Entrepreneurs and business owner/managers rarely spend enough time in direct contact with customers. They get too caught up in conducting business to build business, yet the time you spend with your customers lets you do both. The best business development efforts are when you are in front of your customers, potential customers or people who can connect you with potential customers.

And this last part is where networking comes in. The time spent networking face-to-face is every bit as effective in building business as time spent with customers. In some ways this is intuitive – there is a limit to how much face time is effective with customers when it comes to gaining referrals or repeat business. Current customers see your work, know what you do, so it’s mostly building comfort with you as a person. On the other hand, connectors (or networkers) usually have less familiarity with your business style and methods, and stand to gain from exposure. Dedicated networkers also have a broad base of contacts.

Which raises an interesting question: is there more value in a referral from a satisfied customer, or from a trusted supplier or products or services? You may be surprised that in surveys, more business managers will place emphasis on a referral from a supplier. The reason is that they believe their supplier’s integrity is on the line with referrals. A previous customer may have had specific needs which were well satisfied, but which may not match their own. After all, everyone believes that their situation is unique, so a satisfied customer may be of little relevance, where a referral from a trusted source is assumed to be good fit for the issue at hand.

How much time do you spend each day either networking or in direct contact with customers? Most business owners average out at 90 minutes daily. Which isn’t bad. But the number to aim for adds ¾ of an hour to that. Owners who spend 2 hrs 15 minutes on business development, consistently manage double digit growth above the rest of the market. See if you can’t add 10 minutes a day as a great start – everyone can find 10 minutes, right? Remember, it’s an average, so one day with an extra hour of calls or meetings qualifies.

A final word on this – direct contact does not include e-mail, mail or texting. It means a conversation. The phone works, but usually only with existing customers. Phone calls tend to be more directed, as they are less comfortable – people generally want the call to be as brief as possible. For this reason, when it comes to prospects and networking, you need to be face-to-face. But that’s when conversations are easiest to maintain, and develop a life of their own. And hopefully develop into business opportunities.

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