Is BNI a scam

Recommendation marketing à la BNI: A field report

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Last Tuesday I was at an event of the BNI (Business Network International) for the first time. Customers invited me to take a closer look at the entrepreneurial network. My impressions are mixed, but it was definitely interesting. Therefore, here is my experience report on the BNI.

The BNI sees itself as a network of entrepreneurs and has more than 6,500 local groups worldwide, each with up to 45 members. In each group there is only one member per profession, i.e. only one architect, only one financial advisor, only one carpenter, etc. In the Balthasar group in Cologne I visited, the professional groups were indeed quite mixed, but with a strong focus on the craft. A variety of trades such as carpenters, tilers, drywall builders, electricians, car mechanics and more were represented. Tradespeople also use our CRM software, but based on my BNI experience, I am not sure whether this sales channel is the right one for us. But first about the course of the morning meeting.

The participants of a BNI group meet once a week for breakfast. In contrast to many other series of events, this is not about sociable and non-binding getting to know each other or networking. At BNI, business is not left to chance. This definitely differs the BNI.

What at first glance may have sect-like traits (this prejudice was directly referred to as self-deprecating when I was greeted), presented itself to me as a very structured event with the aim of recommendation marketing. How structured?

  • The event starts at 6.45 am, everyone is on time.
  • There is a fixed, always the same agenda (getting food, 60-second presentation of each individual member, 10-minute presentation of a member, public announcement of the recommendations & sales generated by recommendations from the past week)
  • The recommendations are noted and are therefore 100% binding

Each member introduces himself again every week and names the topics in which he is currently particularly interested. Likewise, the recommendations that he would be happy about. I am now simply assuming that many of the members (cannot) tell something new every week and in this respect I would probably quickly develop signs of fatigue. The car mechanic will probably still be looking for customers for his workshop in a year's time and apart from seasonal features such as the light test in autumn, he doesn't have much news to report. Basically, the 60-second show is just about instilling the other members into the group that there is someone in the group who repairs cars. And wait.

Weekly recommendations

I was particularly surprised by the commitment with which the recommendations are requested from each individual. After a 10-minute presentation by one of the members (e.g. a detailed presentation of the person & company), it takes turns and each member names the recommendations that they have made in the past week. In addition, thank you for the turnover that you could generate on the basis of a recommendation: "Thanks to Peter Schmitz for a turnover of 650 euros". But that's not all - every recommendation and every turnover is documented. A copy of the form from above goes to the recommended person and one goes to the management of the chapter (this is what a local BNI group is called). In this way, each group can report on a weekly basis how much additional sales have been generated by the group's commitment.

Basically, I can imagine that the BNI concept will work and that some of the members will really generate new orders as a result. The craftsmen in particular can do a lot together in a group. They recommend each other and thus offer their customers an integrated solution. There were many such recommendations during my visit. Of course, the graphic designer of the BNI Chapter has a job with up to 45 members that he gets alone within the group.

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Making recommendations means trust

On the other hand, I am not completely convinced and enthusiastic either. I only make recommendations if I am really convinced of the person I am recommending. In the BNI Group, however, there is deliberately only one representative per profession, so that I only recommend the chapter's lawyer when looking for legal advice in my environment. In this respect, I also asked a BNI member what happens if I do not want to recommend someone with a clear conscience - for example because I have not had a good experience with their work. According to his statement, the group ensures a selection in that the industry representatives within a chapter have to be re-elected / confirmed by the others on a regular basis. This is to ensure that there are no black sheep in the group. That presupposes a fairly clearly good or bad experience of the other with the performance of the individual. At first I would doubt whether it always works that way.

I am also not sure whether it is right to “force” recommendations. However, this impression is gained through the social pressure in the BNI group. A certain pressure cannot be denied when the individual is asked for recommendations on a weekly basis.

My conclusion on the BNI

In contrast to other events that I attend from time to time (Likemind, Startup Breakfast), the BNI has a very high level of commitment. As a permanent member, the others rely on you, after all, they want to benefit from the recommendations. In addition to the weekly meeting of almost 2 hours, you have to take additional time to find possible recommendations and initiate them. In addition, one is encouraged to arrange regular face-to-face meetings with other members in order to get to know each other better and to be able to recommend them better.

For many, the procedure, the pressure of recommendations (and perhaps also the early time) will simply be "too much", especially in terms of the weekly frequency.

Especially entrepreneurs with little experience in sales and the marketing of their ideas can also use the regularity of the BNI meetings to practice and perfect their corporate image and appearance. And practice makes perfect, as is well known. I would say the same about Balthasar's BNI participants. Actually everyone has experienced their 60-second self-presentation there and got to the point.

For my part, I won't be a regular visitor to a BNI group, but I might visit different groups at irregular intervals to meet new people. A weekly, 2-hour meeting with the same people would be too much of a hassle for me, even if we could win several new customers for our address management every week. But that may be due to our business model and my personal time management.

In addition to the weekly meetings, there is also a social network only for BNI members called BNI-Connect. I have not been able to gain experience on this because I have not become a member of a BNI chapter.

I hope my BNI experiences help you. The best thing to do is try it out yourself and make up your own mind.

If sales and the acquisition of new customers play an important role in your company, I recommend our blog series on this topic, especially the part about the sales pitch and our interview with an expert in telephone acquisition

If you would like to deal further with recommendation marketing, then I recommend the book "The new recommendation marketing" by Ms. Schüller as well as our series on the subject of marketing in SMEs in general.

There are 17 comments on this article.

Harald Graf on Thursday, June 22nd, 2017

Quite an interesting report. In the 25th year of my self-employment, I was invited to a BNI event. The structured, the prescribed process alienated me from the first moment. Still, I filled out an application and joined. Why? Because even with a solid and good customer base, you would do well not to rest on your laurels. Normal acquisitions, like any self-employed person, also cost money. Just for the record: The annual fee is EUR 925, - net. In return, you get access to the system and are entitled to attend all workshops and training courses offered by BNI in the region free of charge. In addition, you get access to all other local groups. Incidentally, breakfast is paid extra. Did it do anything? Yes, absolutely. Participation is not a guarantee of sales. As in real life, you first have to gain people's trust and get them to understand what you are doing. The difference is that the people here are there just to listen to you. Major advantage. In the end, the membership fee paid off for us after a few months. This network is also based on mutual knowledge and trust. Most of the members of our chapter have been with us for many years. But everyone went to great lengths to take me with them and integrate me as a newcomer. And when I look at what else I have spent on contract acquisition, the membership fee is really not too much to ask. What looked so strange at first is why it all works. Here, recommendation marketing is carried out in a highly professional and structured manner. The aim is not to be a breakfast get-together with occasional business tips, but rather a stringently functioning construct that actually produces sales. The aim is to invest the time invested as profitably as possible. So far: I'll be extending it soon.

Karin Armbruster on Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017

Hello, I have already been able to take part in BNI chapter meetings several times. Yes, I too found the highly structured process and the standardized agenda items strange at first. But if you realize that there are lots of busy self-employed people here, then the concept opens up to you. The strict structure guarantees that the meetings always end on time and that the entrepreneurs can reliably plan their daily appointments or open their shop on time. The standardized agendas ensure that the voluntary chapter leaders can fulfill their tasks with as little effort as possible. The basic principle "whoever gives, wins" explains everything perfectly. The focus here is not on your own company, but on the chapter members. That opens up the view, lets you think outside the box. In the one-to-one conversations you get to know the others, their philosophy and ideas and their companies. Everyone is aware that if they are recommended and provide a service for a customer, that work is closely linked to the company that made the recommendation. As an example: If a carpentry company recommends a roofer to its customer, then the roofer knows that any lack of performance falls back on the carpentry company. And that drives the companies to adhere to a jointly defined performance standard. None of this has to do with coercion, sect or anything like that. Entrepreneurs have recognized what applies in many areas, together we are stronger. All chapter members benefit from exchange, cooperation and training. They learn from and with one another. Due to the relaxed and friendly atmosphere, every meeting is a positive experience full of energy. And of course there is plenty of space for free networking during the preceding breakfast.

Frank on Saturday, 09/30/2017

The system itself is good, I see the organization behind it rather critically. I myself have been with the BNI for several years and would like to say that it is predestined for craftsmen. Disadvantage: Very high expenditure of time and, if you see the hours as not billable, which they definitely are not, a year of BNI is quite expensive. Example: 1100 € annual fee 600 € a year breakfast, 3 hours per week for the meeting, with an hourly wage of 50 € this makes 7200 € then the compulsion to participate in trainings, per training about 5 hours then costs me a place at the BNI approx. 10000-12000 € per year. This does not include things like fuel and food costs in the training. If you as a craftsman want to have these costs included, we are talking about sales ONLY through this group of 60,000 €. If you want to earn € 12,000 more, we're talking about a turnover of € 120,000 generated by this group. That hardly brings a group together for every member. Potential interested parties are then led to believe that the group's turnover is divided by the number of members. Total mistake! Furthermore, there are simply too many "air pumps" in these groups, such as all these coaches and image consultants. They bring the group 0.0 sales. (My own experience) There are also members who see the system as the last straw to maintain their independence. They just want to tap. Then I see 2 levels in the BNI. One level is the paying members. The other level is the "members", from partner director upwards. as far as I know, they do not pay any contribution during their "term of office". They are responsible for keeping the paying pack on track and squandering their money. The whole thing will then be posted on Facebook, as happened recently. Then you could see how the "executive directors" met for SUSHIFUTTERN in Mallorca. That was then cheekily called a "concentrated exchange of experiences". A slap in the face for all paying members. You can also exchange experiences in Bielefeld! The city doesn't actually exist. I'm curious to see when they will meet to exchange experiences on a safari in Kenya and we will pay for it. I myself can only say: If you have a company that is already doing well, has the money for it, enjoys networking and doesn't care about these would-be directors, this system makes perfect sense for craft businesses. I would strongly advise against all others.

Frank Dreesbach on Tuesday, October 2nd, 2018

I heard about BNI from colleagues three years ago, so the first invitations came. Today I had an invitation letter in my mailbox. My reservations were heightened, which was probably not what the sender wanted. The fact that introductory rounds and cultivated contacts contribute to improving one's own communication may still be the best aspect. What bothers me a lot is that I have to make compelling recommendations to an industry representative who was lucky enough to be invited and who has joined the network because that's exactly what they hope for. And to have to make an immense effort as described above. Therefore, I believe that BNI is suitable for entrepreneurs with several employees who, on the one hand, have time and money to spare and, on the other hand, want to better utilize the store and thus (additionally) secure its existence. I cannot imagine that a recommendable sole proprietorship currently has to and can spend the time to win new customers than to process the massive upcoming orders quickly, with high quality and profitably. When I read about director cruises, I really don't care about "business". My assessments, both positive and negative, are based on shared experiences in the past. The positive contacts are also cultivated here, because we enjoy the common ambition and exchange. Tinkering a business idea out of this is consultant content.

Nick on Saturday, March 16, 2019

Most of the comments are correct, especially the statements about what happens to the contribution monies that are used by the BNI franchisees, among other things, to be celebrated over a sumptuous dinner menu in a sophisticated setting. One scene for me was at the MET (Membership Success Training) with the southern Bavarian franchisee / director O. Tru. on objection >> new members 'to spare something', replied: Statement NO, the new members must be encouraged by the assigned coach to report 2-3 visitors every week and make 2-3 recommendations. >> Because as a footballer, if I buy a striker, for example, he knows what he has to do and what I expect from him! Well, tellingly, new members are used to pay membership fees and to expand a kind of pyramid scheme.As previously written in the posts, a large part of the members consists of craftsmen who say here (in the greater Munich area) at the 60sec round of introductions >> I will accept orders again at the earliest in 6-9 months! And the published, allegedly awarded recommendation sales: Everyone knows such statistics: >> you write in what someone wants to see / hear; it cannot be proven. B.NI. It is certainly a good networking opportunity for self-employed starters and for those who have not yet managed to establish themselves (which craftsman who does a good job is underutilized in the large area and, conversely, is desperately looking for staff, not orders) You sign an agreement for 1 year and can decide to extend after 9 months.

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