Here’s a fun fact: bottlenose dolphins and “false-killer whales” (which happen to look like orcas) are distinct species, but often form interspecies “super-pods” to coordinate hunting, with dolphins eating first and making way for the false-killers to prey upon smaller mackerel schools that hide among larger fish. In fact, dolphins and false-killers not only hunt together, but socialize, travel, rest, and even babysit in groups, forming lifelong bonds that occur over many years and great distances. At first glance, there’s no reason for these separate species to interact, but they’ve learned that together — in numbers which can reach into the hundreds — they can accomplish complementary goals. That diverse groups provide opportunities for mutual gain is a lesson commercial salespeople should learn as well.
One of the first questions I ask when I consult with a dealership is, “Have any of your employees become active members of a professional group or trade association?” They look around with blank stares. The dealership often pays for a membership to some such group, but no one goes to the meetings. The excuse is typically, “We don’t get anything out of attending,” which really means “No one walked up to me and asked for a quote.”
Let me set the record straight: some of the more successful commercial sales consultants I know – those who have been in the business at least 15 years and who average over 20 units per month – can trace as much as 60% of their current business back to their active membership in one or more professional groups or trade associations. Unfortunately, organizational networking is often overlooked by commercial dealerships, so today we’re digging into effective group membership, as well as the two types of groups your salespeople should look to join:
Being effective in a group setting requires:
- Support from the group’s Executive Director. This is usually a permanent employee whose main task is to grow the association and ensure current members renew. Executive Directors love to hear that members are invested in the group’s success, and will work with those active members on a variety of initiatives.
- A strategy to meet people and gain appointments. Your strategy should avoid cold-calling and instead invest in building relationships that can lead to productive partnerships and referrals.
- Participation in the group by being active on committees, attending all events, and sponsoring events.
- Bringing in new members, which helps the organization, which helps you.
What are the best groups to join? There are two types of groups I recommend: trade associations and well-defined business-to-business networking groups. Let’s do a quick overview of both:
Associations: Depending on where you’re located, the right association can be a perfect opportunity. These would include groups like HBA (Home Builders Association), AGC (Associated General Contractors), HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), NAFA (National Association of Fleet Administrators), and many others. Here’s the strategy we lay out for anyone wanting to join an association and form beneficial relationships:
- Get an appointment with the Executive Director and ask the following questions (in order):
- “How can our dealership best support the association?” They will very much appreciate this question, and they can provide insights about attending the meetings, getting on a committee, and sponsoring events. Take their advice!
- “How many other dealerships are members of this association?” This helps you get the lay of the land in terms of potential competition, and sets up the next question…
- “How many of those dealers are doing everything you mentioned; attending meetings, joining committees, and sponsoring events?” Most often, the reply will be “zero.” Let them know that your dealership will be different.
- “As I get involved, will you be able to introduce me to other members of the association?” The director almost always says “yes” (there’s no reason to say “no” — they want an engaged membership), and you now have the endorsement of the top person in the association, vastly boosting your networking ability.
- Get on a committee. My best recommendation is the membership committee. Primary members of the association, as well as associate members (e.g. vendors), will be on that committee, making it easy to build relationships and gain appointments.
- Sponsor events, such as a trade show, and go into the event with a strategic plan. Beyond having a booth, you’ll need to work the crowd and collect business cards for follow-up. The best way to get business cards is to have a drawing for a prize. I like at least three people to work a trade show; one to stand behind the booth, one to hand out flyers to the crowd, and one to meet prospects behind the other booths.
Business Networking Groups: These are business-to-business groups created for the sole purpose of networking and exchanging referrals. It is the latter function that will serve your dealership best, as most of your leads will not be group members themselves, but will be referrals from members’ outside contacts. Just remember that you have to give quality referrals to get quality referrals. Two groups our dealers have had great success with are Business Network International and LeTip International. I have commercial sales consultants that get weekly leads from these groups.
At the end of the day, it’s unfortunate dealers often ignore professional groups or trade associations, because those who are willing to put in actual effort consistently prove organizational networking is one of the most effective and efficient ways to generate success for your dealership. Active, collaborative, and productive membership in diverse groups will help you consistently meet new people, form new relationships, obtain new referrals, and develop new partnerships. There’s plenty of fish in this sea of opportunity, and by following the organizational networking tips above, you can quickly find yourself at the top of the commercial food chain!
About the Author
As the Founder and President of Commercial Truck Training, Ken has consulted, coached, and trained commercial dealers on individual, regional, and national business levels. Known as an industry leader, Ken has worked with companies like General Electric, General Motors, FCA, Ford, Commercial Truck Trader, and Equipment Trader.