Networking and Referrals Tops with SMB’s… Maybe? When asked for their best sources of lead generation, a recent article and poll suggests so. But is this really the truth?

A friend and business owner I admire recently shared a magazine article that addressed lead generation strategies. According to the article, the use of websites and the internet came in third at 63%, as the most popular answer of how leads will be generated in 2014.

Referrals and networking were #1 and #2. The article further discusses SEO and SMO, which my friend knows is right up my alley. He also commented that the article really supported my position on the importance of inbound marketing.

Referral and networking are always the top answers in such polls, especially if the responders are involved or employed by small to medium sized businesses.

Why? Please read on…

Back when I was a retailing executive in New York, the National Retail Federation would conduct a peoples poll annually, literally approaching consumers exiting department stores in Manhattan and asking them (1) what is your favorite department store?, and (2) why do you like to shop there? Five consecutive years the same store won. The given reason why? Selection. The people’s favorite didn’t get the highest marks for service, it wasn’t because they had the best location, or because they spent a fortune in advertising (because so does the competition).

Five straight years, always because of the same reason.

Hockey puck!

The winning store was Macy’s, the chain that essentially invented the high-low selling game. And what the poll failed to take in to account is people’s behavior, especially mainstream audiences and how they desire to be recognized.

Macy’s won because they were cheap! They were always on sale, and in the minds of the shopping public presented a strong value. But would you want to go on record as being a cheap, stingy shopper? Absolutely not. So, selection wins hands down.

THE SAME IS TRUE WHEN POLLING SALES MANAGEMENT OR SMB OWNERS. We all know that referrals and networking are great, low-cost, and provide higher conversion rates. I know that I do! But we will never admit we place our emphasis there because it is cheap, easily understood, and traditional. It’s a comfortable tactic for almost all of us extroverts and, well, it’s cheap.

But since we are laying our behavioral cards on the table, why don’t more companies have a networking process in place? Show me yours?

For the past six years my form has been providing a workshop on referral marketing to small businesses, essentially teaching the how and why they can create a networking cultural and tactical process. I get thank you notes from owners who attend this. One sent me a restaurant dining card to thank me!


Because while they all agree that networking is important, they are all pretty crappy at it. They have never really studied it from a process POV, and just do it because it’s easy… and cheap!

But do they do it well? Not very often.

But ask them what their best lead gen strategies are and why…