John Darr thought he knew almost everything he needed to know about building a network and parlaying it into sales.
After all, he has been in the insurance business in Gainesville for 18 years and is well connected in the community.
But Darr, a partner in Darr-Schackow Insurance, found out quickly when he joined the new local chapter of BNI that he had plenty of room for improvement. And he’s eagerly honing his networking and salesmanship skills through weekly group meetings.
“Our agency has a nice group of customers, but BNI is helping me in two ways: deepening my relationships with my existing customers and meeting new people I can help with insurance.”
BNI, which stands for Business Networking International, puts the sales process in a framework that helps members focus on the most important steps in sales: visibility, credibility and profitability, Darr says.
“To be visible, you do things like advertising that let people know you’re there,” Darr says. “Credibility goes beyond that, including word-of-mouth referrals. Profitability comes when you make a sale as a result of a strong referral.”
The Gainesville chapter started in January and now has 57 members. It is part of an international organization, founded by Ivan R. Misner of San Dimas, Ca. in 1985, under the motto “givers gain.” BNI has more than 100,000 members worldwide.
The group only accepts one person per business category so there’s no competition for referrals. And members are expected to actively work to generate business for each other.
“I now have a sales force of more than 50 people who are proactively looking to refer me business,” explains Joel Toigo, a member in the group who recently recently stepped down as chapter president after a promotion at work.
The concept is clearly working, with members already generating more than $289,000 in referral business for each other.
To help members more effectively network and refer, BNI uses books, streaming videos and audios, CDs, podcasts and in-person sessions with regional BNI members.
The local group also emphasizes training at its weekly meetings. Each session includes an education segment, a 30-second “commercial,” in which members describe the specific type of prospect they’re looking for that week, and detailed eight-minute presentations from one or two members.
Toigo, who is an AFLAC disability insurance agent, says the weekly sessions have paid off in several ways, including helping him improve the way he works with his own customers. When clients mention non-insurance problems they may be having, he listens carefully to see if there’s an opportunity to refer them to a BNI member, if that is appropriate. “If I can help them solve a problem that has nothing to do with AFLAC, my credibility goes out the roof. I’m going to keep clients longer,” Toigo says.
In turn, Wachovia commercial banker Rob Deese put Toigo in touch with one of Deese’s clients, who needed disability insurance.
Members of related professions often help each other. For example, Jonathan Dreyer, owner of Dreyer’s Cleaning and Restoration, makes referrals back and forth with members who are remodelers and plumbers.
The local organization screens members in an effort to determine the credibility of new business owners it brings into the fold. “We look at how good of a fit someone is going to be for the organization,” Toigo says.
Visitors are welcome to attend two meetings prior to applying for membership. And if a chapter already has a member occupying the category a visitor is interested in, the visitor can be placed on a waiting list until another local chapter starts.
For more information on the group, contact chapter president Mark Minck at 352-317-7500 or