By Dan Slagen
The team at Alignable is thrilled today to introduce a new movement to the world of local and small business owners – Connection Marketing. What exactly is “connection marketing” you’re asking? It sounds familiar and without having ever heard of it or reading about it specifically, you already know what it means. Exactly. The way that business owners network is broken, and currently consists of outdated methods that are inconvenient, costly and difficult to measure.
Connection Marketing uses the power of human connectivity to attain specific business goals. In a world where “more for the sake of more” has been the norm for too long, we’ve reached a critical point of diminishing return in regard to the way we connect with others. More friends, more likes, more followers, more events, more introductions, more, more, more.
Do you visit your usual social networks each morning to find new friend requests, followers or pending invitations from people you’ve never heard of? Worse yet, the majority of people looking to connect with you don’t represent an opportunity for mutual value to be exchanged, which is the entire point of networking…and it’s happening more every single day.
Connecting with the right people instead of just more people is a refreshing thought; and is the culmination of three tactics, which up until now have all been fragmented:
- Word of Mouth
These three tactics have come together harmoniously, offering businesses a powerful new way to grow, in the form of Connection Marketing. If you’ve heard enough, head to Alignable to see what it’s all about. If you’d like to learn more, keep reading…
Connections in History
Humans have been connecting with each other since the earliest forms of civilization; it’s a natural instinct. As astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson states,
“We are all connected; to each other, biologically. To the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically.”
The act of “connecting” runs deep within every facet of our society, and there are a number of concepts/ideas/sayings, all centered around “connecting” that are globally understood, a few of which are below:
- Six degrees of separation (more info here)
- It’s not who you know it’s what you know (more info here)
- Regardless of whom you talk to in the world, these two ideas are instantly recognizable. Both ideas also present real opportunities in the business world that historically have been unavailable in a structured or optimizable way.
Connections in Business
For business owners, harnessing the power of connections has and will continue to be the best source of new customers. Even with the rise of online, mobile, Inbound Marketing, Content Marketing, Facebook, Google, Yelp…etc, ask local business owners for their number one source of new customers and they’ll say word-of-mouth referrals.
Think about a local business owner, how do they generate new customers? All the usual marketing playbooks, both on and offline are fine and can work well, but most business owners don’t have the time, resources or budget to put together a truly consistent and efficient marketing program; they just don’t.
So what happens?
Owners rely on their ability to spread the word of their business through their connections. This includes customers, prospects, family, friends, colleagues, industry peers, anyone they’d consider a connection.
State of Connections
The ability to connect with others in past generations could have been limited by any number of specific factors, including:
With the rise of groups/associations and the internet, the ability to connect became universal and available to the masses. For business owners, groups like BNI, Chambers of Commerce, and other business networks rose in popularity and can often be joined for a fee. Social networks and mobile apps like LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook took the next wave of connectivity for business professionals and owners as free ways to connect with people, however, none were built specifically for business owner-to-owner connections. In addition to all of these options, businesses can find ways to connect with people by using sites like Eventbrite, MeetUp, or leveraging online industry-specific communities.
But things don’t feel quite right.
The way businesses connect and network today is changing. It’s seems like everything business owners need in order to network efficiently already exists, but there’s no easy way to actually participate efficiently, and certainly not in a way that’s free. A few issues currently facing business owners and their ability to network include:
- Frequency– For some, meeting once a month isn’t enough. For others that can’t attend a monthly meeting due to previous engagements, waiting until the next month for another opportunity to network is too far away, especially when business owners have needs now.
- Discovery– The benefit of networking is meeting new people, generating new ideas, and new opportunities. So what happens when you know everyone in your networking group? Or, when the only people in your networking group are trying to sell you something?
- Cost– While some business owners are happy paying dues and fees, others are looking for an alternative, more cost effective solution. In addition, there are those who don’t mind paying, but currently aren’t generating a positive ROI from their networking investments.
- Time– Driving to an event or having to attend meetings at certain days/times doesn’t work for everyone anymore. We’re all busier and need to network on our own terms, based on our schedule, needs and goals. Keep in mind that time is also a cost, and arguably your most expensive one.
- Location– Location based networking can be limiting at times, especially for business owners that can serve customers/clients outside of their local community. Business owners should be able to connect all across the country if there’s a good reason, regardless of location.
- Industry– One of the core reasons business owners network is to meet fellow business owners that target a similar customer base. For instance, a tennis coach could refer customers to the local nail salon and vice versa (true story from Alignable). Industry specific networking groups don’t allow for this type of thinking.
- Results – For business owners that spend all of this time and money on networking, how many are truly satisfied with the current results?
The best part about Connection Marketing is that it first establishes an easy-to-understand path to receiving referrals, which is what all business owners crave. You can think of the process as a funnel, pictured below:
- First, you network.
- Second, you increase word-of-mouth.
- Finally, you generate referrals.
Networking: Networking can happen both on and offline, a few examples below:
- Offline – Events, meetups, conferences, clubs, associations, chambers, organizations…etc
- Online – Social media, Alignable, LinkedIn, industry-specific communities, blogs
The goal of networking is to strategically cast your net wide, for instance by geo or industry or target customer base. While not everyone you meet in this stage of the funnel will be directly relevant, they’ll be able to introduce you to their connections and will also provide opportunities for you to help them network. There are strategic ways to network that we recommend, and we’ll be posting about those soon.
Word of Mouth: We all want more people talking positively about our business, and it’s especially impactful when it’s a fellow business owner in your network and/or community. In order to increase word of mouth and awareness, you have to get your network talking about you and your business. The easiest way to do that is to start by creating opportunities for others within your network.
Opportunities can include making introductions, connecting business owners to each other, answering questions fellow business owners have, or launching co-promotions and partnerships with business owners sharing similar customer target market. Word-of-mouth marketing is all about staying top-of-mind and being a consistent part of activity and useful updates within your network.
- Referrals– Referrals are the lifeblood of business owners. There a number of referral types that become easier to generate as a direct result of strategic networking and increased word of mouth, including:
- Customer referrals– You’re an interior designer and your client needs their kitchen remodeled. Or, you’re a kitchen remodeling company and your client needs an interior designer, much easier to make customer referral introductions using your trusted network.
- Informational referrals – You have a question about taxes, paying your employees, or a new marketing strategy. You want to hear from a fellow business owner to hear their perspective.
- Product/vendor referrals – You’re deciding between Constant Contact and MailChimp, but don’t trust sales calls and reading random reviews online isn’t cutting it. You need to talk to a business owner like you and preferably from the same industry.
- Industry referrals– You’re a baker in Boston and want to connect with a baker in San Diego to have a non-competitive discussion about baking ovens, the most popular food items or Facebook marketing.
- Community referrals– You’re new in town and need to be introduced to ALL of the other business owners in your community, not just ones trying to sell to you.
- Networking referrals– You’re looking for new events/ways to meet people but you’re not sure where to look, your network can recommend new ideas for you to try.
The Next Wave
Connection Marketing is the future for business owners and is already catching fire with the early adopters. The ability to leverage networking, word of mouth, and referrals provides a cost efficient and effective way to grow a business and establish a core network of trusted peers.
Networking isn’t about connecting with as many people as possible anymore. We’ve all seen the newsfeeds, new connection requests (and their outcomes) on both our personal and professional social media sites…they’ve lost 90% of their value for business owners.
Being able to manage your Connection Marketing efforts all in one place, and for free is what business owners now have the opportunity to benefit from, using Alignable. We look forward to continuing our mission of helping business owners connect with each other for years to come.