Among large companies — take Google and HP, for instance — there’s a trend to create a new executive-level role called “chief networking officer” (CNO). Some businesses call the role “community manager”.
Whatever you choose to call it, the CNO is the person who handles business networking and community-related activities, and the responsibilities range from developing word-of-mouth campaigns to referral-generation strategies. Other roles of the CNO include client-relationship management, public relations, inter-departmental collaboration, corporate culture and relationship advertising and marketing.
In this article, I will focus on two roles of the CNO: word-of-mouth campaigns and referral-generation strategies. If you want to network like a pro, these roles should be the principal focus of your CNO.
The good news is, you don’t have to hire a new executive. As the business owner, you are probably filling that job in one way or another already. Here are five actions you can take to be the CNO for your company:
1. Participate in two to three networking events each month, and follow up with people you meet. As a smart, enterprising businessman, you already know the importance of networking and how vital it is to meet new people. However, one of the biggest mistakes people make is failing to follow up.
By adopting a CNO mindset, you recognise 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. You probably have got so much going on that the thought of making two more phone calls is almost too much. But a CNO’s job is maintaining relationships and generating 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 public holidays — and not just Christmas or New Year’s, but also National Day and Labour Day.
Send cards to people with whom you have lost touch and would like to reconnect — past clients, past vendors, a friend of a friend, another business owner. This will keep you foremost in these people’s minds.
4. Take good care of your database. A CNO should have a top-flight contact database and contact management system (CMS) to help him or her stay organised. It can be as simple as a physical card file or as high-tech as an online data site.
Database management software can supercharge your referral-generation system. Because there are data entry fields for many different kinds of information (such as the e-mail address, phone number, profession, where you met the contact), you can sort and target e-mails to particular segments of your database with a few clicks of the mouse.
There are several CMS 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, but 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 is just good manners.
Thanks can and often should take the form of reciprocation, of course; get a referral, give a referral. But reciprocity doesn’t require such a quid-pro-quo response. Gratitude by reciprocity should be given freely and abundantly, not in measured response to the number of referrals received. A referral partnership should never be viewed as simple accountancy.
Extending a simple “thank you” is probably the single biggest action a CNO can take to maximise the number of referrals he gets. It will typically double the amount of referral business he gets from an existing referral partner.
Every business should have a CNO, but you don’t have to hire one. You just have to take on the CNO mindset.