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Sunday, April 04, 2010

CONNECTING IS NOT ENOUGH: The Power that Lies Within

Connecting Is Not Enough with Andy Lopata

I have held my personal account with one major UK High Street Bank for over fifteen years now. My business account is currently with the same bank, but this wasn’t always the case.

It used to be that our business would bank with one of their competitors. Our offices were close to a small town with one main street in which all of the major banks had a branch. Quite often I would go into the main street and visit one or both branches of the two banks I dealt with. I was known by the staff at both.

Occasionally I would be asked by my personal bank to verify my details. One of the questions they would always ask me was to confirm that my occupation was still "Managing Director." They never asked me where my business banked.

The staff in the branch for our business account knew that I would come in to pay in cheques for the business or for other related matters. They never asked me where my personal account was held.

Hundreds of millions of pounds worth of business must be lost every single year by employees not looking out for opportunities for their colleagues elsewhere in the same company.

Go to a referral-focused networking group and listen to the presentation given by the solicitor present. In most groups of this nature they will have locked out any other solicitors from joining. Yet if they are an employment lawyer, it is highly unlikely that you will hear them talk about litigation, mergers and acquisition, or family law. Week after week they will only focus on their own area of speciality, not referring to other divisions within their firm.

I have discussed elsewhere how trust, understanding and opportunity to refer are the key foundations to enable good quality referrals. Then where better to start than within your own firm? Yet, cross-selling is overlooked by many firms whose staff are more likely to compete than look out for each other.

Trust and Understanding

Part of the problem lies in the relationships between different parts of the same company. While team-building and meetings may be in vogue, less effort is spent encouraging different sections of the same company to interact. We talk about trust and understanding between people across your network, how strong are those relationships with people working under the same roof as you?

After I left university, I spent four years working in the Civil Service. The culture of the large departments within which I worked was very much one of silos. Each team worked in a sectioned off area. When lunchtime came my colleagues would put their work to one side, open up a pack of sandwiches and eat in the same seat in which they’d been working all morning. They would spend all of their time not just in the same department but with the same person with whom they’d worked with all day.

I bucked the trend. It’s funny to look back now at my behavior considering what I do for my living now. While all of my colleagues remained in their seats during lunch, I would go out with friends from other departments. I was considered quite odd, yet it was ironic how I would get more support from elsewhere in the department when I needed it!

On Wednesday mornings our offices would open to the public thirty minutes later than normal for "staff training." Traditionally these sessions would see each team in its own silo covering areas of consequence to them. I started visiting other teams and telling them about what we were doing and we invited them to join our meetings to do the same.

In my experience, too little of this happens in business now. Teams are kept apart from each other with people generally socializing with others within their own department. Even in smaller businesses where people from across the company sit close together and are more likely to socialize with each other, it’s not common for people to discuss their jobs and goals.

Companies who focus on building connections between different parts of the business and educating their staff in more than just their own job will be able to tap into a wealth of opportunities.

Social events within the firm are great opportunities to mix. Working with a property development company I asked the participants on my workshop to list the networks they belonged to. A number of them had the company’s "Sports and Social Club" at the top of their list.

Internal networking events, such as women’s networks, also offer great opportunities for staff to mix and learn about each other. If you have the opportunity, go to these and make sure you speak to people from other parts of the business, rather than just those you know. Find out about their role, their challenges, and who they deal with.

Most importantly, find out if there are opportunities for you to learn from each other, share experiences, work on the same projects and whether you are targeting similar clients.

Communal areas such as the staff canteen also offer the opportunity to build your internal network. If you are in the habit of finding the empty table and eating on your own, or sitting with your colleagues all of the time, break that habit and ask others if you can join them. Get to know other people in your own firm and find out how you can help them achieve their goals.

The Trouble with Targets

Another big block on generating referrals internally is the way people are rewarded for new business. Although a number of companies are now changing, in many cases it is just the salesman responsible for the client who gets rewarded for the business.

If the targets and rewards are dependent on just one area of work, why would you focus any time and effort elsewhere? Companies need to recognize and reward efforts to create connections that may impact another department or division if they want to stimulate more referrals internally.

This highlights one of the main reasons why so few referrals come in from clients. In many businesses the roles of new business generation and account management are separated. The person who deals with the client on a day-to -day basis and who is best placed to ask for referrals has no responsibility and receives no reward for asking for those referrals. Meanwhile, the person who does have the focus and stands to benefit has no further influence with that client.

Put simply, personal goals lead to selfish behavior and restrict the flow of referrals internally. This problem gets reinforced in times of economic turbulence, as people become more concerned with protecting their own job and meeting their own targets, perhaps at the expense of the firm’s wider interests.

Personal targets and rewards also reinforce narrow "tunnel" thinking, with people solely focused just on their own sale and bonuses.

Companies need to break out of this narrow thinking and inspire their staff to refer each other. Bonuses and commissions should be in place for introductions to other departments, a share offered in business won to everyone involved irrespective of their job description.

It’s not just the sales team who should be included. PAs (personal assistants), receptionists and customer service representatives all have jobs where they deal with the company’s clients and suppliers. Everyone who works there has their own personal network.

Whenever I work on referral strategy with companies, I try to encourage them to send staff from across the business on workshops, not just the people targeting new business. In one case the Financial Director came on a workshop. He had never passed a referral over to the sales team before that session. In the next two months he passed seven.

Cross-sales and cross-referrals need to be taken seriously and encouraged in any referral strategy. Without it, companies are just throwing money away.


Are you struggling to put an effective networking or referral strategy into place? Do you want to know more about how to ensure you get the maximum possible return from your networking?

Andy's new Audio programme, "Networking in Ninety Minutes," will give you the tools you need to make the most from your networking. Available in CD or mp3 format here.
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The Emergence of the Relationship Economy features TNNWC Founder, Adam J. Kovitz as a contributing author and contains some of his early work on The Laws of Relationship Capital. The book is available in hardcopy and e-book formats. With a forward written by Doc Searls (of Cluetrain Manifesto fame), it is considered a "must read" for anyone responsible for the strategic direction of their business. If you would like to purchase your own copy, please click the image above.


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