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Wednesday, 28 October 2009 04:39

Common Misconceptions about BNI

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Today I stumbled on a blog post that drove me a little crazy, because it touted just about every complaint I have ever heard about BNI – and most of them are based on false assumptions or misconceptions.

The blog post in question can be found here

First off, both Brent and I have been BNI members for over a year. We have seen both success and struggle with BNI, but overall it has been a positive and, above all, profitable experience for both of us. BNR Branding has seen such success through BNI that we plan our future expansion around BNI; we intend to place salespeople in different chapters as we hire them. BNI works.

I am going to list some of the most common misconceptions about BNI (including a few not found in the aforementioned blog post) and debunk them as well as I can.

  1. BNI Meetings are pointless; I could get more networking done on my own.

    For some people, this is true. If you are a hyper-focused power networker, you can meet a lot of people through free events, set up one-on-one meetings, qualify prospects and make sales, all without attending a silly chapter meeting. In fact, that’s such a great idea, BNI encourages its members to do the same thing to expand your network.

    What BNI provides is the framework for building a set of profitable and, above all, stable relationships with other professionals. The reason they are so stable is because the nature of BNI guarantees you will see this person every week and get to know them and their business very well. This way you can trust each other and they can act as your advocate in front of prospective clients. The 10 minute spotlights are particularly valuable because they let you explain to 20 or 30 people, simultaneously, exactly what you’re looking for in a referral and how best to explain to a prospect why you’re the best professional in your field for them.

  2. BNI Meetings are only about promoting BNI.

    This myth is a bit difficult to debunk, because it is true on the surface. Most of the officers’ canned speeches (the president’s welcome speech, the secretary treasurer’s report, the vice president’s report) are indeed about BNI. Those speeches are there precisely so that visitors will understand exactly what they’re looking at. The rest of the meeting consists of the members talking about their own businesses, either in the form of sixty second commercials, the ten minute spotlight presentation, or in their referrals or testimonials.

    The flipside is that, yeah, he’s right in one sense. As my regional director once told us during training, the meeting is structured precisely to promote BNI to visitors. There are two reasons that things are done this way, as far as I can figure: 1) visitors will not join an organization unless they see it in action. That’s why the big dog and pony show is all about the purpose of BNI and the results (the referrals and closed business). 2) It is impossible to meaningfully network with 30 people in the ninety minute format, so the meeting is mostly reserved for procedural business and the presentation for the benefit of visitors so they know what they’re signing up for. Any successful BNI-er will tell you that the primary work of building relationships and gaining referrals is done outside of the meeting, in one-to-ones, outside networking, and prospecting for your own business. You can’t just come to meetings, drink coffee, and give your 60 seconds. Givers’ gain means you get nothing more than you put in.

  3. BNI is a Multi-Level Marketing Scam.

    This particular blogger didn’t bring this little gem up, but it’s worth addressing.

    BNI is a for-profit corporation. The chapters in different regions are managed by franchise owners. And yes, a portion of your membership dues do end up in somebody’s pockets. If you don’t like this arrangement, I suggest that you do business in Brezhnev’s Russia.

    The important distinction between BNI and an MLM are that the chapter members do not see any direct profit from recruiting. Recruitment is emphasized because more members equals more referrals and more business.

    In return for your membership fee, you get a lot of training and you get access to the referral network which, for the average member, yields thousands of dollars per year in profits.

    This thread gave me a little chuckle. Apparently some BNI chapter out there had its visitors’ day mail completely misinterpreted. I guess they could have been a little clearer about what they meant . . .

  4. The 15 minutes of Open Networking at the Beginning are Pointless.

    This has a weird sort of cognitive dissonance with thinking that unstructured networking is better. This gentleman’s complaint was that he was being hit up for free legal advice. He may have just been in a terrible group, but I wonder if he ever asked people to stop. At networking functions, someone always tries to hit me up for free tech support. If I don’t want to answer their questions, I instead invite them to set up a one-to-one or, if appropriate, set up a formal consultation appointment.

    His passive aggressive solution was to show up 14 minutes late to every meeting. It’s no wonder that he got nothing out of BNI, because the other members probably thought of him as “that anti-social guy who shows up late to everything.” Oops.

  5. Educational Moments are Useless.

    This is just funny to me because, full disclosure, I am my chapter’s “Propaganda Minister.” I have not yet stood up and read a single entry from the website, nor have I ever sung hosannas to Dr Ivan Misner. I write my own material (not always very well, but I do make a point of originality). I find that the chapter is never lacking in important issues that need addressing. I will admit that I have visited other chapters where the coordinator reads off a script and it is excruciating. If you’re not happy with this situation, either transfer chapters (BNI encourages members to visit other chapters and permits transfers), talk to the coordinator about changing things up, or volunteer to take the job yourself. Most chapters reward the additional commitment of a leadership position with more trust and more referrals.

  6. 10 Minute Presentations are Useless.

    Yes, 10 minutes is far too little time to expound on a dense and complicated topic. So don’t try. The purpose of a 10 minute is to give an overview of your business, outline what referrals you’re looking for, and tell a couple of stories that illustrate how you’ve helped clients. Use it as a tool to invite more discussion with other members outside of the chapter. Like all other BNI tools, if you use it correctly, 10 minute presentations will yield results.

The core of good networking is to develop stable, mutually beneficial relationships with professionals who understand your business and who trust you. BNI provides a system that is the best way I’ve seen to develop those bonds and build your business. The system doesn’t work for everyone, but if you are committed and find the right chapter, you can profit from BNI.

Matthew Richardson

Matt Richardson is the Director of Business Development and Head of Customer Service for BNR Branding Solutions.

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