If you are a regular member of a gym or fitness club as they refer to it today, I always find January to be the most interesting month of the year to be a member. At the beginning of every year the place is so crowded that you usually have to wait in line to use the equipment. Then, within a few weeks the crush subsides and the facility is back to normal.
I kind of look at business from the same point view. Just like at the gym, this time of year my mailbox is usually full of emails, blogs and pings from contacts wanting to reconnect to see how we can “align our strategies in a mutually beneficial relationship”. Sound familiar? I’m always amazed by the emails I receive from people who do not know what factoring is and what our industry does to help businesses with cash flow. A few days ago I received a call from a mortgage broker asking what the rates were on our 15 and 30 year mortgage loans. Really? Is it that difficult to do an internet search on our company or just go directly to oxygenfunding.com and check us out? I cannot tell you how many emails I delete on a given day and that nothing is more annoying than having to “safely unsubscribe” from a newsletter or blog that I never wanted to receive in the first place.
Unfortunately what many “sales people” tend to forget is that business is about relationships. When we first started our company we made it a point to venture out to almost every networking event imaginable. You name an event we were there – chambers of commerce events, association chapter meetings, business start-up meet and greets and a whole gambit of others. It looked great as our sales database would grow every week. At the end of the day we would come back to our office with a bunch of business cards from people that we really didn’t know at all. First a few dozen contacts were in, then a few hundred and finally we just stopped counting. Many contacts would ask us to refer clients to them and they would reciprocate by sending business our way. But often I would think to myself, is it right for me to refer one of my clients to someone I just met over some appetizers and a drink? What do I really know about his business? Is he really as good as he says? On the other side of the coin what does he really know about my business? From our perspective the initial introduction is just step one. The next step is to reach out to your newly found contact(s) and learn more about their business.
One of the biggest challenges with networking is trying to whittle down which people you should reach out to for a second call or meeting. Let me use our company as an example. As we are a pure invoice factoring firm our company only accepts business to business transactions. Therefore when we come across companies that are dealing directly with consumers such as home repair contractors or mortgage companies we know to refer them to a colleague. This is not to say that we do not retain and reach out to these folks but rather put them in a second tier classification for contact at a later date. Once you’ve put your contacts in the appropriate “buckets” it’s time to reach out and see if your new contact would entertain a second call or meeting. Some of the best relationships we’ve started are where both parties benefit. For example, some of our best contacts are with local banks, brokers, tax accountants and attorneys. In many cases we have referred our clients to them and vice versa. But again, these relationships didn’t happen overnight. We take the time to learn about what these people do and how they can help our clients. A crucial mistake would be referring your client to someone who is not superb in their profession and damage your relationship. The very same is true when we talk to new prospects about factoring. We constantly warn them that factoring is so much more than advancing cash on invoices. Because factoring is so competitive today many businesses are looking for the cheapest rate they will have to pay to factor their invoices. What prospects tend to forget is that the factor (assuming they do their due diligence properly) will be contacting the client’s customer to get the invoices verified and to get updates on past due amounts. If the factor treats that customer in a negative way, all of the goodwill between the client and the customer is out the window.
Creating and cultivating relationships is not easy. We like to look at relationship building as planting a garden where you are sowing seeds. Some may germinate in a few months where others may take years. I cannot tell you how many times we have received calls from people that we met years ago at some convention or networking event. The key is to get away from the “What’s in it for me” attitude. It’s been long said that a key component of integrity is how you treat those who can do nothing for you. Much of our success has come from not only helping businesses that need our services but also finding a home for those needing financing, out of our specialty.
The key is to stay focused and don’t get discouraged if you do not achieve immediate results for your efforts. As they say, Rome wasn’t built in a day and those few extra holiday pounds will usually take more than a month to lose. Now if I can only find a open treadmill.
Don D’Ambrosio is the president of Oxygen Funding, Inc., an invoice factoring company located in Lake Forest, California. For more information, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can visit his company’s website at www.oxygenfunding.com