If you have been trying to grow your business and been active in your business networking communities, then you may already be familiar with this concept called lead sharing. It’s basically where a group of businesses come together and help each other generate leads and sales. BNI – Business Networking International – is one of those platforms and is probably most known for their local chapters and members helping each other find leads. Usually, these groups have one seat per industry, have anywhere from ten to fifty members, and meet on a weekly or bi-weekly basis to get to know each other and help each other build business.
When I felt that I really needed to promote LNI Digital Marketing to the local business community in Northern Virginia, I joined chambers of commerce and joined one of their lead sharing groups. It was one of newer groups so I was one of three initial members and we all had to take leadership roles and responsibilities in growing and managing the group.
One of responsibilities I took on was managing the database of all members, guests, leads, business closed, and 1-to-1 meetings that members report at each meeting. So like everyone else, being a techie I am, I created a Google spreadsheet document, created some tabs and columns on how we will be managing the data, and sent a link to other members of the group. Then I started capturing data in the spreadsheet as we conducted each bi-weekly meeting.
Now, fast forward six months, I had a spreadsheet document with over 20 tabs, columns with names that only made sense to me, and colored cells indicating different types of data everywhere. I was spending way too much time managing the spreadsheet and data, and other members of the group didn’t care to touch the spreadsheet let alone trying to understand what’s going on. Yet, the spreadsheet contained so much valuable data that I couldn’t just throw it away.
I did some research online but couldn’t find a solution that would help me overcome those data challenges – there were some generic CRM solutions available but they needed a lot of customizations and configurations. I reached out to other groups and networking organizations but they were all using either Microsoft Excel or Google Spreadsheet.
So I thought I’d build a small online tool that could replace the spreadsheet and standardize the data. Data standardization meant that it’s easy for anyone to manage and understand the data. After all, the lead sharing meetings I went to were all reporting and capturing same data: 1-to-1 meetings, guests invited, leads shared, and business closed.
I built a quick prototype and started using it for the group I belonged to. Then I reached out to a friend who runs a local business networking organization called NeXco with four chapters across Northern Virginia. He told me that what I had built was something that he has been looking for as him and other partners of the organization were trying to build and grow their organization. He’s provided invaluable feedback which I took with me and improved the product over iterations.
With more stable release of ChamberForge, I went to the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce and the Loudoun County Chamber of Commerce. I talked to Alicia from the Reston Chamber and Abby from the Loudoun Chamber. The response has been very positive and I am excited that we are rolling out ChamberForge at these organizations.
My goal with ChamberForge is to really help lead sharing groups and business associations better track data about group activities. With data standardized, it’s easier to manage data and make sense out of data. You can also generate reports and have healthy discussions with your co-organizer or your entire group on how to make the group stronger. It is my belief that having standardized data that everyone can see and understand will lead to greater engagement, improved communications, and greater transparency within the group.
At the moment, ChamberForge is in private beta testing and we are iterating the product based on feedback provided to us. It’s becoming more and more stable as we release updates and prepare for launch on March 20th at the VACCE event. I’m working on documentations these days.
I hope ChamberForge can help many business associations and networking organizations.