now, “What? Is he crazy? Has he lost his mind?”
But wait a minute, hear me out. Networking isn't a bad concept. Far from it. If the previous commandments have been properly followed, networking can be a fantastic marketing tool to leverage them. If you can be at the top of your prospects' minds, you can also be at the top of your network's mind, right?
Your special name, tagline, “unique” product, free reports, lead generators, celebrity status and support systems, all added to a network of friends, clients and associates, can bring you an incredible amount of business.
However, here's the problem. Having a network and having a networking system are two entirely separate things. When you're only networking, for instance, often people will want something in return or else they will either stop sending you clients or simply lose interest (if you don't take the time to recognize their efforts, and that's if you have any time left at all).
So, how can you reward your network? Better yet, how can you turn your network into a networking system? The answer is by developing a network of strategic marketing alliances… Or marketing joint ventures.
All throughout this report you have read about techniques in setting up strategic alliances in some form or another. They were included in the many examples you've read up to now. There are as many different forms of systematized networking opportunities out there as there are businesses.
I strongly encourage you to vigorously seek them out. In my experience, I have found that they mainly fall into three major categories. The first is what I call the info-network, the second is the auto-network and the third, the intra-network. Let's take a look at each one and how you can apply them.
The information-based network is one in which a strategic marketing alliance is created in which information is exchanged in some form or another between parties. Basically, that information includes qualified leads that both you and your alliance share, or information about each other that is promoted to each party's target market or clientele (also known as “cross-promotion”).
As long as your strategic alliance logically shares the same market without directly competing with you, there is an immense potential for you.
For instance, I mentioned the power behind the free report and especially the newsletter. Advertising space can be sold at a nominal cost in order to pay for the printing and distribution of your newsletter, or it can be offered to those that might be happily interested in being directly promoted to your market.
In turn, you should seek out ad spaces in newsletters, corporate literature, brochures or catalogues of potentially mutually beneficial alliances. The obvious advantage is that it can save you money by swapping ads.
This also refers to mailing lists where you can swap prospect or client lists. Mailing lists seem to have increased in popularity these days and, if used properly, can produce pretty good results. Mailing list brokers sell or lease mailing lists that you can use to conduct direct mail and telemarketing campaigns — lists of people that match your demographics.
However, beware. Brokered mailing lists will be limited to the demographic data you specify and not the psychographic element of your target market — that's impossible to discern, unless you or the brokers were psychics!
Also, electronic mailing lists are a little more complicated. Email is a more intimate medium and privacy is an increasingly important issue these days. Therefore, if you choose to use a broker's list for your direct email campaign, make sure to choose a reputable firm where you are guaranteed that people have voluntarily submitted their addresses (also called “opt-in”).
In order to curtail both problems, a better solution is to seek out strategic alliances and ask, rent or buy their list of prospects and clients. (In the case of email, you are not swapping lists but endorsements and special offers.)
Most of them will approve especially when you trade your list of clients or prospects with them. But if you have to rent their lists, the cost will definitely be far less than that of one coming from a broker — they're not cheap!
Most strategic alliances are not accustomed to the idea of sharing their lists and will therefore be happy with just a few bucks. But the added advantage is that, since you know from where these lists originate, you'll have a better handle on the quality (i.e., the psychographic element) of the recipients.
As far as email and privacy are concerned, info-networking doesn't mean that there has to be an actual mailing list exchange. You can swap ezine ads, solo ad mailings or exclusive special offers endorsed by each list owner.
Nevertheless, should you decide on using targeted mailing lists to market your free report offer, realize that it should yield a substantially greater result than ordinary, unsolicited, untargeted general public mailings.
For instance, mail directed to the public usually results with less than 5% in response, while direct mail to a predetermined demographic will likely produce more. But if your free report is used in your campaign, and if your goal is only to generate leads and not sales, your response rate will be a lot higher.
Auto-networking is the process of creating referral-sources that automatically supply you with good quality leads, automatically, without you having to lift a finger. Things like brochure stands, posters, flyers, coupons and business cards can be placed at the offices of potential referral-sources.
Again, I hate networking, especially when I have to work for them (or, in other words, nurture them). So auto-networking doesn't mean to give out cards to a possible referral-source and then hoping it will produce something in return. It means setting up a system between both of you where, since you are both catering to a same market, you have made an arrangement to constantly supply each other with collateral materials, leads and information.
Here's an example. A drycleaner discovered that the largest clientele of a nearby restaurant was mostly made up of company executives having “power lunches” (those business lunches the tax people love to hate). The drycleaner, knowing that her greatest clientele is also made up of executives who bring their shirts or dresses to have cleaned, saw an opportunity.
Coupons were made up and handed out by the restaurant's waiters and waitresses along with their clients' food tabs. They offered a 5% percent discount on dry-cleaning services and the coupons could be accumulated up to a maximum of 25% — of course, they were valid for a limited time only.
In return, the drycleaner handed out coupons (clipped to their clients' garment bags) offering a free appetizer or dessert at that particular restaurant — good for one per person per lunch — with every load of $30 worth of dry-cleaning.
But it didn't stop there.
They exchanged posters, flyers, coupons and printed materials (such as the restaurant's menu and the drycleaner's brochure, which were both left on each other's counters). They also marketed the campaign under the banner of:
“Don't let the spot on you shirt from the juiciest roast beef in town at Carmicheal's Restaurant ruin that big deal! Bring it to Sparkling Cleaners, the first drycleaner for the busy executive, because ‘Power Lunches Deserve a Clean Image.' With both Carmicheal's Restaurant and Sparkling Cleaners, you can take your clients to lunch… And take a bite out of dirt!”
By the way, I must take a moment to ask you a question. (“Here he comes with another pop quiz,” you say.) In the previous example, particularly in the marketing approach the drycleaner and restaurant took, were included some other commandments. Can you guess what they are? The obvious ones are hard to miss. They both carried the trademark symbols, indicated that they specialized in one area, and had taglines added to their names.
But the one that might have gone unnoticed is the category in which the drycleaner placed itself. Being the first drycleaner specializing in executive drycleaning is probably a little misleading and most likely untrue, but by calling itself the first drycleaner for the “busy” executive, it has created its own unique category. (All right, all right. I was just checking!)
Another form of auto-networking is, as the saying goes, “You can't teach an old dog a new trick, but you can surely teach a new dog an old trick!”
Creating networking systems with referral-sources who are either approached by competitors or already implicated in other commitments may be a difficult task. So, what can you do? Get them while they're just starting out, especially before they become potential targets for your competitors.
Previously, I showed you how important it is for you to get known in your industry as the expert — the celebrity in your field. By conducting speeches, seminars, guest lectures, sponsorships, evening classes and the like, you are creating that all-important top-of-mind awareness. Many of the members in your audience should encompass potential referral-sources.
But referral-sources have to come from somewhere, don't they?
So, if you can approach them before they can be approached by your competitors, you can save yourself a lot of effort let alone grief.
For example, hairdressers are often the biggest referral-sources for hair replacement surgeons. I teach hair transplant doctors to become known among the hairdressing community and set up strategic alliances with them by, among other things, setting up brochure stands in their salons.
However, if they have been in the industry for a while, many of these stylists may have already been approached by other doctors or have a fixed idea of which doctor to whom they would refer their clients for cosmetic surgery.
In my consulting work, I help doctors to set up special presentations as “guest lecturers” at local hairstyling and beauty schools. Schools love it since it's part of their curriculum to teach future hairstylists on the mechanics of hair growth and replacement. (My wife is a hairdresser. I know!) Some provinces or states also make it an essential part of their licensing requirements.
As for the doctor, he not only gets his name inculcated into the minds of these future hairstylists but also has created an almost impenetrable barrier against competitors wanting a “piece-of-the-pie.” By being part of their schooling, these doctors became a part of their minds!
This technique can be applied in almost every industry in myriad ways, with trade schools, business schools, community colleges, government services, unemployment insurance subsidized courses, skills training and so on.
A government software designer can give a small presentation during courses the government provides to recently hired purchasing agents. A wedding planning consultant can give a brief talk during “marriage preparation” courses. An accountant specializing in corporate taxation can give seminars to young entrepreneur workshops offered by local chambers of commerce.
Think of intracorporate divisions, Intranets and intrapreneurs (e.g., employees owning a portion of their employer's company). “Intra-anything” simply means two or more parts of a whole that are independent but also inter-dependent.
It's like a network “within a network.”
Basically, this is the old bartering system that goes back since the beginning of time. But in terms of intra-networking however, it is not a direct exchange of product for product or service for service (or even product for service), but an exchange of a service or product for promotion, clients, referrals or leads.
For instance, a restaurant makes an arrangement with a local gas station to offer coupons to each client that comes to pump gas. They were given the permission to hang posters in the station, leave menus at the counter, and place fridge magnets on the pumps. For every 10 coupons the restaurant received, the employees at the station were given a free meal.
A freelance writer specialized in editing corporate newsletters. She will then have her articles and personal advertisements published for free in association newsletters that target her market in exchange for editing the publisher's business correspondence let alone the newsletters themselves.
Here's another example. Hotels make up the majority of the clientele of an advertising agent specializing in elevator advertising. Hotels place the agent's brochures in all the vacant rooms and suites for free in exchange for free advertising space in the elevators of other business office buildings.
What kind of product or service do you offer from which a referral-source may benefit (and one who caters to the same market your do)? Think of ways of being able to offer your products or services for free in exchange for pre-qualified leads or, as mentioned in info-networking, promotional efforts.
Intra-networking can also become powerfully effective if you were lucky enough to stumble onto another company that offers products or services that complement your products or services well, while at the same time sharing costs (such as advertising costs), leads, as well as clients.
Take the example of the strategic alliance between the printer and wedding planner mentioned earlier in the book. Now, the printer gives a special price break for your clients knowing that you will refer them to him.
Obviously, this might relate more closely to the auto-networking style. But if the printer agrees to print your own promotional materials, your business cards, your brochures, or your letterhead for free in exchange for a certain number of your clients, that's intra-networking at work!
Altogether, info-networking, auto-networking and intra-networking are powerful tools to help you create good referral-sources that never stop working. The idea is nonetheless to network but to do so wisely so as to be able to create as many leads and clients as possible with the least amount of effort.
Don't network. Make your net work for you!
Michel Fortin is a senior marketing specialist, renowned copywriter, and digital marketing expert. For the better part of 30 years, he's produced countless successful marketing communications and profitable campaigns that generated in excess of $300 million in sales. He's broken many industry sales records, including being instrumental behind the first ever “million-dollar day” online marketing campaign in 2004. He's worked with thousands of businesses and entrepreneurs around the world in a wide variety of industries on building their businesses, improving their marketing, and increasing their profits. He's a published author and often speaks at industry events. To connect with him, visit his LinkedIn profile where he is most active.