Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 19, 2008

Do Business Networking Breakfast Groups Work?

If you’re in sales, are an independent professional or are a small business owner, you either’ve attended a business networking group meeting or have been invited to attend one.  They’re everywhere.  Some of these groups are franchised by large, international companies; others are simply small, local groups that have been formed by a local entrepreneur. 

Nevertheless, whether part of a huge company or just a lone group, most of these networking groups work more or less the same way.  The object is getting a number of businesspeople together to work at supplying “referrals” to one another.  Each member is encouraged and expected to actively look for and supply leads to other members of the group.  Generally, membership is limited to only one person or company for each industry or each area within an industry.

Members typically pay a fee to join and then monthly dues—and, of course, there’s the breakfast that must be paid for also.  Each meeting will usually feature a member who has a few minutes to highlight their particular business and define for the group what a quality referral for them is.

I’m frequently asked by salespeople and business owners if membership in these groups is worth the time, effort and investment.  And my answer is—it depends.  If you’re a mechanic, a lawn care company, or a plumber, probably so.  If you’re a CPA, attorney, sell investments, or most any business-to-business salesperson, there are probably far better networking opportunities available to you.

The primary objective of a networking group is to find potential prospects for one another.  The idea is that each member will develop relationships with or meet people who will need or want products or services other members of the group can supply.  If each member actively works to refer business to other members in the group, everyone will increase their business. 

The concept isn’t bad.  And most people if they become active in a group, will eventually see some business developed through their membership—possibly even enough to make their membership worthwhile.

Yet, for most salespeople and business owners there are better places to spend their time.  For example, a CPA whose business is primarily focused on small manufacturing companies would be better served belonging to a manufacturer’s association where he or she could meet and develop relationships with a large number of actual prospects.  Would you rather spend your time networking with 25 other business owners and salespeople who may on occasion run across a small manufacturer, or would you rather spend your time getting to know and develop relationships with 75 or 80 or more small manufacturers? 

Likewise, a financial planner would probably be better served joining and becoming active in a Porsche owner’s club where they can meet several dozen members who presumably have enough disposable income to afford an expensive hobby than spending time with 25 or 30 struggling business owners and salespeople who may only on occasion run across someone that needs financial planning.  No interest in Porsche’s?  Then consider joining the architect’s association or the petroleum engineer’s association. 

There are thousands of business, industry and social associations, many with chapters near you.  No matter what you sell there are associations and organizations that can put you in direct contact with dozens, hundreds or even thousands of your prospects.  For most of us, general networking groups cannot even begin to give us access to that many prospects. 

Networking can work well.  The real question with networking isn’t can it work, it’s where can you most profitably spend your time and energy.  Rather than joining a group of diverse businesspeople who will probably only run across a real prospect for you on occasion, why not join a group made up primarily of potential prospects.  The only thing we really have to sell is our time.  Making the best use of that resource is one of the keys to success.


1 Comment »

  1. I agree, I like to network where my prospects are, a lot of people network because they work alone so much, they just want human contact to feel like they are making progress.

    Comment by Dr Wright — January 20, 2008 @ 2:02 pm | Reply

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