What if we used Principles from the World’s Largest Referral Organization on the World’s Largest Professional Network?

 This is not a generic article about “How to make your image stand out in the News Feed”. This article is intended to help you understand, think about and (hopefully!) implement some real changes in the way that you promote and engage customers of your own B2B business. But first, lets look at two very well known professional networks that many will be familiar with.

Business Network International is an American franchised networking organization, founded in 1985. Members meet weekly to discuss business and support each others businesses by sharing referrals.

Launched on May 5, 2003, it is mainly used for professional networking, including employers posting jobs and job seekers posting their CVs.

Will the principles of BNI work on LinkedIn?


The world’s largest referral organization, BNI, and the world’s largest professional network, LinkedIn, have two very important things in common. They provide great networking opportunities and they both offer a way to develop an encouraging amount of higher-quality business leads.
In fact, hate it or love it, in a successful BNI Chapter, members will find 67% of their referrals come from their own Power Groups and the other 33% of their referrals come from the rest of the chapter. Why? Because of BNI’s core principles. In total, there are seven core principles but here are two of them that I feel are the most impactful:

  • Givers gain. The idea that if I am here to help you, then you will help me.
  • Building meaningful relationships.

This core value gives rise to another BNI phenomena, the Power Group/Team, which we will discuss later.

In contrast, LinkedIn doesn’t do too bad either when it comes to the social media side of things. Neil Patel shows that LinkedIn converts about 4 times more for B2B, than the other three major social media platforms combined. Why? Because:

  • It is exclusively made for businesses and professionals. Other social media sites aren’t as specific about their use, which is great for family and friends but not so great for work. Sharing cat videos and photos of you from last weekend will likely not sit well with prospective clients.
  • LinkedIn allows us to target very precisely. We can target by industry, job role, company head count etc. This means we can speak to the exact decision makers we are looking for.

So, if you have a B2B business and are spending lots of time or effort on platforms other than LinkedIn, you might not be getting the maximum return on your time investment!

Now, imagine the magic that could happen if you took the principles of the BNI and used them on LinkedIn?

Consider 2 BNI principles:

1. Social Serving

BNI’s motto is “Givers Gain” and so, not surprisingly, the organization’s members lay a huge emphasis on “What can I give others?” rather than “What can I gain from them?”. A member is required to consistently bring in referrals for other businesses in his/her power group and sacrifice early mornings to meet with the power group (usually) weekly.

Social serving is a similar concept but without the chilly morning meetings. In social serving, you help a prospect whether they can buy from you in a short while or not. Help might look different in different situations but frequently it can involve providing expert advice or guidance.

For example, some time ago, I met a guy at a networking event, here in Dublin. Let’s call him Bob. When I met Bob, he was very interested in the LinkedIn & B2B business services that my company offers. However, he was clear up-front that a purchase decision was months or maybe years away. I could have chosen to end the conversation right there, stash his business card in my wallet and go in search of a prospect that was interested in buying imminently. But I didn’t, I did something completely counter-intuitive. I stayed back, talked and helped him out with some of the challenges that his business was facing – in the knowledge that I wasn’t really going to get anything in return!

Bob took on board the suggestions and ideas that I had suggested for his business and soon started experiencing growth. Because of this, Bob recommended me to several of his business associates and several of them are now loyal clients of mine.

Sometimes it’s easy to become over focused on ‘selling’ and closing deals. If you do, it can often be at the expense of failing to build trust and foster relationships. If your mantra is ‘how can I help you’ rather than ‘how can I sell to you’, you might be surprised at how many more people will actually want to do business with you!

Why is ‘Helping People’ better than ‘Selling to People’?

First and foremost, purchasing decisions are made by people who have thoughts, feelings and most likely ‘problems’ that they need to solve. It is important to form an emotional connection with them and to do this, they have to believe that you genuinely want to help them. It is so important that there has been a recent wave of thought among B2B marketing influencers calling for brands to reconsider the “cost and function” brand experience and make it more personal. I personally vouch for this because I have seen how it has worked for my clients, time and time again.

A Google study looked at how emotional connectedness played out in B2B markets. Out of the B2B customers who had “no connection”, only 5% purchased and only 2% were willing to pay a premium for the product or service. However, out of the B2B customers who had a “high brand connection”, 64% purchased and 60% were willing to pay a premium.

Arguably the most important consideration is that an emotional connection goes a long way towards helping form long-term business relationships.

“…B2B social media marketing, which is aimed more at a long-term campaign of developing the relationships that generate leads…” –Toby Marshall

2. Power group model
Once you have succeeded at positioning your brand in such a way that it really speaks directly to your potential client, approached and even made strategic connections, done some social serving (which are all areas I can provide support in) now you need to put in the effort to nurture your relationships. After all, having these meaningful, strategic relationships in place is the first step to forming your own power group here on LinkedIn.

In the BNI, a power group can very easily give referrals to each other, if you are lucky enough to be in a power group this is the place where you are probably getting the bulk of your referrals. These groups can very easily provide each other referrals. For example, a solicitor is working with his client to prepare a will. The client mentions – in passing – that he thinks that he should probably get some life assurance. The solicitor volunteers that he works with a very capable financial adviser that could help him to figure out his need and refers him to the financial adviser in his power group.

Imagine if LinkedIn worked like this? Imagine if you formed a tight-knit group of related but non-competing businesses, here on LinkedIn and then committed yourselves to seeking out business for one another? I’m not saying be militant about it or ask your network to grace through a few white Christmas like morning meetings but think about it, what if the first people you consistently turned to when giving referrals or seeking a certain service were in your own power group? How much more would your business, and your network grow?

I, firmly, believe these principles can help you be successful on LinkedIn but I am interested in hearing your thoughts. Do you agree? Disagree? Do you have a success story from using these principles? Whatever you’re thinking, I’d love to hear it, so do leave me a comment below.