I spent 7 years in the Direct Sales industry after 7 years in I.T., which was then called EDP and subsequently MIS. Through the years of understanding dealer networks, sales management, salesmanship, customer relations, distribution and such, I came across many acronyms that led to incorporating these business principles in my life. One of these is B.M.W. – known as Birthdays, Marriages and Wakes (credit goes to ex-Avon guy Jerry S.) This is a significant aspect of maintaining customer relations, dealer retention and increased order frequency or size during my time in the sales environment. BMW means that you acknowledge your network’s three most important dates in their personal lives: theirs and that of their immediate family, parents or children. When you send them your greetings or condolences or, for that matter, be physically present during these important dates of their lives, you become their friend or mentor “for life” and they, your customers for life. This principle served me well even before online social networking buzz came about.
Online social networking is a misnomer in today’s ever-changing and fast-paced world. It doesn’t matter if you socialize or network through the web – it matters that you also do it face-to-face. In the reality that you network with new business or social acquaintances across the miles, you replace the personal encounter with the second best means of communicating – the telephone. Therefore, if you really want to build a social or business relationship with a network of new (or old) acquaintances, you can only be successful when it’s done “personally.” Thus, online networking is the first step and not the only means to which you build the relationship.
I used BMW with many people I have met through the years and continued to network with them socially and professionally. In times of need, you are never a stranger to one that is a social or business acquaintance. Because of BMW, they always remember you. The easiest way to do so is to send a birthday greeting by e-mail or through the messaging facilities of various online social networking sites. However, to greet one by text-messaging becomes more intimate. A phone call is better. A face-to-face encounter is best. If you acknowledge them during their wedding anniversaries, this brings you up the intimacy scale, or during the wedding of their children. In times of sorrow over the death of a loved one, the sincere effort to offer your condolences overshadows birthdays and marriages – you start to become a true friend for life by being there in their most vulnerable times.
In all birthday and anniversary greetings I’ve sent, I always make sure to spend time in creating a personal message on top of the usual greeting. I try to fit the content of my message to the character or personality of the celebrant or recipient, up to my understanding of who the person really is. This can be a quotation that fits well, a joke or a more intimate greeting than the usual stuff. A huge percentage will respond back with sincere thanks and follow up with questions like “how is the family?” or “what type of work are you doing?” This initiates a slew of responses between you and your network and pauses once they are satisfied with your answer (always make it a point to be the last one to respond in this exchange of messages). If the person is within your locality, offer to meet up for coffee after the special day, even for just half-an-hour. Again, business and social networking becomes successful if it’s face-to-face or by voice.
There was a time I needed more projects from North America, I used my BMW roots to touch base with my network. I didn’t get blank responses from my social and business acquaintances because I kept appearing in their lives at least once a year. I reached out (but done cordially with a friendly smile) and many offered to refer me to people they knew who may have projects for me. In fact, one person I have never met face-to-face who used to live in Trinidad and Tobago was now (during that time) living in Toronto. This was James. I eventually called James after an exchange of e-mails and had a pleasant but short conversation where he offered to refer me to someone he knew may be able to help. Lo and behold that person (named Cathy) represented the largest trade publication company in the world – Reed. I did a conference call with Cathy’s team and my team, won their initial trust just based on how we presented ourselves during the call, and Cathy eventually flew to meet up with me, visit our business premises and signed the contract with me. Cathy’s left Reed but we remain good friends until now. She now lives in Arizona doing small projects.
I met James through an e-mail network I joined in 2002. I got the project from Reed in 2006. In those in-between years, I kept in touch with James by e-mail and occasional but rare moments of calling him up when he moved to Canada. With James and many others I networked with, I always made sure they knew more personal facts about me, usually offering information about my family, personal experiences and professional facts. I always believe that 80% of the people in the world are honest and so I make sure to fill in as much information on my profile in many of the online networks I belong to, and to allow a snippet or so of my profile accessible to the public. It took years for James and I to develop some semblance of trust and, when the time came to ask for a favor, he gladly gave it without any inkling to ask for a commission or to cash in on the favor. Today, I give the same BMW effort to Cathy as I did with James. Last year, Cathy referred me to her friend who needed to develop a marketing program which I also implemented.
BMW also worked during the time I was financially down. There was one person I kept communicating with over the years, since I met him in during a job interview a decade ago. He was and still is the President of a large call center. We didn’t see eye to eye on the job but bantered on ideas about business. I continued an e-mail-based relationship with Vic and, when I had something to offer him (like a call center project), I’d call and meet him at his office. The last I met up with him was two years previous and because I had continued to communicate with him, one short e-mail led to his response for a meeting two days later with his personal interest, together with his VP Roland, to help me. Wow! I mean they were never close friends but because of sincere effort to continue communicating with them using BMW, the “stranger” barrier was almost nonexistent and thus trust between each other began to grow.
You might ask, “What about the holiday greetings?” There’s no harm in adding that up to BMW but not everyone are Catholics or Christians who practice Christmas. Father’s or Mother’s Days may not be that important to others, lest those who you do not know if they are married. So, BMW still serves the base principle to network sincerely without appearing to push yourself to the person.
Remember, that’s why they call it “social networking” because that’s precisely why people join these online sites – so network socially. When you start pushing yourself to sell things to people in sites like Facebook or MySpace, you’ll end up alienating yourself from friends and acquaintances. They will stop communicating with you, never respond to your message and start to become a stranger again. This happened to me when I sent a message to a celebrity who I wanted to help me with a new project. No response. A few months later, I sent another message apologizing for the intrusion and of the message itself and the acquaintance relationship started to go back to where we were. Hard lesson to learn.
Of course, there will be others who you will never know the dates of their birthdays, wedding anniversaries and such. But when your conversation with them starts to become more personal, you also open the door to simply ask without being intrusive. “Hey, Mary. I hope you don’t mind if I ask you when your birthday is?” It may take a few weeks, months or even years, but it eventually pays off. Just make sure you have your own reminder system to alert you a day or so before the important date so you don’t miss off. Facebook offers this feature automatically, and so does other online social networking sites. I’ve been a Plaxo member since 2002 and long before Facebook and the rest, this was one of the best online systems that allowed me to get a network’s birth date, remind me a day before and provide me with free e-greeting cards to send. However, stick with something you’re comfortable with.
There are countless more great stories to tell on the results of employing BMW in my social and business networking endeavors. What’s important is that I continue to be a real, live person with a real profile in my web network sites and a barrage of wall posts, messages and e-mails that are consistent in style and content as how I want people to perceive me to be. Remembering BMW is a hassle-free yet very easy way to continue the social and business relationship with people and make yourself mean well above the normal set of online or onsite friends and acquaintances. In due time and time of need, I had no big challenge to ask for their help when I needed it, just as long as it will not inconvenient them in their time or the effort to help me (unless they’re blood relatives). BWM works great on the real world and BMW works the same way in the virtual world, too.