Your receptionist sees a hairdresser who goes to church with a guy who plays racquetball with a doctor who operated on exactly the person who runs the company you want as a new client.
This may sound very similar to the pop culture trivia game "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" which is based on the concept of a small world and states that any actor can be linked through their film roles to actor Kevin Bacon in no more than six links.
This may have started as a silly party trick by some college students, but if you haven't played it in your office, I suggest you do.
I recently asked everyone in my office to pick three companies that they would like to work with and that would be a good fit for our company and the services we provide. Once everyone gave me their short lists, I scheduled an off-site breakfast meeting to discuss strategies to retain these companies as clients.
What I found is what natives know all too well: In Reno, there is more like two degrees of separation between any given individual and your company. When each employee named the company they thought would be a good client, I asked, 'Now, does anyone know anyone who works at this company that we can contact to set up a lunch meeting?" With a mere seven people in my office there wasn't a single company where someone in my office didn't know someone who knew someone who could get us a meeting.
If you've lived here at least six months, you know how deep-rooted relationships in this community are, and in some cases, how difficult it can be to compete with those relationships when it comes to breaking in and doing business. Being a young, female professional in northern Nevada who has only lived in Reno for just over a decade (a period natives laugh at) I am all too familiar with what is still quietly referred to as the "good ol' boys network." But, I share this with you because what I'm learning is, even if you didn't grow up with X family, who knows X family and does business with them, chances are someone in your office might. When our group gathered, I was amazed at how much everyone in our office could contribute to the "it's all about who you know" aspect of doing business. Even our 21-year-old intern was able to bring great relationships and ideas to the table. I am fortunate to have several people in my office who were born and raised here which helps us make connections. But even in the absence of that, if you take the time to do this exercise, I think you too will be surprised at how few degrees there are between you and your potential clients and customers.
Here are a few simple steps to apply the two degrees of Reno to your new business development strategies.
Depending on the size of your company, ask all employees to provide the names of three potential clients or customers, or form a new business committee as ask those individuals to create lists.
Create a checklist to determine whether the companies or individuals on this list are a good fit for your company. Are they the right size, do we have the experience necessary, do we provide the appropriate products or services to enhance their business.
Create a relationship chart to connect with each company or individual on the list. The chart will include a list of key individuals with whom you should get to know along with charitable organizations, personal and professional organizations that they belong to.
Call a staff meeting and go over the relationship chart, one company or individual at a time asking if anyone has existing relationships.
If no relationship or means to make contact exists, join the organizations they belong to.
Support the relationship building with marketing materials to help enhance your reputation, strategically placed where your clients are, such as ads and articles in magazines they read and sponsorships at events they attend.
Meet once a month to monitor success.
And, of course, celebrate successes and reward individuals who participated in the process!
We are just now beginning this process and are setting up lunches (so don't be surprised if you get a call) but I'm confident this activity will help us grow our client base and our business.
So, the next time someone asks you, "Do you know the President of X company," think to yourself, "No, but he went to school with my neighbor who sits on a board with his wife." Wow, that was a short one!
Tierra Griffiths is a partner in MassMedia Corporate Communications, a comprehensive public relations, advertising, government affairs and marketing agency with offices in Reno, Las Vegas and Phoenix.
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