Originally published on December 28, 2016
This is the second in a four-part Blog series on Cultivating Your Professional Network
Consumer-to-Business (C2B) Networking
C2B Networking is a business model in which consumers (individuals) create value and businesses consume that value. There are two prevalent models through which C2B networking and marketing take place. The first model is the Reverse Auction or Demand Collection model, which enables buyers to name or demand their own price—which is often binding—for a specific product or service. The second model is the Electronic Commerce model, through which consumers can offer products and services to companies—and the companies pay the consumers.
The primary means for C2B networking and marketing is through Internet sites, such as Web pages, Blogs, and now some social media platforms.
Over the last 20 years, technology advancements have meant dramatic changes in the application of networking and marketing. Perhaps the most important of these is the explosion in social media and social networkingand how they empowered consumers to take the reins of product and service development and markets from the domain of businesses to consumers driving product and service development and markets.
Along with this technology-empowered C2B revolution came social networking. This new set of platforms meant networks were no longer the domain of boardrooms, conferences, seminars, and other meetings; rather, networking became a 24/7 proposition powered by the drive of consumers and necessarily a major venue for networking professionals. We’re not just talking about LinkedIn (arguably the premier platform for business networking)—it includes Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google+ and others. In fact, 93% of recruiters and 74% of HR professionals use LinkedIn to find “best fit” prospects for positions, while interaction within LinkedIn’s focused groups provides an arena for professionals with similar interests, industries, or goals to establish and nurture relationships. Let’s not forget Blogs (Web logs)! Many professionals no longer take the time to subscribe to a multitude of magazines, newspapers, or journals. Instead, industry news and commentary is provided by myriad Blogs—as well as opportunities to interact with other professionals in an asynchronous, electronic environment where numerous opinions and comments may be viewed together.
It is this new frontier—social networking—where consumers voice their needs, their opinions, their positive and negative feedback. This is where businesses may identify and build relationships with influencers in the consumer arena, strengthening understanding and eliciting cooperative prognostication that can lead a company to get ahead of consumer demands for products and services. With social networking the concept is relatively simple—start electronically, evolve into more meaningful relationships…with the optimum relationship being in person or, at least, directly person-to-person. Leverage relationships with consumers to predict better what to expect next in demand for products and services.
Business-to-Consumer (B2C) Networking
B2C Networking focuses on the exchange of information from business to consumer contacts. This type of networking is most prevalent in retail marketing and sales of products and services. Although gaining its start through traditional methods—such as trade shows, giveaway promotions and specials, and events—modern B2C networking has migrated through using Internet and Web sites to a backbone of social media and CRM platforms.
B2C Networking has encompassed the broad spectrum of traditional methods to start the conversation with prospective customers to taking advantage of social media and CRM platforms that provide targeted networking and marketing with consumers.
A 2014 piece for LCT included discussion on the changing landscape of networking as technology evolves—and consumers along with it. According to Jim Moseley, co-founder of TripTracker, consumers are driving how businesses must adapt in order to stay relevant.
It’s not so much technology has changed. It’s people that have changed how they are utilizing technology to do business,” said Moseley. “The tidal wave is coming. We’re not in business-to-business anymore. It’s becoming consumer-to-business. People will use devices to decide what kind of transportation they want and what price they want to pay. They’ll want to see reviews and ratings of companies, availability, how much insurance they carry, and how often they perform on time. Consumers won’t be dealing with people or travel desks; they are using a smartphone or tablet to make informed decisions electronically. (Halligan, 2014)
Business-to-Business (B2B) Networking
B2B Networking represents the arena where one business networks to achieve contacts, partnerships, and/or commercial transactions with other businesses. Three primary focus points for B2B Networking include:
A business sourcing materials for their production process
A business needs service of another business for operational reasons
A business resells goods and services produced or provided by other businesses
B2B Networking is an essential function for keeping a business aligned with the industry, emerging products and services, competitor activities and trends, and opportunities for forging symbiotic associations or partnerships with other businesses.
A key obstacle to B2B networking is managing the relationship between sales reps and client-side decision makers (Gardner, 2015). No matter what the venue, it is difficult to entice a vendor from doing business with current clients—especially if the current relationship is seen as beneficial to the vendor. It is this challenge the networking—networking groups in particular—bringing together groups of business owners and decision makers in an environment that mixes formal and casual to elicit meaningful interaction between parties.
Businesses make decisions about purchasing and relationships differently than consumers. When it comes down to the final cut between competing interests, it is often the degree of relationship between companies that tips the scale in a particular company’s favor, because a relationship helps build trust. Developing relationships now—and nurturing them—is important in setting the stage for opening a new business enterprise later. Develop relationships even if the other professionals are happy with their current product or service providers…why? At some point, contracts expire or, in some cases, the relationship changes between businesses and current providers. Developing and nurturing a relationship keeps you at the forefront of your business connections’ thought process when they think about changing their current providers.
Referral Networking Groups
These groups focus on encouraging mutual support between members through discussion of products and/or services offered for professionals with the intent to generate the passing of leads between attendees. In some cases, such as Business Networking International (BNI), the group may keep track of revenue gained through referrals made within the group.
Groups of this nature may be found throughout the greater Phoenix area. In addition to BNI, the various Chambers of Commerce have groups designed to foster information on the businesses of the attendees, what type of leads the members desire, and time to either congregate and discuss referrals or to set up (and later report on) meetings to discuss business or promote better understanding and lead generation.
Executives Network (www.executivesnetwork.com) focuses on fostering relationships between professionals at the Director level or above. This is a great place to find referrals for new executive-level personnel to join your company. Associated with Executives Network is EXO—a group designed for bringing together C-level executives of companies in the $5-50mil range and Director/VP-level executives in companies over $50mil. This is the type of group in which strategic level cooperation and partnerships are formed. While the group meets locally, it is a nationwide network that can lead to connections in major metropolitan areas from coast-to-coast.
There are literally dozens of referral group opportunities sponsored by various organizations. Many of these list their meetings on sites such as networkphoenix.com or meetups.com to cast a wide net and bring in new attendees for a variety of professions. These groups range from a broad, general attendee demographic to specialized groups based on the type of industry, gender (such as women professionals), ethnicity (Hispanic, Asian, etc. business owners), and so forth.
Executive Peer-to-Peer Coaching
This type of group provides opportunities to collaborate and share business ideas with executives of companies similar to your own, such as SMBs or large, distributed enterprise corporations. Chances are that this type of group may be how you find the right new vendor, product or service provider, client, or partner. An example for SMBs in the Phoenix area is SCORE, which provides both events and individual peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities, connected with the many area Chambers of Commerce.
Optimizing the B2B Networking Environment
Understanding what some of the tools are in the B2B networking and marketing environment is only part of the equation for success. Gay Gaddis (2013) offered three key tips to optimizing the tools of effective B2B networking and marketing:
Don’t get bogged down in your own industry groups. Although they can be helpful, I don’t spend much time with people in my field because they don’t buy our services; they are usually our competitors. Instead, I seek groups that bring together an array of industries and perspectives. Many times they are our clients and prospective client events. The big message is to get out from behind your desk. You should be your own brand ambassador because no one is more passionate about your business than you are. Your travel budget may skyrocket, but so should your bottom line. I attended an event where one of our prospective clients was speaking. I sat on the front row and after his speech, I was the first person to meet him after he spoke and which gave me a chance to hold a meaningful conversation based on the speech he just gave. Within a week we got a call from him and today his company is a major client. When preparing your statements among potential customers, be genuine and relevant to each individual.
Building relationships take time. Follow up is imperative, but easier said than done. When you meet a person who you think will strengthen your business, you should be in touch at least once a quarter. Send something relevant and of value to them. This takes planning, discipline, and creativity. Eventually, you will be on their radar. If I asked your top five prospects, “Who wants your business,” and they cannot name you or your company, then you will never get their business.
Get involved in a big way. If an organization is worth your time, you should be right in the middle of the action. Seek to serve on their boards and committees. Otherwise, drop out. When you are all-in, you will build relationships that matter. People will see how you work when you are at your best. These types of relationships build trust and friendships that almost always lead to business opportunities. (Gaddis, 2013)
Encompassing all these networking tips—especially in business networking—is a code of reciprocity. Being willing to give before receiving from others helps to set the stage for the professional relationship—it sends the message that you are not just in the network or group for yourself; rather, you are willing to be a “team player” who sees the business relationship as a mutually beneficial and enduring opportunity.
Next week will be part three of the Blog series: Electronic Networking
Gaddis, G. (2013). 3 Networking tips to grow your business. Forbes/Entrepreneurs. http://www.forbes.com/sites/gaygaddis/2013/07/18/3-networking-tips-to-grow-your-business/
Gardner, J. (2015). How B2B networking is vastly different than B2C networking. B2B News Network. http://www.b2bnn.com/2015/07/how-b2b-networking-is-vastly-different-than-b2c-networking/
Halligan, T. (2014). Adapt of fizzle–The coming tidal wave of C2B replacing B2B. Retrieved from http://www.lctmag.com/blogpost/107258/adapt-or-fizzle-the-coming-tidal-wave-of-c2b-replacing-b2b