HANDLING OVERLAPPING PROFESSIONS IN A NETWORKING GROUP

BNI Example: Fundamental to the BNI model, and two of the most important places BNI adds value to the networking process, are

  • the structure, which is time-proven and yields consistent results
  • the exclusive seats

At the same time, a chapter thrives off of visitors, and there’s even a standard for how many visitors we want to bring. So, how do we invite a visitor who OVERLAPS with one of those seats, meaning they do the roughly the same thing as a current chapter member?

First, the visitor needs to understand that each member of BNI is an EXCLUSIVE seat holder. A chapter will not have two acupuncturists or two personal injury attorneys. They might divide the map in some way (such as a commercial real estate broker and a residential one), but not where their primary service is the same, for the same audience, and for the same purpose.

1. CONSULT THE SEAT HOLDER IN ADVANCE

Ideally, before we even INVITE someone with overlap to a chapter meeting, we ask the seat holder how to handle it. That way, we can prepare our guest.

If we’re existing members visiting another chapter, we should always check the chapter’s member roster first, and approach any existing seat holder with whom we overlap before deciding to give a commercial. That duty is a matter of courtesy, and maintains good relations among chapters, whose members often make up our expanded networks.

If we’re exploring BNI as possible members, honoring the rules of the road is one of the ways we show we’re serious about abiding by BNI’s structure and commitment to integrity.

2. THE SEAT HOLDER IS GIVEN PREFERENCE

overlap BNIIf a photographer shows up to a meeting, he does NOT give a commercial UNLESS the existing photographer has indicated there’s no conflict. Sometimes there might not be, but the seat holder decides.

That’s true even if the visitor does the same thing but calls it something else, or if the visitor has a “gateway service” the seat holder doesn’t offer. We don’t have a wedding photographer with a conflict give a commercial about the wedding planning service she provides. Most of us offer *some* kind of introductory service, and we’ve committed to dealing fairly and honestly with our networking partners.

Instead, we consult the seat holder to see if there’s a conflict, not just assume it’s OK on our own. Occasionally, we even learn something new about the seat holder’s business model. Very often, when an overlapper follows the rules and doesn’t give a commercial, the two end up building a *stronger* relationship and collaborating.

3. GREY AREAS RECEIVE TACT AND SENSITIVITY

What if it’s a wedding photographer, and the chapter’s photography seat holder doesn’t do weddings? We still defer to the seat holder on whether that’s a conflict.

Whether there’s overlap for membership *application* purposes, is a different question than for giving a commercial. BNI has very clear rules about how Membership Committees handle overlap, and decisions are up to the Committee, not the seat holder, though the seat holder’s input will likely play a role in the decision. For purposes of visiting, the deference to the member is appropriate to the fact that one of the parties actually does hold a current seat in the chapter, and the visitor does not.

4. ERR ON THE SIDE OF THE SEAT HOLDER

If we can’t reach the seat holder prior to the meeting, we err on the side of the chapter member, and properly PREPARE our guest NOT to give a commercial. Otherwise, it puts the visitor in an awkward position too, with potential for unnecessary embarrassment or confusion.

The standard of making guests feel welcome is not about whether or not they give their commercial, but whether or not we’ve educated them properly and what to expect. It’s the misfiring of expectations that creates discomfort, however rarely that may occur. When we invite someone to our ‘house’, we tell them what to bring, what time to arrive, and who else is coming. Part of the reason we bring visitors is to show them how BNI works, because it needs to work well for *them* when they join.

5. OVERLAP OR NOT, WE EDUCATE OUR VISITORS

inviting visitors to BNIWe don’t just invite someone to BNI and throw them in the deep end. We prepare guests and subs properly, or it doesn’t count. There’s a distinction, but not a difference in educating visitors when there’s no overlap (bring cards, prepare a commercial), and when there is overlap (recognize the existing seat holder with respect, and just say you’re glad to attend and thank your host).

Bringing someone to a BNI meeting won’t make them a BNI member. People don’t go to meetings, because they love meetings – at least not people from this planet. Who knows, in the infinite universe, what weird and fascinating sentient life forms exist. But here in New York City, at 7am in the morning, it’s the committed who show up. We become committed by learning how this networking thing works and building great relationships with the people in a particular chapter. That starts with the visitor’s host.

6. THE STANDARD IS THERE FOR A REASON

Of course, all visitors are welcome; but overlappers don’t give a commercial. When BNI standards are implemented, upheld, and maintained consistently with new member education, mentorship, the process just works. In chapters where “it happens all the time”, the tension gets mitigated by stepping up and being part of the solution. On the big things, successful chapters agree, and follow the model. Most of the really great things about BNI aren’t original to us; we got them from successful networkers with decades and countless dollars under their belts.

7. CHAPTERS VARY ON HOW THEY IMPLEMENT

Lastly, a visitor may have been to other BNI chapters, and found they differ in small ways. Some have an overlap script. “I’m Ansel Adams. Glad to be here. The Photography seat’s taken, but thanks for having me as a guest.” No deviation, no slipping in a special offer or what sets Ansel apart.” Other chapters are more lax. Some are more strict, and visitors (overlap or not) don’t even participate in the “I Have” portion. How often someone has slipped in an “I have a discount right now on my photography services” probably determines the level of firmness. The Breakfast of Champions is committed to leading the way, not just following behind – so, while our implementation might differ slightly, our commitment to honored BNI principles is unrivaled.

8. USE YOUR CHAPTER RESOURCES

However they differ in implementation, the agreed structure & the exclusive seat are what set BNI apart. We preserve it by making very practical and tangible that “displaying a positive attitude” we commit to when we become full members. If you’re in doubt about how to coach someone you’re bringing as a visitor, reach out to the chapter’s membership committee or mentorship coordinator, whose role is precisely to help you navigate the waters of the crazy effective networking approach of BNI.

If you’re a visitor, and you don’t KNOW if there’s overlap, just get there a few minutes early and ask the person greeting visitors. If there is, don’t worry – just ask them to introduce you to the seat holder, and have a chat. It’ll be a great connection for you.

Originally published at BNI 45 NYC.

Daniel DiGriz

Daniel DiGriz is a corporate storyteller and Digital Ecologist® at MadPipe, which provides creative direction, marketing leadership in marketing, and campaign direction for firms that want a stronger connection with their audience. A Digital Ecologist® applies strategic principles from both natural and digital ecologies to help organizations thrive across multiple ecosystems. Daniel hosts podcasts, speaks at conferences, and his ideas have appeared in Inc, SmartBlog, MediaPost, Forbes, and Success Magazine.
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