Lead Referral Groups – Are They Worth It?

Jim Luff
Posted on June 15, 2016

I attended a lunch last week presented by Business Network International (BNI).  This was my second visit to explore the possibility of joining this lead sharing group. 

BNI is no small operation.  They boast 7300 chapters in 64 countries representing 190,000 members.  Let’s examine this a little closer.  First of all, you should know it costs money to be a BNI member.  BIG money!  First, there's a $150 application fee just to see if they will “let you join.”  IF you are deemed worthy enough to join the group, you will pay annual dues of $445.  They only allow one vendor of each type in the chapter, so if you are the only ground transportation guy in the room (and odds are high you will be), you’re in luck.  You now get to write a check for $595 and you’re in!

Now that you have paid this amount, you must attend every single meeting, every single week.  Miss six meetings in a year and you get the boot!  You get to buy your own lunch every week too!  That $445 doesn’t get you food or beverage.  You will be encouraged to bring a guest every week, so I will need to pony up another $26 each week for me and a guest.  Chalk up another $1300 a year in actual membership costs.

Each week, these thirteen members pass out business cards to any guests in the room.  They all give a one or two minute speech about their business to the same people they saw last week.  There is one member singled out each week who gets a whopping twenty minutes to tell you everything about his business.  Just think, in 13 weeks, he will get another twenty minutes.

Everyone is encouraged to bring leads for the other 12 members in the room, as well as thank yous and follow-up reports from last week’s given leads.  You are also encouraged to spend one-on-one time during the week with one member and report on those meetings as well.  John visited Sally at her office and they enjoyed a nice afternoon tea and that type of warm, fuzzy, "feel the closeness of our group" kind of stuff.

I have never belonged to a group like this and in case you hadn’t figured it out, I am super skeptical about it.  Here’s how I see it.  Thirteen people in the room writing a check for $445 a year.  That’s $5,785 in dues.  They all paid the application fee for another $1,950.  That’s $7,735 collected by BNI.  The meeting is run by the thirteen members using BNI prepared guidelines.  None of the members are paid members, but rather dues paying members who volunteer to run the meeting.

You might think this whole blog is bashing BNI.  It's not.  I have never spent money like that to sit around with my friends and share leads.  Well, unless you count the thousands of dollars I have spent at Happy Hour buying beer and wine with my friends and exchanging leads because we take care of each other over cocktails.  I am interested in knowing if anyone has ever been a part of a group like this.  Come to think of it, I am going to charge a $100 application fee for those who want to go to Happy Hour with me from now on.  Your thoughts?

Related Topics: Jim Luff, lead generation, limo associations, money, networking, Shop Talk blog

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Comments ( 3 )
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  • Marc Rold

     | about 5 years ago

    I have been a BNI member for nearly 20 years. The business and education we receive in our chapter has more than paid for my membership costs. No it is not cheap, but few worthwhile endeavors are. Most successful chapters are in the 18 - 20 member size. If you don't work the system and aren't serious about the group, the benefits are limited. How much would you pay to be in front of 18 business owners every week who know how many people that you would never get a chance to know, let alone receive a warm referral for. It works.

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