Networking – Is it really worth it?
Date: 5 October 2014
Most SME’s that seek local or regionally-based customers benefit from business networking as one of their marketing tactics. If they do it properly. Sometimes it can be their main marketing tool.
But what about really measuring its effectiveness. Do you know what you’ve gained from your efforts? Is there any return on investment?
What to Measure
As with all your marketing, networking must be targeted and measurable. But you need to first identify what you are measuring. Your networking objectives may be to:
- Gain sales from those in the room
- Increase lead generation – by being referred to people outside that network
- Gain speaking opportunities at networks – to raise your profile and establish your credibility and approachability
- Source suppliers directly
- Get recommendations for good suppliers
- Find business partners
- Gain advice and feedback on issues you are facing from other business owners or experts to help you make decisions.
You may also make new friends and gain genuine support from fellow business people. For example, they may volunteer to be on an interview panel with you, take part in a photo shoot or help promote an event you are running.
How to Measure
Your measurement could be recorded within a spreadsheet or reported via data you input into one of your business systems (eg sales, lead generation, CRM or accounts). Or perhaps a combination of them.
All businesses, whether they network or not, should have a system for recording where leads and sales came from in order to support marketing planning. The options may include Google search, recommendation, particular exhibitions, adverts, social media platforms and so on, as is applicable to each business.
You need to ensure that networking is one of these options and that the name of that networking group can be specified.
It is also important that you can specify who recommended someone to you and if they got to know you due to your attendance at a business network.
One network that I belong to has an annual survey where they ask:
- how many leads have come from the group? and
- what percentage of your fee-income has been generated directly or indirectly by the group?
It’s a very useful exercise to help you determine which networking groups are worth their investment in annual fees or pay-as-you-go lunches and time away from the business.
Of course there is always the other ‘soft’ measurement to consider alongside these financials. Perhaps one group has not given you a huge sales benefit yet, but you have met new people, continue to gain useful knowledge from other members and have found great new suppliers. Other networks may clearly not be right for your type of business.
On many occasions if someone is recommended a supplier by someone they trust from a networking group, they may well not even seek out other potential suppliers.
As the saying goes “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”. Networking will work if you attend the right ones and do it well.
Has networking worked for you? I’d love to hear – firstname.lastname@example.org.