by John Ingrisano
Building up a customer/client base can be hard work … until you get it down to a system. One effective system is to establish half a dozen or so mutually beneficial relationships with what are known as “Centers of Influence.”
These are people who can send customers your way. But it goes beyond just sitting back and waiting for them to show up. Instead, get names and contact them.
A good Center of Influence can provide you with names of men and women you can approach on a favorable basis, often simply by saying something like: “Susan _________ was kind enough to give me your name and suggested that we would enjoy working together. If convenient for you, why don’t we explore the possibilities by getting together on (date) at (time) to talk? Or would (other date) at (other time) be better for you?”
Or if you are in retail or services, contact them and invite them to come in. It works.
Centers of Influence are generally people in key positions of respect in the community or authority in an organization. They may be in charge of — or at least have access to — membership rosters.
For example, a friendly banker or CPA, without divulging any privileged information, can provide the names of businesses that are expanding their operations. A real estate salesperson can send you the names of people moving into certain neighborhoods, the neighborhoods in which most of your ideal prospects reside.
Think of this as a variation on the concept of networking. However, key to working with a Center of Influence is establishing a solid personal or professional relationship. (This is unlike networking, which can be nothing more than a business card exchange with near strangers.) This individual must be someone you can trust and who can trust you in turn.
Also, for the relationship to work, you must make it a two-way street. Promote the individual and organization or business with which you have a relationship with a Center of Influence.
Centers of Influence often make good members of your personal board of directors, too. These are men and women with whom you meet regularly to discuss everything from local events to who is doing what in your community. (Hint: Successful people in business rarely eat lunch or breakfast alone! They prospect for new clients and customers and build relationships with existing clients.)
Ideally, your Centers of Influence should:
- Be known and respected in the community or your area of business activity.
2. Be favorably well-disposed to both you and your products and services.
3. Be good prospectors themselves. Ideally, they understand the definition of a “qualified” prospect and are alert to changing situations of their acquaintances.
4. Be joiners. Very often, they are the men and women who are active in their houses of worship, country clubs, and civic organizations. They belong to The Optimists, Toastmasters, The Lions, and the Rotary. In short, they get around and are well known in a positive way.
To develop your Centers of Influence: Start by making a list of people who, because of their occupations or their professions, know a great many of the right kind of people … the kind of people with whom you want to do business.
Also, get involved yourself. Participate in the annual community golf outing, even if you are a lousy golfer; share a news article about one of your Centers of Influence that praises them or their business; send a card of congratulations when you hear of some special event or achievement for which they have been recognized; and, most of all, send referrals to their business, as well.
In short, if you go out of your way to meet them at the right time and under the right conditions, you can lay the groundwork of a relationship so that it will be logical for you — without strain or embarrassment — to ask them to sponsor you to their friends and acquaintances. Or, even better, they will bring it up themselves.
Then cherish and appreciate them. Regard your Centers of Influence as your highly valued silent partners, and then make them in deed and in truth your partners by building your relationship with them on a sound basis.
So, work hard, make money … and start building a powerful network of Centers of Influence. They easily can meet your prospecting and client-building needs … permanently. — JRI
The Freestyle Entrepreneur – winner of the 2010 Top 35 Entrepreneur Blog awards from OnLine MBA.
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