Closing In On New Business

If there’s one thing that a Northeastern winter does, it brings you closer together with other people — a LOT closer together.

As the wind kicks the chill factor into the mega-negative range, the sleet makes even thinking about walking outside an impossibility, and the snow heaps up on the roadsides, you often find yourself smashed close and talking to other folks — in elevators, in lobbies, in supermarkets (especially in supermarkets!), in your office, and even in bars.

You chat, you kibitz, you swap war stories, and, occasionally, you might even pick up a bit of business from someone who knows someone who wants something done.

They key here is contact — forced or not — that gives you the opportunity to make those networking connections that bring in the business. And I’m not talking about those prescribed “networking” opportunities where everyone’s on the prowl looking for business, hackles raised and customer-radar tuned to full blast.

No, I’m talking about daily communication and share of mind that often precipitates those serendipitous “Hey! I know someone who does that!” reactions.

And while it’s easy to see how this can work in person, we all seem to have a bit of trouble extending the metaphor to the web. While everyone seems to grok the concept of affiliates pioneered by Amazon and others, the concept of driving traffic to your sites via affiliate relationships hasn’t really penetrated much beyond the retail industry.

In fact, in a recent Jupiter study on affiliate programs, analysts discovered that while 40 percent of online retailers have affiliate programs, only 10 percent of travel sites use them and only 3 percent of financial services sites market through affiliates.

Of course, there are problems inherent in both travel and financial affiliates. Travel agents are affiliates to begin with, and financial services folks can get in regulatory trouble for kicking back moolah to affiliates. But this doesn’t mean that other industries can’t use the affiliate model for expanding business.

Think about it. Most best business comes from continued contact and visibility in the marketplace. We all know that. But while many of us spend time and effort marketing ourselves in a one-way “broadcast” mode via advertising or direct mail, much business comes from the result of working our networks on the telephone or through email.

But why stop there? We live in a networked economy, right? Right! Not formalizing and working those connections is like sitting in a house during a snowstorm all by yourself, trying to make friends by tossing messages wrapped around snowballs out your window. Not the most efficient method.

No, the better way is to figure out your strengths and weaknesses, and then bring affiliates into the fold who complement your skills. Work out a formal compensation agreement for leads to lead to sales and then link, link, link.

Think about related industries. Many people using the services of video production houses also may need help turning that video into a CD-ROM. A lot of printers who have gotten into web design (with disastrous results, mind you) might welcome an affiliate partnership with a firm that they can outsource to. Enlightened coders who realize they don’t know diddly about design and strategy make perfect partners. You get the idea.

Many companies have begun to realize this networking/affiliate strategy works to help them get business. But why stop with your own company? Think about ways that you can help your clients distribute their presence across the Net.

As click-throughs fall, this strategy is going to become more important to clients who demand results. If you’re working for a financial services company, why not help them provide rate and other information through affiliated industries via “content modules”?

If you’re working for a travel or entertainment company, why not provide images, advice and so on to sites that specialize in your client’s industry? They get content their readers want (and a kickback of sales), your client gets a permanent “ad” that’s bound to offer higher value and last longer than a banner.

The answer is increasing contact and proximity and improving connections. It’s not tough. We all do it in person every day. Why not make it work on the web?

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