With one of my businesses I was struggling to close deals. The sales cycle was long, it was difficult to get to the top of the buyer’s priority list, and initial excitement faded to unresponsiveness. This was somewhat of a niche industry and I did not have colleagues to turn to for support. What I needed was a group of industry peers to talk to.
Using these three very simple methods (so simple I cannot believe I’m writing a blog post on this but it took me a long time to actually make this effort so maybe others could use a push) I started connecting with my peers. I ended up getting a much better response to my emails that I had expected and some very thoughtful advice that helped show me why I was struggling.
Yes, it really is that simple. Just like the guy/girl at the party that you would love to talk to, if you do not introduce yourself then nothing will happen. You cannot wait for fate to intervene. Maybe nothing does happen but more likely than not you might end up talking to somebody who provides good conversation, has similar interests, but can also provide a different point of view.
It helps if you know a little bit of background on the person in order to get the conversation started. See what articles they have written or products they have released. Complement them. Everybody loves a compliment.
Send congratulations notes
Now when I see a fellow entrepreneur in the industry featured in a press article, or that they have won an award, I drop them an email congratulating them. This is an extension of the previous method and is a great excuse to take the step of introducing yourself.
Ask for advice
At the end of the day this is what you really want–advice in how you can take your business to the next level.
Many people are willing to dispense with advice but it is up to you to decide if you want to take it. Because they might not know the full extent of your business and situation the advice might not be as applicable as you might like. They will speak about what has worked for them and their business. Thus, try to prequalify who you ask for advice from. If they took a path to where they are today similar to the one you are on then they might provide you with insightful and actionable advice. If not, then you still might get inspirational advice but you will not be able to act on it as much.
How to connect
Your industry peers might have their contact information on their websites. I think it is best if you treat them like a cold lead (http://blog.engagetactics.com/selling-cold-lead/) and email them first and then possibly ask for permission to set a call up with them. Many times they will prefer to respond via email until you have built up a rapport.
If their contact information is not posted there are a couple of ways to try to reach them.
Hunter.io has been an amazing tool that has helped me to build up a list of cold leads. After using Google to build up a list of potential prospects (if they have an About Us or People page I capture each name, title, phone number and email if they have it) I turn to Hunter.io to find any email addresses that were not published. More often than not they have the email address I desire.
You can use the same method to find your industry peers and get their contact information.
I do not particularly love LinkedIn but it has definitely become the online networking tool for the business world. Lots of people publish links to their LinkedIn profile which I take as an invitation to connect with them. When you request a connect on LinkedIn do not use the default text. Instead use one of the methods above (introduce yourself, congratulate them, or ask for advice). This shows you are not a bot or spammer but somebody genuinely interested in connecting with them.
If you have no 1st or 2nd degree connections with somebody you are going to need their email address in order to connect with them on LinkedIn.
The thing I love the most about Twitter is the ability to talk to anybody else that has an account. They might not listen but no other medium has the same power to reach busy people without having to get through all of the gatekeepers.
It is harder to establish the personal connection with Twitter so it might be best to think of it as a way to slowly establish a relationship by following them and consistently trying to provide value by providing them feedback on their posts and passing on links that might interest them.
Successful people tend to be busy so you might not get a response to your first email, or ever for that matter. But, just like the hustle school of sales, you need to follow up two or three times before giving up on a response. Do a “goodbye” email as the last one where you thank them for their time and wish them the best of luck.
Hopefully this is the simple push you needed in order to connecting with and engaging your industry peers. There is no telling what sort of advice and opportunities will come from growing your professional network.
(See my post “Network up. Niche down.” for more on why this is a good strategy for your personal and business development.)
I love podcasts and one of my three favorites is the Tropical MBA podcast. (In case you were wondering my other two favorites are Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders and Startups for the Rest of Us.) In one of their episodes they said something that has stuck with me for years:
Network up. Niche down.
I love that volumes worth of business advice can be simplified down to four words. If you understand that then you can stop reading this blog post now. If not then keep reading.
Here is a slightly longer explanation from the episode:
“Look at what successful people are doing. Talk to them. Learn from them. Apply those lessons to a niche. Your original niche is likely too broad. Look for a niche of a niche.”
Learn (from the people you are networking with) and teach (the people in your niche). The lessons you learn from your network will help you reach more potential customers and provide them more value.
Networking provides opportunities to learn as well as potential help, introductions, partnerships, and investment. Be selective about who you reach out to and what professional or entrepreneurial groups you join. (This should even be extended to what websites you visit, podcasts you listen to, and books you read.)
People who are going to be able to provide those types of opportunities are people who have already been where you want to be. Those might be people higher up the corporate ladder at your, or another, company, people that have started successful businesses in your industry, or people who started a similar business in another industry.
At the end of the day:
“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” – Jim Rohn
You can raise yourself up by that principle just as you can lower yourself down.
We are going to go deeper into networking in future posts but when you do reach out don’t do so blindly. Make sure they are a good fit for you and the advice or help you are looking to receive. Don’t send the same email to everyone. Learn a bit about them and show it when you first email or talk to them. Provide value before asking for value in return. Be specific with your question or ask.
It is easier to engage a small group of people than it is a larger one. There is a distinct difference in talking with friends and colleagues over a meal compared to speaking to a crowd in an auditorium. The extension of this is that it is easier to market to a niche (or a niche of a niche) than it is to every possible user of your product or service.
We have discussed how people respond better to messages that are personalized to them. In order to do that for a large niche you are going to end up creating many, many customer segments and will need a team of marketers to create content for them all.
As an underdog you don’t have enough hours in your day for all of that.
When your business is at an early stage try to totally own something. Be the absolute best at one thing that people care about. For a certain group of people the thing you are best at is the thing they value the most when choosing a product or service. Once you capture those people you can expand to a second group. Rinse and repeat your way to world domination.
The Underdog Action Plan
- Write down the names of ten people you admire in your industry. Send each of them an email.
- Name the one thing that you do better than anybody else. Write copy for a landing page that highlights that one thing.