Most people will tell you that part of your business success relies on who you know. However, you needn’t have a pedigree or be born a royal to have the "right kind" of connections. Anyone can create a center of influence by developing a referral strategy and using targeted networking.
What Is a Center of Influence?
A center of influence (COI) is a well-connected person or group that can help you grow your network and your referrals to increase business. While a well-connected person is always valuable to your business, finding someone connected to or influential in your target market is even better. For instance, a title agent or mortgage person/banker would be well-served to connect with an influential real estate agent because people looking for a home need those services. When they do, they ask their real estate person for referrals. The agent is in a unique position to leverage that center of influence to help guide the potential home buyer. When you get a lead from that agent, you know it is a hot one.
Centers of influence are not solely occupation based. Using your target market as a guide, you could build a relationship with an influencer in that demographic to leverage their COI. You could also join a referral group to build a center of influence. If you want to interact with business professionals, your local chamber of commerce may be the ideal COI for you.
A center of influence is a valuable part of referral marketing. Referral marketing is one of the most powerful types of marketing because referrals are more likely to buy. In addition to that, according to research from Nielsen, 92% of people trusted referrals from those they knew. And it’s not just individual customers that are helped by referrals. 84% of B2B decision makers start their buying process with a referral. Referral customers or clients are more loyal, have a 16% higher lifetime value, and have a 13.2% higher spending rate than non-referral customers. Taking the time to build a COI can create an impressive return on investment.
Who Benefits from a Center of Influence?
Anyone who wants more referral business will benefit from building a center of influence and connecting with others. But be deliberate in whom you choose to connect with. Some businesses serve everyone, but most have a specific client that they target. Look for professionals who are well-connected to your ideal customer or demographic. Often there are complementary businesses that work with the same target market. Partnering with them and sharing your COI can have a big impact on your referral marketing.
While anyone business can benefit from referrals, some professionals need that extra boost of trust that comes with a referral. These professions include (but are not limited to):
• Accountants • Real estate agents • Bankers • Life coaches • Personal trainers • Mortgage and title agents • Attorneys • Insurance agents • Wealth advisor • Funeral director
Quick Tips for Developing a Stellar Center of Influence
While you’re looking to connect to someone (or a group) with a strong COI, there are a few things you should be doing to develop your own circle of influence.
Look for Groups
Joining a referral network or Mastermind Group can help you attain a COI quickly. But those groups often do more than just provide an instant network. They can provide peer-to-peer advisory assistance as well. Plus, because you meet each week members of the group get to know you and you know them, which equates to more carefully aligned referrals.
Track What Is Working and What’s Not
Referral networking software is an essential tool when building a COI. It helps you understand where your time is best spent—what spheres of influence are paying off to create business for you and which are good on paper only. Knowing this and tracking the sales that come from referrals can help you make the right resource allocations.
Leverage Social Media to Connect
In-person groups and events provide terrific networking but if you don’t have the time to connect in person, don’t forget there are online opportunities as well. Follow influencers on social media. Start conversations with them. Let them see you posting valuable information consistently. They’ll begin to recognize your name. Support them by sharing their posts with your audience. Ask them questions and engage in conversations. While online networking prohibits you from reading someone’s body language to gauge interest, you can participate in it any time of day. Plus, posting during non-traditional business hours can yield deeper conversations and opportunities for connections because there’s less noise to cut through.
When you meet someone who is a strong business connection, stay connected. Forward things you think might be of value. Engage them in conversation. Be helpful to them. Send a personal note to nurture the relationship. Do your best to remain top of mind. In referral situations, it’s almost always the person who comes to mind first who receives the referrals.
Building a center of influence takes time but it’s one of the best things you can do for your business in both the short term and the long. Referrals are more likely to buy or work with you, are more loyal, have a greater lifetime value, and spend more. Isn’t it time you start building that referral network?