Every business should have a CNO, but you don’t have to hire one. You just have to take on the “CNO mindset!”
Those of you who work in organizations might be familiar with an increasingly popular position, that of chief networking officer (CNO). The CNO is the person who handles many corporations’ business networking and community-related activities such as these:
Community involvement Diversity
Internal communication Client/customer relationships
External communication Developing a word-of-mouth campaign
Public relations Departmental collaboration
Corporate culture Relationship advertising and marketing
Social capital Improve vendor relationships
Human resources Referral generation strategies
In this article I will focus on two roles of the CNO:
(1) word-of-mouth campaigns, and
(2) referral generation strategies.
These roles should be top of mind if you’re going to network like a pro. They should be the principal job focus of your CNO.
First, however, let’s address the thought that’s probably just popped into your head: Hey, it’s just a 10-person (four-person/one-person) organization; how can I afford to hire a CNO to do my networking?
As business professionals ourselves, we remember what it was like trying to get a company off the ground. And quite frankly, there never seemed to be enough resources to take care of all the things the business needed, let alone hire an executive-level person.
What I’m suggesting is creating a CNO position in your company — and filling it yourself, at least in the beginning. In other words, don’t hire a CNO – just take on the mindset of a CNO.
How do you create a CNO mindset? Here are five actions you can take now.
1. Engage in two-to-three networking events each month and follow up with people you meet.
As a smart, enterprising businessperson, you already know the importance of networking and how vital it is to meet new people. One of the biggest mistakes people make, however, is failing to follow up.
By adopting a CNO mindset, you recognize that meeting new folks while networking is just the first step toward generating more word-of-mouth business. The second step is meeting them later over coffee or lunch to learn more about their business and how you can help them. When you do that, you pave the way for future referral business.
2. Touch base with past business contacts by making two personal phone calls each week.
Again, if you’re like me, you’ve got so much going on that the thought of making two more phone calls is almost too much. But remember, a CNO’s job is to maintain relationships and generate referrals. And that can’t happen unless you stay in touch.
3. Use postcards and greeting cards to stay in touch with people throughout the year.
A good time to do this is on annual holidays. Not only for Christmas or New Year’s, but also St. Patrick’s Day (March), Memorial Day (May), Independence Day (July), Labor Day (September) and Halloween (October) as special occasions when a card can be an unexpected surprise.
You can start off by buying a pack of 20 cards and sending them to people you’ve fallen out of touch with or with whom you’d like to reconnect: past clients, past vendors, a friend of a friend, another business owner you chatted with at your local coffee shop a few months ago. Doing this will keep you top of mind with these people in a unique way.
4. Take good care of your database.
With all this talk about phone calls and greeting cards, it makes sense that a CNO should have a topflight contact database and contact management system (CMS) to help him or her stay organized and on top of things. For those of you who might not be familiar with these terms, a contact database / contact database is simply a storage facility that enables you to keep track of all the people you’ve met. It can be as simple as a physical card file or as high-tech as an online data site. It just needs to be something you can use so the business cards you’ve acquired don’t end up falling off your desk and onto the floor.
Using database management software can streamline and supercharge your referral-generation system. Because there are data entry fields for many different kinds of information (email address, phone number, profession, where you met the contact, etc.), you can sort contacts by many different criteria and target emails to particular segments of your database with a few clicks of the mouse. I have experience with several such systems, including ACT, Microsoft Outlook, and Relate2Profit.com.
The reason these systems are so important for a CNO is because his contacts are his business! You can’t get referrals unless you have relationships, and you can’t have relationships unless you stay in touch and up to date with contacts. A good contact database and contact management system enables you to do both while creating a powerful word-of-mouth marketing campaign.
5. Always thank your referral partners.
A “referral partner” is not simply a contact who gives you referrals every once in a while; a referral partner is someone with whom you have entered into a relationship that is mutually trusting, respectful and beneficial. Maintaining that relationship means, among other things, thanking your contact for referrals. It’s not only good manners; it’s good for keeping the benefits mutual.
A thank-you can and often should take the form of reciprocation, of course: Get a referral, give a referral. The Law of Reciprocity, however, doesn’t require such a quid-pro-quo response, and indeed it might even seem a bit artificial if it happened as a matter of course. The person being thanked might be inclined to think, “If my partner can send me one referral every time I send him a referral, how many might he be able to send me if he sent me all the business he knows I could use? Is he, in other words, holding back? Is he doling them out like dog treats every time I perform a trick?”
Rather than foster such ideas, make sure you send your partner a referral every time you have the opportunity; chances are the ones you receive from him (and others) will balance out in the long run. Gratitude by reciprocity should be given freely and abundantly and not in measured response to the number of referrals received. A referral partnership should never be viewed as a simple accountancy.
A simple “thank you” is always appreciated and should always be the first response given. It’s probably the single biggest action a CNO can take to maximize the number of referrals he gets. This will typically double the amount of referral business he or she gets from an existing referral partner.
This simple thanks can take many forms other than a spoken “Thank you.” There are many ways to show your gratitude, but it’s important simply to understand that thanking the person who gave you a referral in the first place is just as important as getting that referral. When you do that, that person will be more likely to refer again and provide another revenue boost for your business.
Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world’s largest business networking organization. His newest book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company.