When I walk in at 7:05 am, I have an open mind about the whole thing. But much like second-hand accounts of movies never compare to seeing it with your own eyes, second-hand accounts of BNI just don’t compare to experiencing it for yourself.
Having read Brandon Rossen’s post about BNI, I am well prepared for the worst….or so I think.
What follows is my personal account of Visitor’s Day at the local BNI chapter.
As I enter Cardinal Vally Rehab hospital through the visitor entrance I try to maintain a positive attitude. “What’s the worst that could happen?”, I think. I’d meet a few local professionals and dust off my networking skills, right? I should get back in my car.
Following the BNI signs to the basement, I find myself in a conference room complete with power point presentation, registration desk, catered breakfast, and approx 40 local business professionals. It has more of a convention feel than a networking meetup.
With my recommended allotment of 50 business cards oddly bulging from my pant pocket, I approach the welcome committee. After four chapter members introduce themselves and awkwardly force their business details on me, I complete my visitor’s registration information and conspicuously attached a name tag to my person. Hmm….would they noticed me slipping out this early?
Just as I’m about to Houdini through the exit, my “sponsor” finds me and greets me with a level of enthusiasm that would irritate Mother Theresa at any hour let alone the ungodly 7 am hour. Now what? Do I stay and give it a chance? Or listen to my bullshit meter and abort? *Sigh*
As I take my seat, the regional chapter director starts off with a welcome and works the slides on the power point. Wait, we have to give 45-second pitches for out business in front of everyone? Yup. 2 slides in the agenda states “Chapter members give a 45-second commercial”, “Visitors tell the group in 45 seconds who they are, who invited them and what their business does.”
“To thine own self be true.” – Shakespeare
I am not a fan of public speaking. I’ve done it before, but I’m just not practiced enough to have a natural comfort with it. Maybe one day, but not this day.
Imagine my excitement. I’m given 5 minutes prep time to think of something to say in front of complete strangers I have no interested in doing business. My elevator pitch is 15 seconds. They can eat the 30-second gap……done. I should leave. I don’t.
I get up for a few seconds, tell the group my name, what I do and asked them a question. “Show of hands, who has a ‘me too’ business?” No hands go up. Not bad engagement for 5 minutes of prep time. FML.
One thing I have prepped for prior to the meeting was looking over each chapter member’s website. They are all terrible. “We are the greatest!”, “We’ve been in business for 20 years!”, “Customer service is our priority!”. Guess what…that’s a ‘me too’ business. What’s in it for your customers?
A ‘me too’ business is any business where someone in your profession looks at your or your look at them and can say, ‘me too!’. They ALL had ‘me too’ businesses. But the BNI Koolaid somehow made these people feel empowered. Who needs a Unique Selling Proposition, right? Idiots.
Feeling great about yourself inspires confidence, but alone does not give your customers a reason to do business with you.
I wrap up my few seconds of misery by stating my value proposition. “Marketing is about creating a powerful message for the right market reached through the right media. I solve that puzzle for my ideal clients.”
Nailed it! I was proud of that. Surveying the group…..my words hit them like a Labrador owner doing a high pitched doggy voice. Whatever. Time to leave.
I was third from the last and only had to politely sit through 3 minutes of awkward presentations. Glad I wasn’t the only nervous one there.
Following the Public Speaking 101 intros, the summary pitch of BNI was next. 6,600 chapters…blah blah…..6.4 billion in leads exchanged worldwide in 2014….we’re the Amway of networking…blah blah. Ok, now I can leave. Wait, what?
Just as I think things are wrapping up comes the “I Have” section. Chapter members are required to bring leads to the meetings each week…..and stand and announce them. Wtf?
As this forced back-patting goes on a black plastic box with sections for each chapter member is passed around. A few members gleefully collected slips of paper from their section while the majority disappointingly pass the box down the line empty handed.
This train wreck is happening in slow motion.
The forced Ponzi-style lead exchange ends. I collect my things to leave.
Before I can exit my chair, a chapter member forces an application on me along with 20+ business cards collected from other visitors (people I have no interest in doing business with). I reluctantly accept the package.
I am then asked to surrender my stack of business cards.
“No”, I reply.
You’d think I just ran over his dog and lit it on fire.
The regional director pipes up again, interrupting any additional awkward exchange with Captain Business Cards.
The director says it’s time for more networking. Finally, I can leave.
I pass another visitor as I sprint for the door who politely asks me, “You joining?”.
“Not a chance in hell, my friend.”
“Me neither….here’s my card.”, he replies.
I dump the business cards and BNI application in the wastepaper basket at reception on my way out. I wonder if any pubs are serving this early……
My positive takeaway is this. For Real Estate Agents, CPA, Attorneys, Mortgages brokers and other local only professions it may have value.
It’s an outdated source of leads for any business working beyond the boundaries of the town you live in. At least in my opinion.
Looking back I am ever more clear on just how much God loves us……and has a fantastic sense of humor.