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Jacky Sherman

The Consultant's Consultant

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Does It Really Take 10,000 Hours To Master Networking?

That's five and a half years of solid practice ...


Posted by Jacky Sherman on 17/01/2024 @ 8:00AM

Most small businesses rely on referrals to gain their best clients. Yet most invest very little in acquiring the skills necessary, let alone refining them through continuous learning and practice ...


Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers: The Story of Success, stated that to become an elite master of anything requires 10,000 hours of practice. Now, this statement has been challenged by many psychologists and we lay-people can intuitively recognise that there needs to be more in place than to simply practice.

"No matter how many hours training and practice we put in, it's a fair bet that most of us would never beat Usain Bolt, win Wimbledon or sing like Whitney Houston!"

But it's also a fair bet that, by putting in the time and effort, we can master the skills of referral marketing. I know this because of my own experience as someone who has moved from being too frightened to enter the room at my first networking event to someone who others turn to for advice on the subject.

I recently was improving my own skills by attending 10 days training with my worldwide colleagues in San Francisco. It was truly awe-inspiring to be in a room with so many masters of referral marketing, yet anecdote after anecdote told of their long journey to achieve this and everyone was there to improve still further.

So this week I thought I'd tease apart Malcolm Gladwell's assertions and apply them to referral marketing. Along the way, I will give you hope that you don't have to wait for 5 and a half years to get success!

On the other hand, I add the cautionary note that you are unlikely to achieve great results unless you put more into it than attending the odd workshop or turning up at the occasional breakfast meeting.

  1. Talent

    Whatever skill you're trying to perfect, everyone starts in a different place. There are child prodigies in every field and there are people to whom networking or success in business seems to come naturally. Yet I have not read one inspirational story by a business leader, artist or top-level performer who hasn't said that success came through hard work and constantly improving their skills.

    Their 10,000 hours just takes them higher up the ladder than others which was a point well made in Malcolm's response to his critics in The New Yorker, August 21st 2013.

  2. Motivation

    What these success stories have in common is the motivation to succeed. They love what they're doing. Whether driven by the results or the process, they want to do it. Returning to the child prodigy again, the young piano player spends hour upon hour playing the piano because for them that's fun. No one has to make them do the practice.

    Make sure you love what you do in business and if you want to get business by referrals, it's essential to love working in collaboration with others.

  3. Right knowledge

    Of course, to get better at anything you have to be doing the right things in the first place. Einstein's famous quote springs to mind: "the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results". Networking and referral marketing abounds with myths, most of them not based on any evidence.

    Ensure you're learning the right stuff in the first place! And equally important, work with someone who can challenge you if you're acquiring bad habits.

    Can I ask you a question here? Who would you rather trust to give you the right knowledge and support you? Someone who has trained with a recognized master in their field, where innovative techniques are tried out and tested on thousands of people, or the bloke you're chatting to over coffee at breakfast?

  4. Immersion in that knowledge

    This is where the 10,000 hours come in as the information needs to be repeated over and over to make it stick. There are two points to make on this:

    • Firstly, in any training session, no matter how good the material or the trainer, most people only retain about 18% of the information given. Notes and handouts help, but only if you revisit them time and time again.

    • Secondly, a point that Malcolm re-iterates (immersion again) in his article in The New Yorker is that complex skills need more hours than simple skills.

    Referral marketing is all about people interacting with other people and, as anyone who is in a relationship will tell you, you cannot get more complex than that. Apart from the sheer volume of knowledge to take on board, referral marketing is a process and you need to apply it all to achieve mastery.

    Often the success or failure hangs on just adding in an essential ingredient. Constantly revisiting the material and process adds in the missing pieces.

  5. Practice, practice, practice

    I have a saying: "None of what I teach works ... unless you do it."One of the most common reasons for not achieving mastery is to cherry-pick what you actually put into practice.

    Immersion in the material will keep you on track and remembering that you are not insane and actually love your job will give you the courage to try the areas where you struggle. These are the areas that don't come naturally to you so will take more effort and time to get right.

    As a great believer in working with your strengths rather than focusing on your weaknesses, I advise that this is where your coach can really help you find your way. It is the area where the real masters put in the hours that tip them into excellence.

Where are you going to find the 8 hours a day to do all that then? The wonderful thing about Referral Marketing is that it is not an extra burden to add to your already full working day. Done masterfully, it is simply the way you do business. So every moment that you are working (and often when you are not) you are practising your referral marketing.

I also love the technique that was demonstrated so beautifully with the British cycling team, where consistently improving by 1% has a cumulative effect. If you want an example of putting in the hours to achieve excellence that's the one I would choose.

I did promise you at the start of this blog that you would not have to wait 5 and a half years to get referrals. I leave the last word to Lao-tzu: "a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step." So every step towards mastery will improve your results.

Returning to a sporting analogy, at first you will win your club championship, then the nationals, then the Commonwealth Games or European Championship until finally the gold medal at the Olympics will hang around your neck.

So this week's referral tip is this: To master your referral marketing don't stint on your personal development:

  • Invest your time and money wisely so you acquire the right knowledge.

  • Hone your skills with a good coach to retain that knowledge and prevent bad habits slipping in.

  • Practice it continually throughout your working day.

You'll get better and better at it and just imagine where you'll be in 5 and a half years time?

Until next time ...



Would you like to know more?

If anything I've written in this blog post resonates with you and you'd like to discover more, it may be a great idea to give me a call on 07970 638857. Let's have an initial chat over a coffee and see how I can help you.

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