Writing this piece is my last job before packing my bag and heading off to the OPI European Forum in Berlin, Germany (editor’s note: the European Forum was held just before going to press with this issue of OPI, from 14-16 June). It’s going to be excellent and I’m already anticipating the new business it will generate. Not necessarily because of the conference content – though I’m sure it will be great – but because of the new business opportunities that will come from a conversation at lunch, dinner or in the small hours over a few beers in the bar.
In fact, I had made up my mind to go to the event before I even knew what the agenda was, because it’s the networking that matters to me and I know the right people will be there.
At Focus7, networking is a core pillar of our marketing activity, letting us meet and get to know potential customers. Though we operate in many different sectors, for quality networking events, the business supplies channel is among the best for providing excellent opportunities.
Beyond the various wholesaler and dealer group conferences and the Stationery Show, there are numerous events run in the UK by a number of organisations, including the Livery Company at Stationers’ Hall, the BOSS Federation and of course OPI. They all offer real value, and what I find startling is how few dealers attend some of them!
Clearly, most don’t appreciate the value, which is surprising, as those that do attend tend to be the largest, most progressive and fastest-growing resellers in the industry. And why? Because they learn from each other, from supply chain partners and invited speakers, and mostly because they form relationships that encourage support and collaboration.
This brings me to another great networking opportunity, one of the channel’s best-kept secrets, the Society of Old Friends. I was recently elevated to the position of President of the Society, the 82nd in its 108-year history. Unlike Donald Trump and Emmanuel Macron I have no power, no nuclear button or presidential palace, but I do serve a useful purpose. My role is to enable people in the business supplies sector to network in a uniquely social environment.
The Society of Old Friends provides opportunities for people from all parts of the channel to meet and get to know each other; not as buyer and seller, not as big corporate and small business, not as competitors, but as people. Its constitution sets the purpose of the Old Friends as bringing people in the same trade together for camaraderie and good fellowship, to create relationships that ultimately oil the wheels of business.
We talk a lot in our business about nurturing; the need to understand our target customers and to allow them to know, like and trust us before trying to sell anything to them. That is the approach that the Society of Old Friends enables. Over time, to build relationships that demonstrate your personal and business values so that people will want to help you or work with you.
Person to person marketing
Forget B2B and B2C, this is P2P marketing – Person to Person. Remember what has always been true: people like dealing with people, especially people they like! When we get along, we temper the confrontational aspects of doing business. We want to collaborate with people that we know and like, so our starting point is to look for mutually beneficial opportunities rather than trying to get one over on them, to find ways to help their business or ways theirs can help yours.
The Old Friends meet for Clachans (essentially beers and burgers in a nice pub) and a couple of dinners a year. Everybody leaves their job title at the door, meets old friends and makes new ones. Business is not on the agenda, yet many a productive relationship or significant deal has been initiated at these events.
David Langdown is Sales and Marketing Director of Focus7 International, a marketing and business growth agency; non-executive director of the BOSS Federation; Liveryman at the Stationers’ Company; and President of the Society of Old Friends.