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Thursday, July 23, 2009

IT ALL STARTS WITH US!: "B2B: Pay Forward Will Pay Back"

It All Starts With Us! with John A. Lee

I’m a strong believer in “paying forward.” What this means is. . . I help others make a connection without worrying about how or if I benefit. Instead of getting rewarded, I’m betting others will help others when given the chance, thus paying forward. What I’ve found, regardless, is the benefits do come back in multiples and from unexpected sources.

Let’s say I know a colleague or a company that does exceptional work and has a great product or service to sell. As the Seller, she may not have the connections I have amassed over 20 years of sales leadership. She wants to leverage me as a resource to find more business. If I believe strongly in the person and the firm, I will go looking for someone who has a need for her services. I play the role of Matchmaker.

I look at my current connections to see who I know directly that might be a Buyer. More often, I network through my connections to my connections’ connections to see who they know in a certain industry. Then I introduce myself first as a reputable contact who is interested in their business before teeing up my colleague.

To illustrate this more clearly, let me give you an example. I discovered a creative agency in the Midwest while attending a Chief Marketing Officers Summit last year. Their work is sensational. They have several national accounts particularly in the Wines & Spirits space. They want to grow but find it difficult to catch the attention of potential clients in the industry’s epicenters – typically California and New York. Because I feel strongly about the individuals and their work, I offered to help network them. I researched the industry and started personally connecting myself to key brand marketing individuals at various vineyards, distilleries, and importers - companies I know would be impressed with the offering if they only they were exposed to it.

Using my credibility as a management and marketing consultant, I first established a relationship with many of them to create a credible platform on which to then recommend the Midwest creative firm. Your online listing on LinkedIn™, for example, establishes your authority by way of resume, connections, recommendations, and group memberships (more on that in a future column).

Now I have a company with a solution (Seller) and a company with a challenge (Buyer). I tell the prospective client that I have someone they need to meet. I ask for one conference call that gives the agency the opportunity to pitch their services directly to the prospect and I function as the mediator. My job as Matchmaker is to make sure the client is hearing what the agency is saying plus I ensure that the agency is being pertinent with their pitch. Then, I wait to see what happens. If it works, it works. As with any great promotion or strategic alliance, both sides need to benefit for it to be viable.

Some of you reading this may recognize me through the above example. I may have reached out to you asking for a call with my favored agency. Did you respond or ignore my request? (If you did the latter, shame on you! You should reconsider. Pay forward!).

Business is an endless series of networks that connect on different planes. In simplest form, there are Buyers and there are Sellers. Each needs the other and the roles even reverse. We all “sell” and we all “buy.” Matchmakers speed up the process. In the above example, a vineyard needs to sell its wine. But, the vineyard needs to buy certain services like creative marketing concepts to discriminate their product in a highly competitive and congested marketplace.

Successful businesspersons conduct themselves as both great Sellers and great Buyers.

Here are five key points each for the Matchmaker, Seller, and the Buyer to think about prior to that first conference call:

For the Matchmaker:

  1. Don’t sell yourself cheap. You must believe in the Seller before approaching your networking equity.
  2. Be generous with your help if you believe. Think of everyone who helped you along the way.
  3. Be a statesman, beyond politics. Match the Seller and the Buyer for the mutual benefit of all concerned. Want both to win.
  4. Let the Seller sell and the Buyer buy while on the call. Your role is important but minimal. The positive impact of you bringing the two together is immeasurable.
  5. Keep it rolling. Most deals fail because of inadequate, unactionable follow-up.
For the Seller:
  1. Research the Prospect and be sure what you have to offer is needed as well as relevant, unique, and provides the Client with value. Compete on value not on price.
  2. Don’t get ahead of yourself. Understand the conference call is a mutual exploration about the viability of both parties to work together. Success is a great phone call and an actionable follow-up task. Cashing the check is a few steps ahead.
  3. Listen more than talk. Understand their need.
  4. Remember that your job is to make the buyers’ business better (stronger, faster) and make their job easier. Take away the pain.
  5. Initiate a concrete next step with a specific date and a time to reconvene if you both feel a spark of interest. Don’t let the opportunity bubble away with “Let’s talk again in a couple of weeks.” Make it urgent because success can’t wait.
For the Buyer:
  1. Open your mind and see your business through fresh eyes. Not everyone knows it as thoroughly as you do, and that’s a good thing.
  2. Don’t look at a call from a stranger as an imposition or a nuisance. The next great idea can come from anyplace. If you’re too busy to take a call from someone who wants to help you, you’re in the weeds and focused on the wrong things.
  3. Expand your network. Your business will grow more with help from people you don’t currently know than from those you know now. How funny to see LinkedIn™ subscribers networked almost exclusively to the people they work with every day.
  4. If you find yourself intrigued with the call, find a way to work with the new resource. You don’t have to turn over all your business, no one expects that. Carve out a project that they can nail. You only stand to benefit from their homerun and greater things may be in store.
  5. Contemplate the irony of buyer and seller. Remember what it feels like to be pitched when you pitch your customers.
There is one additional point to make for the Matchmaker. Good things tend to happen to you when you pay forward. Doing a good deed brings it’s own rewards.

There are three roles in this drama The National Networker reader may play – the Seller, the Buyer, or the Matchmaker. All are great parts. However you find yourself cast, you are part of a great ensemble whose base motivation should be to do great things with great people. Because in business, as in personal life, we rely on interaction with our networks to secure success, find peace of mind, and enjoy a sense of accomplishment.

Each role we play is vitally important to creating forward momentum because, as always, it all starts with us.

Continued success,

John A. Lee, MA MBA

Laguna Beach, California

For more information, please visit John's TNNW Bio.

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Anonymous said...

Great article John!

I subscribe to this approach in both my professional and personal life! As Disney was my first HUGE professional and social network (and still is) it certainly taught me the value of "connecting" in various directions...and was my platform for vertical sales & marketing! As a result, I will forever find it exhilarating to introduce good people to other good people!

Now why is it that I'm finding myself humming that tune from "Fiddler on the Roof?"

My best,


Courtney K. said...

Today I told a potential employer that I could not proceed to the next rounds of interviews because I could not relocate. I know of someone who lives where this job is based out of, and he is looking for a job like this one. So I recommended him for the job instead. I can't say I DON'T expect anything in return- I dont expect anything from this person if he gets the job, but I do view the gesture as a way to keep in touch with this person as well as the recruiter I spoke with, in order to keep the door open for a return connection for myself.
I have also benefitted from the kindness of others in my job hunt, so I certainly feel it is incumbent to return the favor in the world of job hunters. In addition, I have met people who, once I get hired, I would like to connect on a professional level for partnerships and the like. I like meeting people anyway so networking is just an added bonus at time.

Patty Mooney said...

I believe that the whole point of philanthropical work is to pay your energy forward, and it is true that "what comes around goes around." My husband and I are both video producers and we wanted to do something to let Americans know that there are far more homeless veterans on the streets of America than people know about - a recent estimation is around a quarter of a million. So we produced a documentary about the topic, called "The Invisible Ones: Homeless Combat Veterans." We didn't do it to get kudos; we did it because we believe that it's our responsibility as Americans to take care of our veterans after they have risked life and limb for the freedoms we all enjoy. To learn more about this project (all pro bono) and to get a free DVD of this award winning documentary, go to All donations go towards homeless vets organizations. Thanks for posting this topic!

Terry said...

Being in the equipment & party rental business for over 50 years we find ourselves not just renting equipment but knowing a LOT of information for just about EVERY type of business and job; Do-It-Yourself How-To’s, locations, who’s doing what – when – where; from plumbing, contracting, heating, auto, painting, remodeling, moving, gardening, landscaping, to even fashion, floral, catering, conventions, tradeshows, meetings, and education!

Our slogan for our equipment rental division is “Name It We Rent It”. We do our best to live up to that but in reality no one can actually carry everything. So we’ve tried to do the next best thing by being truly service oriented and priding ourselves on knowing where to get equipment needed for just about anything! We hope customers call us first and use us not just for their rental equipment needs but as a resource of what’s available and where.

We hope we influence customers and potential customers to always call us first because if we don’t have what they want, they know we’ll do what we can to tell them where or how to get it! We even give them our competitor’s phone numbers! Just the other day I had a call, “I know you don’t carry this, and you’ll probably think it’s weird, but do you know………?” I didn’t know exactly but I shared a few ideas and he said, “That’s why I call you first!”

If new customers call thinking all they need to do is rent and figure it out themselves but they leave believing we helped them and sometimes renting, then we’ve done a good job! We’ve found that by willingly sharing the knowledge and information we’ve gained, eventually it comes back to benefit us, because many times the next time they or their friend need something, they remember Broadway Rental, call us first and hopefully we will rent them something!

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