9.0 Catalyst Events

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Entrepreneurs are learning so much about growing their businesses through word of mouth and increasing their referral base; it’s time to start thinking creatively and exploring new dynamic ways to encourage others to use you, refer you, and partner with you in growing your businesses.

Catalyst events are one such out-of-the-box way to stimulate more referrals
and build relationships that may result in referrals from people you could once only dream of sending customers your way.

In this discussion of catalyst events, I’ll be covering two types. The first is
a strategic alliance event (external), and the second is a recognition event
(internal) for top referral generators. The goal is the same: to create greater
“referability” for your business with others by building relationships and
increasing your social capital.

Strategic Alliance Events

Bringing people together who’ll be able to create a symbiotic relationship with one another results in great visibility, which leads to credibility and, eventually, profitability for your company (the VCP® Process of networking).

How do you capitalize on the potential of your strategic alliance events
generating referrals for you? By inviting the right people to these events. A
long-existing example of a strategic alliance event would be coordinating a
foursome of golf between several business contacts you have that you
know would be able to cross-refer one another, such as your CPA, your
financial advisor and your real estate investment advisor. One or more of
these individuals might have been trying for months to secure a meeting
with one of the others, but the aspect of a golf game could be just the thing
that’ll bring them together.

As they develop a deeper relationship with each other, they’ll keep in mind
that you brought them together and do what they can to make sure you’re
getting what you need. I love the dynamic that’s created when you help
others get what they need; they always seem to find a way to see that you
get what you need as well.

There are, however, more creative catalyst events for creating strategic
alliances than the “old faithful” golf game. For example, I know of one
Salvation Army Executive Director who had a lot of BNI members on his
board. They wanted to be able to serve the community and develop
relationships with others on this board that would result in referrals for
their businesses. One of these members was a financial advisor, who had
been trying to get an appointment outside of the board meetings with one
of three millionaires who served with him on the board; but, to no avail.

As a result, he came up with the idea of taking the entire board on a charter boat deep-sea fishing trip to help develop the relationships with each other. The charter boat was part of the co-op advertising for the financial advisor provided by his corporate office.

The Salvation Army Director asked the wealthy board members if they
were interested in the deep-sea fishing trip. He told them he would ask the
financial advisor if they could come. This got their attention. They wouldn’t
take an appointment from this guy, but they were willing to do a social
event of this type with him. They were all so excited about this event, that
the one who wasn’t able to make it on the date that was chosen, actually
asked when it was happening again so he could attend the next one!
Doing an event such as this calls for regularity and repetition. Others will
hear about it through the grapevine and ask to be invited or feel very
excited about being invited. Hence, you want to do this more than once.

A spin on this concept was recently shared with me by an associate of
mine. He told me about a friend of his who organized a fly-fishing trip that
was restricted to people investing $1 million or more in assets with him.
He went to the local sporting goods store to rent fly-fishing equipment for
the trip; the manager ended up working it out to have them come in to the
store to give them the equipment and a guide, at no charge, just to get the
exposure. The businessman then went to the Hummer dealer who gave
them some Hummers to use if he could come with them so he could meet
these heavy hitters. The suppliers were interested in the referral part of the
program because of who else was going to be there.

Catalyst events must have a feature of exclusivity in order to work. The
people attending are investing in their social capital as well. Things like
events at private clubs that most people can’t get into, or golfing on
courses that most people can’t get onto work well. Another point is that
the person hosting it (e.g.: you) must be someone who’s passionate about
that event. So, if you don’t like opera, don’t plan a catalyst event around
opening night of Les Miserables!

Referral Recognition Events

When you have a pool of people who are already referring you regularly, doing something special for those folks is a no-brainer! Some entrepreneurs have recognition events such as hunting trips or wine tasting trips. They have a reputation with their customers, and the customers actually vie with one another to be able to be the ones who get to take part in the event. That means, literally, that they’re trying to out refer one another. Not a bad place in which to be!

The Recognition Events can be held annually to thank the top referral
generators each year, or they can be held once a quarter to encourage
shorter-term results, which could quite possibly increase the total number
of referrals your business would receive within the year. You may choose
to reward the top five referral-generators and allow them to bring a guest,
or reward the top 10 referral-generators and give them the chance to meet
and mingle with each other over the course of the event. Or you may
choose to reward just one person during each time period. The choice is
yours. Experiment with what works best for you and your referral sources.

One of my business associates on the East coast told me of an entrepreneur who organizes a “luxury spa trip” that her customers and clients clamor to be able to attend each year. Guess what? She only takes the top eight people who’ve referred her new business throughout the past year. She’s done this year after year so that she’s well-known in her business community for this trip.

Be creative when choosing what your Recognition Event will be. If you live in an area where there are live shows, taking these folks to dinner and a play is one idea. Use your imagination and don’t be chintzy. If you want people to vie for attendance to your event, you must make it something worth competing for. You will profit from that in the long run, so it just doesn’t pay to skimp when choosing what your reward will be.

Keep in mind that a Catalyst Event isn’t about meeting people through the
Yellow Pages; it’s not a casual event. That being said, you can’t turn the Catalyst Event into a sales pitch, either, or it won’t work. It’s all about making a connection vs. making a contact. Be sure you’ve let the other people you’ve invited know that they have to finesse the event, not strong-arm it. It’s about developing relationships.

When done right, Catalyst Events can revitalize your word-of-mouth marketing efforts and garner for yourself a reputation in the business community for being the one to whom everyone loves to refer others. Now that’s a great position in which to be in the business world!


Particularly in the case of a Strategic Alliance Event, how do you ensure someone isn’t “working the crowd”?

I am strong believer that you can and should network everywhere. There
are no inappropriate places to network if you understand one important
concept: you have to honor the event. You can network at church, if the
idea is to help other people. To me, that’s what networking is all about.
It’s about giving ideas and information. It’s about helping others. If you
go into this with that in mind, it works just fine.

Guests need to understand that this is a certain type of event and as long
as they honor the event, they will do well here. This is not an opportunity
to do a sales pitch. It’s an opportunity to make connections and build
relationships so that you want to do business with these people later. The
concept of honoring the event is so important and really applies here very
well. This is an opportunity to build relationships, and that needs to be
said mostly to the sales people that might be present as opposed to the
heavy hitters you may be expecting. You certainly don’t need to give that
speech to them.

When planning a Referral Recognition Event, do you promote the “contest” in advance so people know there’s a reward, or do you just allow them to be so pleasantly surprised by the reward that it creates a “buzz”?

Absolutely. Let them know in advance. But I wouldn’t position it so much
as a contest, instead I would position it as a “thank you.” I want to recognize those people who have supported me through referrals. That’s why it’s called a “referral recognition event” and not a “referral contest.” You want to pitch it properly. It really isn’t a contest, it’s a thank you. It’s a way of thanking those people who have really gone out of their way to send you a lot of business. It’s not easy referring other businesses, and if someone has done that consistently, this is a great way to recognize their efforts. I think letting them know in advance is important because you can’t hit a target you’re not aiming at. People need to know that you do this on a regular basis so they get caught up and excited with it. Then they continue to pass referrals to you and think of you throughout the year.

Most of the ideas you’ve presented sound rather expensive, which is fine if your products are big-ticket items or you have very productive referral sources. Do you have any less expensive ideas?

There are several options. One is a thank you barbeque. Invite everyone
over to your house and throw a big barbeque. This is a great opportunity
for you to, again, make connections, and it’s not terribly expensive. I find these to be very friendly and still very effective. Another one is a little unusual: Best Referral Customer Day. These work great if you are involved
in a networking group like BNI. Say to the chapter, “One month from now
is going to be our best Referral Customer Day, that is, some person who
refers a lot of business to us.” Bring them as a guest to the meeting, and it
will be a recognition day for the people who bring us the most referrals.
Basically, all you’re doing is buying them breakfast. It can be for more than
one person, maybe two or three people. And you bring in your best referral
sources on that day. The whole day is spent thanking those people who pass a lot of referrals to you. It’s another form of recognition, and it actually can be coordinated with existing networks you already have. Both of these alternatives are fairly inexpensive, yet they’re a great way of providing positive recognition to the people who have given you referrals.

ACTION ITEMS: Complete the Action Items in your Action Guide.

Take a moment to develop a Strategic Alliance event and a Referral Recognition Event.

Strategic Alliance Event:

List three people you think will benefit from meeting one another:
1)                    Profession:
2)                    Profession:
3)                    Profession:

Identify three possible event ideas to which you will invite these people:

Referral Recognition Event:
List four potential ideas for this event:

Consider developing a Referral Recognition Interest Survey to your network.  Craft an easily accessible Internet-based survey using SurveyMonkey.com, e-mail or send it via regular mail.

Sample Questions may include:
1) Would you rather go to a spa for the day or attend a BBQ picnic?
2) Would you rather go on a cruise or stay at a nice hotel for a weekend?
3) Would you rather get tickets for a movie or receive a free lunch?
4) Would you rather celebrate your birthday with lots of people or just a few?

Customize your survey questions based on your ability to provide meaningful recognition for your network.

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