How to Get More Leads Out of Your Network

By Andrew Sobel

“How do I get more leads out of my network?”

That’s a question I get asked a lot these days.

Everyone has lists of contacts. Everyone has past clients. Some of them may need what you offer—right now! But how do you make the connection in a way doesn’t feel like you’re a door-to-door salesman? How do you get someone interested in having a meeting with you? (The quick answer is your answer to the same question: What gets you interested in meeting with someone who offers a product or service that you might need?)

Addressing this challenge is not as difficult as it may seem. In this newsletter I’ve laid out a very straightforward set of principles and strategies that will help you create new leads out of your network.

First, there are four principles that should guide you:

Four Principles for Working Your Network

1. Add value: Share valuable ideas that demonstrate your expertise and experience. The perception of value—a feeling you can help with an important issue—is the primary driver for prospects to want to engage with you.

2. Understand their agenda: Find out what their toughest problems and opportunities are. Then—and only then—can you tailor your approach to each person.

3. Evoke curiosity: You need to get people to reach towards you and feel drawn to know and understand more about your ideas, points of view, and solutions. If you can make your prospects curious, half the battle is won.

4. Maintain frequent contact. You cannot predict the ups and downs of the stock market, and similarly, you can’t tell exactly when a potential client will have a need that you can address. Just like you need to be invested in the stockmarket over the long term to benefit, you need to be in front of your network on a regular basis, so that when the dam breaks, you’re there to help.

Next, there are two main strategies you need to follow in order to operationalize these four principles: You need to broadcast your value and also engage in personal outreach. Let’s look at each one.

Two Main Strategies

Strategy One: Broadcast your value to everyone
You should have regular, short packages of value that go to everyone in your network—or, certainly, to all your “followers.” Different people focus on different platforms for distributing this content. I focus much of my efforts on this monthly newsletter and of course my books—which are now being written more frequently and which include short eBooks as an intermediate format. Others concentrate on a daily or weekly blog, on podcasting, on a YouTube channel, and so on.

If your content is good and you publicize it, you’ll get people to read what you write. If no one is reading your material, then you need to work harder at your ideas and their presentation. Your articles, blogs, white papers, newsletters, and/or videos should showcase your expertise and experience in a way that is helpful to people. They should NOT be constant advertisements for your services.

Strategy Two: Engage in personal outreach
This is the more labor-intensive part of your strategy to work your network. You must regularly reach out to individual contacts to stay abreast of their issues and see how you can be helpful. Here’s my hierarchy of outreach:

  1. First, talk to existing clients. They are your best source of new business!
  2. Second, talk to past clients who know you and like you
  3. Third, talk to other contacts who are potential buyers and who you’ve met at least once.
  4. Fourth, talk to all other contacts

That’s how you should prioritize your personal outreach efforts to existing contacts. You should, absolutely, also be adding new names to your network, but that activity is not our focus right now—leveraging your current network is what this article is about.

So what do you say?

What do you say when you email, write, or call your contacts? Well that depends on several factors, including: The strength of your past relationship and how well you really know them; how long it’s been since you spoke to them; whether or not they actually know what you do; and so on. You have to use your judgment.

For example, you could call up an old client that you know well and just say, “I’d like to catch up with you. I’d love to hear how things are going, and also share with you some new things I’m doing.” It can be that simple. But if you barely know the person, the message might be more like “I’d like to better understand what you do and what your challenges are, and also I’d like to tell you about my work and the kinds of issues I help my clients with.” Or, you might decide on a less direct approach and ask if you could interview them for an article you’re writing or invite them to attend an event or networking function that you think would benefit them.

If you already know there’s a particular issue or topic they are interested in, then the approach could be slightly different again: “I’ve done research on that issue, and would love to share with you what I learned from interviewing 20 major customers in that market.”

Always drive towards a face-to-face meeting

When doing this type of personal outreach, your goal is to get at least a phone call and ideally a face to face meeting. An in-person meeting is much more powerful and creates vastly more personal rapport than a phone call.

Ask for Referrals

Also—very importantly—be sure to focus on getting referrals from your current and past clients. You have to ask for these: “As you can imagine, most of my business comes from repeat engagements and word-of-mouth referrals from existing clients…Would you be willing to…”

Your outreach strategy will be slightly different for current clients, past clients and all other contacts. Here’s what I mean:

Current clients:

  • Share value-added observations about their business with recommended solutions
  • Invest in a draft proposal to address a problem or opportunity you’ve recognized
  • Offer to come in and walk them through your latest research, service offerings, trends analysis, and so on

Past clients:

These executives know what you do, unlike the next category of relationships. Here are some ideas to re-engage:

  • Share new service offerings or products
  • Describe interesting, relevant new work you’re doing with other clients
  • Do an assessment about how your work for them went
  • Interview them for a speech or article
  • Show them research you’ve done
  • Offer a free consultation or seminar
  • Since you know their issues, bring a specific idea, insight, article, or something to help them think their challenge through
  • Ask to touch base to find out what their new priorities are for the coming year
  • Make a valuable introduction
  • Offer your personal help with something (e.g., they just moved to your city)
  • Offer fun—a meal, a social or sporting event.

Other qualified prospects you’ve met or talked to

These executives may not really know who you are and what you do—and vice-versa. So your challenges are to learn more about them and to educate them.

  • Find out their issues: “What are the three most important things you’re working on this year?” “What initiatives are you most personally involved in right now?”
  • If you know what is important to them, be proactive in showing them how you’ve solved their issue with other clients (“When we last talked you mentioned your frustration about the lack of teamwork, and how your organizational silos are preventing a unified face to the customer. I would agree it’s holding you back, and in my experience it’s a common issue. I’ve helped other companies solve this problem, and I’ve found that there are four key things you need to look at…I’d be happy to meet up and walk you through a teambuilding approach that I’ve used quite successfully. Shall we try and get together for coffee in the next few weeks?”)
  • For an expressed issue, offer to put together a brief outline or proposal for how you’d approach it, or to send them a specific article you’ve written that addresses it.
  • Be explicit about wanting to build a relationship and take the next step: “We’ve talked a few times, but I don’t think I’ve ever described the kind of work I do with my clients and range of services I offer. I’ve love to buy you coffee and share some examples of recent client work I’ve done with firms in your industry…”
  • Invite them to an event with current and past clients who can talk about what you do.

You may have some prospects that you’d like to meet but don’t currently know. As I noted earlier, that’s also a very important challenge, which I’ll address in a future newsletter.

You can develop more leads from your network if you approach the job systematically, prioritize your efforts, and keep the four principles in mind: Add value, understand their agenda, evoke their curiosity, and maintain frequent contact.

The graphic, below, summarizes this overall strategy.

What has worked especially well for you when it comes to getting more leads from your network? Please leave a comment on my blog (click this link to go directly to the blog page for this article–scroll to the bottom to comment)

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