By Andy Lopata, Business Networking Strategist

It’s often said that “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know." This only goes part of the way. When building a word of mouth marketing strategy, it’s actually more important to focus on who knows you and essentially, what they say about you.

Have you spent much time thinking about what you want people to say about you? When I ask groups this question, they almost always talk straight away about characteristics. They want people to say they are reliable, professional, efficient and other such traits.

Yet how many people decide to spend their money because they need someone who is reliable, professional or efficient? Yes, we want the people we retain to display those characteristics, but that is not why we are employing them in the first place.

People don’t buy personality traits, they buy solutions to problems. So, if you want to generate referrals, surely you want your Champions to be speaking about the problems you solve first, getting other people to recognise how your services are relevant to their needs.

Think about what people need to hear if they are going to want to talk to you with an interest in buying. What should your brand stand for if you are going to attract the right potential customers?

To begin with, I recommend spending some time getting to understand your reputation as it is now. Not as you hope it is but how it really is.

The Personal Branding expert Lesley Everett encourages her clients to contact their colleagues, clients and friends for honest feedback on how they come across. She recommends asking questions such as:

● What kind of image do I project?

● What impression do I make on strangers when meeting them?

● How do my clients react towards me?

● What recommendations do you have about my appearance to project a better image?

Such an exercise is incredibly valuable in understanding how you are perceived and whether it fits with where you want to be. From the perspective of generating more referrals, I would add questions such as:

● What do I do?

● What problems do I solve?

● Who are my ideal clients and why do they need me?

How familiar are people with what you do?

The three questions I have added above may seem odd for you to ask. After all, surely you should already know what you do. I’m sure you believe that those closest to you are also familiar with your business or your job.

But are they?

Depending on how closely we deal with other people, their understanding of what we do may be completely divorced from the reality. If that is the case, based on the importance of understanding in generating referrals, how can we possibly rely on them to be our Champions?

Very often we will simply use job titles to describe our role, or similar titles to describe our business. We then assume that others automatically know what we are talking about.

It’s also very easy to slip into jargon, using terms which we use every day but which don’t mean much to people outside our industry or profession. When I tell people that I am a Business Networking Strategist I probably leave them looking blank!

The danger is that people will simply switch off if they don’t understand what we mean. Many people will be too embarrassed to ask for clarity, particularly more than once. They are more worried about looking foolish. Instead, they will change the subject and lose interest.

Bearing this in mind, if someone does show enough interest to quiz you on what you do, or what you mean, be gracious and patient in response. Such patience may pay off.

A couple of years ago I was approached by one of my connections on LinkedIn who asked me to introduce him to someone in my network. Both parties were involved in finance, but I didn’t understand his jargon-filled explanation of why he wanted to be introduced, so didn’t feel comfortable making the connection.

I went back to him and explained my problem. I asked him if he could repeat the request in a format that I could understand. His response was somewhat curt and unhelpful, suggesting that his explanation was straightforward enough. Suffice to say, he didn’t get the introduction.

If people want to understand what you do in order to help you more effectively, make it easy for them to do so rather than antagonise them. After all, you are the one who stands to benefit.

Recommended - How to sell through networking and referrals

To find out more about how to pick the right networks, implement a successful networking strategy or how to generate more referrals, please visit our website www.lopata.co.uk or contact us at harvey@lopata.co.uk / 01992 450488.

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