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Monday, January 18, 2010

I had an interesting discussion the other day about the merits of so-called "black book" organisations who (claim to) use their networks to introduce prospects.

On one level my thoughts were "whatever works"... but then again, I wondered whether these models really are effective?

Certainly the concept is nothing new and it's used in a number of different ways by many businesses. But, I've yet to see the "gun for hire" model of referrals really work in any sustained way.

Let me explain.

Actively getting referrals into businesses is used by companies all the time.

Whether it's through partnering with another business or even assembling an advisory board, there are many different ways you can leverage existing relationships.

To me, a fundamental part of all these models is the building of trust and the alignment of both parties.

If you hire a key industry influencer to back your business (such as bringing them into a non-executive position or perhaps as an investor) then they have publicly aligned themselves with your business. They wouldn't do this unless they shared your vision and had build trust in your business.

Once they've got to that position, it's natural that they'll follow through by using their personal contacts.

But, I'm not convinced that people will use (or should I say abuse) their contacts on a "paid for" or "gun for hire" basis.

For a start, all contacts have a finite appetite for referrals. Call them too often and they'll just stop taking your calls. It's a balancing act.

Also, how persistent will someone be if there's no initial traction? Not very I bet.

I've seen these models come and go.

There were some great sounding online versions a few years ago which I thought would really take off. The proposition was simple: you post up who you want to meet and the 1000's of registered "introducers" put you in contact with people. The pitch to the introducers was "make money out of your contacts".

You know what... all those sites are now dead.

Equally, there are some businesses out there that aim to be intermediaries. Often this model falls down when you ask "who pays".

If the person being introduced pays (which is quite common) then the question is, who are they really acting in the best interests of?

In some industries, such as recruitment, it's clear who pays and who is the "client". In others, such as talent agents, there's an established business model and everyone knows who does what and who pays who.

The trouble is that, in more generic markets, these models don't really stack up.

If you want to get infront of prospects then someone has to "go out to bat" on your behalf. Sure, they're going to take some rejection along the way, plus they're going to have to be politely persistent to get through.

But that's all part of the process.

Of course, if you are trying to influence C-level executives for extremely large, high-risk pieces of work then you're in a different league. This is where having influence on the inside is critical and relationships such as advisory boards are essential.

And, in that case, you need a solid relationship, not someone who will simply "pimp" their trust to the highest bidder.

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Posted by: David Regler @ 9:42 am |   | Links to this post  

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