Givers Do Not Gain – The End of the BNI Road

I finally pulled the plug on our 8 month BNI horror show.  To sum up; it was a complete waste of time. If you are thinking of joining this group please reconsider unless you sell something very generic that nearly everyone can use (retail banking, retail insurance, cable tv, maybe financial planning) if you sell into the higher cost B2B market forget it.  High level corporate decision makers don’t come to BNI meetings.

 Since my second week in BNI (Business Networking International) my business partner has been telling me it’s a bullshit cult and that I’m wasting my time with it.   My response; you don’t know that lets give it six months and then do the numbers and it isn’t worth the time I’ll bail.  For the record she was 100% correct.  BNI sucks. 

 I know most of you are ADHD and won’t make it to the end of this blog post.  Lets get to the performance results for our chapter right off;

 Here are the rough numbers for our chapter;

 $60,000             Total Chapter Sales

30                      Number of Members (average)

$2000.00           Per Member Earnings (average)

$ 600.00            BNI Dues Per Year

$1400.00           BNI Earnings After Expenses

192                    Member Hours Spent on BNI Activities per year (average)

$ 7.92                Ave member earnings per hour

 $7.92 an hour!  Sign me right the fuck up.  I sit in these god awful meetings week after tortuous week listening to the most nonsensical of bullshit being spewed by members;  “BNI gives me multiple orgasms”  “I lost 50 pounds since I joined BNI”  (That is a lie there are a LOT of fat fucks in these meetings –editor)  “After only 3 months of BNI my kids are no longer ugly)  Just complete non-sense about how much BNI has helped them with their business, social life, whatever the hell.  Then I get these very same people together in for the 1-ON-1 meetings (always at a bar so to have drink close at hand) and ask them about their BNI success and it’s always the same song; “I haven’t closed shit because of BNI.  I’m not going to re-up next year.”   Then why in the hell are you spouting off in the BNI meeting about how much BNI has helped you?

 You go to church and they pump you full of bullshit but you can’t prove or disprove any of it.  The faithful (insane -editor) claim there is a god and it’s all real.  The rational (sane –editor)claim that believing in bronze age fairy tails is retarded and the burden of proof is on the person claiming the existence of a supernatural benevolent spaceman.  Because of the unknowns neither side can prove their case.  That’s the beauty of running a religion.  You can make all sorts of ridiculous claims and as long as you have enough followers believing you who is to say you are wrong!  But BNI for all of its cult overtones at the end of the day is a sales channel which can be quantified with simple math.  My math says that it comes up short for most of its members.

 Quality of Membership

“I DON’T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER”. – Groucho Marx

The business group that you should belong to doesn’t want you as a member.  You’ll have to lie, cheat or bribe your way in.  That’s because positions in these groups are desirable and profitable.  From what I’ve seen BNI (my chapter anyway) would let anyone in that had $400 and no felonies.  They go though the motions of checking your references to make it look like you are joining something special but after the initial pageantry they pretty much let anyone in.  If BNI were a woman her personal ad would read;

“BBW, (Big Beautiful Woman – code for hard up fat chick –editor) 40, no kids.  I like long walks on the beach and all you can eat buffets.  I’m looking for a man ready to start an family.  Must have operational car and a full set of teeth.

Low fucking standards.  Thats the problem. My chapter would literally take anyone.  $400, pulse, no recent felonies (was it violent?) you’re in buddy.  When you are willing to accept anyone you get everyone you don’t want in the group.  Sure there are a few professionals, a few members that own real businesses.  But by and large the group was made up of down on their luck sales people, one man work from home deals, startups based on horribly flawed ideas, part time businesses, housewives selling Avon, Mona Via, Avocare, etc and one completely insane woman who as near as I could tell would do any household chore for money but claimed to be a gardener.  She showed up to the meetings more than not with potted plants.  She’d stand up for her sales manager minute and show her plants.  And the membership committee gave me shit for not bringing enough visitors.  I’m really going to bring in the CEO of one of these firms we deal with and this bitch is going to stand up looking like she combed her hair with a pillow and pop out a rhododendron?  No friggin’ way.

Here is what you won’t see a lot of in most BNI meetings; Corporate decision makers and multi million dollar business owners.   Exactly the people we need to survive.

I Have (a fake referral for you) Time

“It’s morally wrong to allow a sucker to keep his money.” - W.C. Fields 

The I have time!  This is where every member of the BNI group has to stand up and tell the other members in the group what they brought to the table.  There are three things that you are allowed to have;

 

  1. A Business Referral / Lead for a fellow member – (usually fictional)
  2. A visitor introduction (join up sucker!)
  3. A touching story about how BNI touched your otherwise banal life.

 

From the member’s perspective the referral system couldn’t be worse.  BNI has created an incentive system that is guaranteed to generate a large quantity of very low quality sales leads.  Members are put on the spot by having to stand in front of the group to tell everyone what they’ve brought.  This creates an implied quota.  But you aren’t judged on the on the amount of revenue that you generate for your fellow members but on the quantity of leads that you bring in.

 So why would you create an incentive system that will generate the highest number of low quality leads possible?  Because all that churn shows well to visitors.  If stripped away all the crap referrals and members just passed the solid, legit good quality leads there would be maybe one or two referrals per meeting.  No one is going to apply for membership if they see reality!  30 people here and one person closed business?  Fuck that!  I’m out of here!  But when the visitor sees 20 to 30 leads passed it looks impressive.  They want in on some of that gravy.  Of course they have no way of knowing that the amount of actual business transacted was actually minuscule and really most of the BNI referrals generated aren’t even worth the follow up call.

The End of the Line

If you are considering joining this group I would recommend that you reconsider.  While BNI was profitable to a very small number of members in our group for the majority it was not.  If you sell something at the retail level that virtually everyone needs to buy; banking, insurance, cable tv, you might find some success.  If you sell at the very low end of the B2B market you might also find some marginal success.  However if you sell into the mid-range B2B market you will probably be wasting your time as very few of those caliber people attend BNI meetings.

30 Responses to “Givers Do Not Gain – The End of the BNI Road”

  1. Chris Moran said:

    Nice writing style. Looking forward to reading more from you.

    Chris Moran

  2. Sobchak said:

    Pure genius - you should write more. Contact me and i’ll link you to my blog - we’re of similar style.

    But I don’t want to put my shit up here because I’m sure some BNI nerd is out there ready to push me out of the closet.

  3. Richard said:

    BNI works for some and not for others. It can vary wildly based on which chapter you are a member of.

    In my experience you get out what you put in. I work VERY hard for my fellow members, who I both like and trust. In return they work hard for me too.

    Last year I personally made £30000 from BNI. The group that i’m a member of turned over nearly £700000.

    Rich.

  4. Grumpy Nerd said:

    Rich,

    You must have an exceptional chapter. I just got the year end sales numbers in for my former chapter. (I’ll post when I get a little free time) roughly it came out to $95,000 for 35ish members.

    Thats about $2700 per member.

    $52 a week.

    $13 an hour.

    This is typical for BNI chapters in our area. If our chapter was doing anywhere near $1M/yr in sales I would have stuck with it.

  5. Peter said:

    High ticket items in my experience were the people who made the most.
    EX Real estae agent can make $10,000 with 1 client mortgage loan officer the same ,
    to a medical professional a client can be worth tens of thousands of they get sick enough.

  6. p fortin said:

    Hi there,

    I have been a member for four+ years. lots of good referrals that led to a lot of good income. However, I have to say, I get tired of drinking the koolaid. I have spent lots of time scouring the internet for the disgruntled and the unsatisfied and for whatever reasons, there is relatively little out there from past and present members. I personally think there is something odd about that.

    The most recent unpleasant dish to be served from BNI corporate is the insistance to sign “trade secret” and “non-compete” clauses in very strongly pushed contract. After asking the higer-ups in my BNI koolaid line what the BNI mothership categorized all its members as (I was told we are considered BNI’s Clients) I was ready to laugh at doctor Ivan Meisner as he made more koolaid. What legitimate business model requires not only its employees to sign non compete contracts, but also its CUSTOMERS??!!

    Then, it dawned on me… BNI is only a business to the corporate talking heads and the franchise owners. To all the devout congregation members, we are nothing more than a private club. We are told to run BNI like a business, but have none of the legal and practical recourse because we are nothing more than a club. You know like babysitter’s club or Mickey mouse. Why do I stay on you ask… Well, as I said, I cannot deny the revenue it has made for me. I guess I will continue to hold my nose and drink from the grail of Meisner and roll my eyes as I drive to the bank. BTW, I did not sign the contract…Damn the man!!

  7. Grumpy Nerd said:

    Hey Phil.

    It’s a business thats run like a cult religion and marketed and sold as a cooperative. But like most religions (and charities) it’s really a business. And if you understand that it’s a business and that you are really entering into a vendor-client relationship you’ll quickly become tired of their antics.

    What vendor do you have that dictates your behaviour, requires that you sell for them, and doesn’t allow you to be critical of it’s performance?

    In terms of sales performance Google’s Adwords product closed about 10,000% more business than did BNI for the same money and a fraction of the effort. And with Google I didn’t have to go to a single meeting at 7:30am.

    Why isn’t there more critical talk about BNI’s actual chapter performance? Probably most business owners chalk BNI up to a failed marketing effort (like direct mail) and move on to the marketing plan. Who has time to write about it on the Internet? I know the only reason I put up this blog was to experiment with Wordpress.

    Thats my take anyway.

  8. p fortin said:

    From one disagreeable dork to another, here, here.

  9. FormerBNIChapterPresident said:

    I’m glad that my ADD didn’t kick in and I read your article. Allow me to add to it.

    My former chapter had done exceptionally well in the beginning. We generated our first $1,000,000 in chapter referrals within our first three months. However, most of that was between the real estate agent (who was the top agent in the area) and the mortgage broker (who was the top mortgage broker in the area). So our reports always looked like they were out of this universe. I now know why the executive director and BNI, Inc. were so demanding for our reports.

    Another networking group in the area was home grown (not affiliated with BNI, Le Tip, Leads, etc.). They never kept track of referrals, let alone details about how much each referral was potentially worth. So our little BNI chapter appeared to kick major ass over them. To be honest, we WERE kicking ass but there was no realistic way to compare our BNI chapter against anyone else. Well, perhaps until now. Here’s some figures that I calculated from my experience which could be intriguing to some:

    BNI Membership:
    Annual Membership Dues: $380
    Meal Dues ($10 per week): $520
    Raffle Tickets ($5 per week): $260
    Number of Members (peak): 23
    Cost per Contact: $50.43

    Home Grown Referral Group:
    Annual Dues: $60
    Meals ($8 per week): $416
    Raffle Tickets ($5 per week): $260
    Number of Members: 60
    Cost per Contact: $12.26

    The Local Chamber of Commerce:
    Annual Membership Dues: $220
    Monthly Luncheon ($20/month): $240
    Raffle Tickets: $60
    Number of Members: 780
    Cost per Contact: $0.66

    If you’re a small business owner, you want to get as much out of your marketing dollars and you can. As you can see, BNI is certainly not stacking up to the alternatives.

    Despite the incredible figures we were generating, we were able to recruit only one person from the home grown group. It comes down to offering more for less and it took the closing of our chapter for me to see why. It cost a small fortune to be in our elite BNI chapter compared to the alternatives. Oh, and the other group is celebrating their 12th year while my chapter lasted only three years.

  10. Carol said:

    I’m so glad I read these posts because I thought I was nuts! My “little voice” is screaming–SCREAMING–at me!! Did this woman (Dir) really tell me I couldn’t sit down?!? (Should have worn flats that day while working the front table–for free.) So I could be EYE level with the incoming folks; uh, I’m five feet tall. Barely. Everytime she speaks, my BP goes up. We are treated like children. May as well be on a cult ranch in TX…oh, and our dues are $430 annual; $210 qtrly. Won’t be paying the upcoming!

  11. Glen said:

    so glad I found this blog. I thought the problems we currently have @ my Australian bni group were an isolated issue, but I see now the problem starts higher up the tree.

  12. JackDonlan said:

    Thought of something else as well. I understand the Noah’s Ark concept of BNI. But that is not good for me since I need to have contact with a bunch of financial planners (wills and estates) real estate agents and mortgage people (closings) and accontants (corporate law). I am stuck with one of each who does not send me much. Thanks again for your blog! I probably dont have the guts, but I may use your article to be the Networking Education Moment (I am Education Person), the one assigned to read the BNI “gospel”

  13. Mark Ungar said:

    An old friend of 24 years invited me to a BNI recruitment luncheon yesterday. I had known he was in a business networking group, but hadn’t really known anything about it. I did think it was not such a good place for him, since he is a private music teacher and band leader, and it didn’t make sense for him to be networking with realtors and copy machine salespeople. But I had no idea until yesterday that it was a cult! As a former cult member (8 years in the Moonies - I left in ‘83), alarm bells started ringing for me as soon as I stepped in the building….the behavior-modification/coercion techniques I was so familiar with from the Moonies were in full effect here. By the end of the meeting, there was no doubt in my mind whatsoever that this was not only a MLM/pyramid scam, but an actual CULT. When I got home I emailed my friend and advised him to leave this group IMMEDIATELY - his wallet can’t take it! Wish him luck.

  14. Ian Kirkpatrick said:

    It obviously dosn’t work for everyone as somepeople cant be arsed to get out of bed to do anything and therefore would not be a “good prospect” for BNI. I get on average £15,000 per annum profit from going once a week out side of work hours to a meeting where I meet people who are like minded like me. If you were in our group and had the attitude you obviously have then you wouldn’t be invited to rejoin or even accepted to join in the first place.

  15. Grumpy Nerd said:

    Ian you and all of your wooden-toothed English compatriots will forever be in debt to America and it’s fine citizenry. For without America you would be subjugated by your German masters. So when you address me do so with an air of appreciation and respect.

    On to business. Networking is a great thing. 85% of our business comes from networking. That is real networking which is trading leads with people we trust and respect.

    BNI however is a steaming pile of … how do you dumbasses say it? Shite?

    It is so not because of my attitude but rather because it is run like a cult and there is both constant pressure to pass referrals but then no quality control in those referrals. Which leads to a very high signal to noise ratio of fictional leads.

    A real referral network operates with no pressure. Because you like and trust the people in your network sometimes you’ll just hang out with them for lunch or a beer. But when you pass a referral it’s a sure thing.

    Which is the polar opposite of the 99% garbage that BNI referrals are.

  16. Mark said:

    Nice no-nonsense writing style, like it. Agree re BNI. Subscribing…

  17. Frank said:

    Thanks for the info. I was considering BNI as this economy isn’t helping my business any. I liked your critique, but if you’re going to complain about mis-represented organizations, religion shouldn’t be mixed in with business.

    That (religion) is a personal preference wether you’re in business or begging at a street corner. Not a sermon, just an observation.

  18. Pat said:

    Nice article. BNI/LeTip can be a real nightmare. The major problem is competent and effective training of new members. Most people just show up and hope they’ll get business. I believe the reason for this is that most people that join these groups are “amateur” business people.

    I’m the rare $1,000,000+ company decision maker in a BNI group and I agree with you, most of the members are exactly what you said. We call them “displaced people” internally.

    Every sales person in my company is a member of a group. We handle BNI much differently than other members. We do lots of internal training, strategizing and mentoring for BNI in my company. It works. We write commercials, have tweaked our presentation to get business the day we speak, and have an agenda for one on ones that works. We don’t consider a one-on-one successful unless we leave with a referral. We even strategize on how to get unproductive members of the various groups removed if they are in a position in our sphere, like drunk contractors that never seam to follow-up on the leads we give them……….

    We’re not there to “give” we’re there to squeeze every last dime out that we can. It works for us. If i wanted to lose some money, i might quit my job and become a “BNI consultant.”

  19. Gene Christiansen said:

    I agree, Grumpy. I went to one meeting of a BNI chapter, and saw the gleams in the believers’ eyes!

    But, what is a better alternative?

    I’d appreciate your comments.

    Thanks,

    Gene

  20. J said:

    Another issue we had with BNI is that 90-95% of the members didn’t have to rely on the BNI for money! Some were retired with multiple retirement incomes streaming in. Some were housewives with well-off husbands (I have nothing against housewives starting their own business, but they are motivated to make money the same way… say a single mom with 3 kids is). Some were actually paid by their job to network. Once my boss and I sat down and looked at each member, 2-3 of them (out of 12 at the time) were completely dependent on their business as their main source of income. (If that makes sense).

    While I don’t 100% agree that we need big CEOs to help drive our businesses I totally see where you’re going based on our experiences. I think it just depends on what kind of business you have - but then again the only way to get money is for somebody with money to give it to you.

    Keep up the good posts!

  21. Hugh said:

    Interesting read. I’ve been in a relatively new BNI chapter for the past 6 months and it’s absolutely dire. The points I’d note:

    1. The massive hard-sell to visitors. I find it incredibly embarrassing and have resolved not to put another soul through the hard-sell (it was Ok for me as I was asked by my firm to ‘join a networking group’ so I plumped for BNI

    2. The same dire cult meetings week after week, together with the chanted affirmations and joyless 60 second speeches. I’ve been prevented from doing a full presentation unless I fork out for the training course first. What a joke — I’m a trained barrister and continuing advocate; do they think I can’t manage a speech?

    3. Although we’re told there’s accountability with the referrals and thank you for the business system, I’ve seen no evidence that anything of quality has been passed and certainly not to me. It took me some badgering to get sight of the actual figures — i.e. the actual value for which people were being thanked. Over 60% of the referrals — of £150,000.00 — has been passed by visitors. I’m really expected to believe that 15 visitors have received £90,000.00 of business from the meeting, whereas the regulars who’ve been attending week-in week-out for the past 12 months have only passed 1/3 of that amount?

    4. The non-referrals. “Someone may call you”. “Send this person an e-mail and they may instruct you.” “I’ll arrange a meeting with X person.” Tosh. As has been mentioned in the article, the good referrals each week would probably amount to 1 or 2 a week (between 25 people). The pressure to provide referrals is huge and the consequence, as has been correctly pointed out, is a whole load of nonsense.

  22. Barry Ramirez said:

    Ever wish you had a great mentor to help you understand BNI? Maybe you want to refresh concepts from MSP training. Or maybe your MSP training isn’t scheduled for another month—and you need information now. What do you do? Many members, new and seasoned, are listening to the “BNI Networking Secrets” CD and using it to accelerate their networking success. For the first time, BNI is offering a complete word-of-mouth networking curriculum—a 3 Car Coach CD® (audio) series. Members are telling us it’s like having a private coaching session with Ivan Misner! To learn more about BNI Networking Secrets, visit the website http://www.bninetworkingsecrets.com . This site gives you more information about what you will gain from this resource and how to get your copy now. Be sure to read My BNI Story for a testimonial from a BNI Networking Secrets listener.

  23. Second Star Technologies said:

    Mr. Ramirez

    Please get a running start and take a flying fuck you hack fucking shill. I got more out of listening to 3 hours of my kids Barney sing along than I did from the nauseating insomnia cure that was the skeet pull I made of your bullshit CD’s. My only regret? The money I spent on the shotgun shell that I just wasted on BNI’s Mediation for Fucking Idiots 3 disk set.

    You like BNI because you are too fucking stupid to perform in any real sales or marketing effort. I don’t know how your members are telling you anything about your failed drink coaster CD’s while mumbling around Ivan Misner’s cock.

    My suggestion would be that you would be more successful playing in traffic. Who knows? You might get another referral to go fuck yourself.

  24. Grumpy Nerd said:

    Second Star Tech;

    You’re writing style brings a proud tear to my eye. What you do is beautiful and the world is a better place for you being in it.

    Keep up the great work and please continue to post on my blog.

    - Grumpy

  25. Second Star Technologies said:

    Much appreciated. Thanks for the back traffic to my site.

  26. Second Star Technologies said:

    Pat

    Are you aware that your name is synonymous with a transgendered a-sexual character on SNL?

    Are you aware that you are a pretentious douche bag?

    I fucking hate you and am currently stabbing the shit out of this fat fucking voodoo doll that I stole from a bag lady that used to be a BNI Area Director. Apparently it did not work out very well and, based on the placement of these pins, your penis / vagina should be itching right about now…

    …tell the truth…you can fucking feel it can’t you?

    To my point; Rare you may be. You are fucking stupid enough to post on a public board where your IP address can be traced and you were bragging about being a millionaire from BNI. On this board. Where everybody hates BNI.

    I have a group of friends that I network with too. They do not belong to BNI as BNI does not admit felons.

    I will happily offer your company Security Assessment and scanning services but you must first prove that you actually own the company you claim to belong to and not someone that hangs out outside BNI meetings waiting for established members to throw chicken bones to your dog…I wish that I made that story up…I really really do.

    Finally, fuck you and your stupid club. I belong to a club, it’s called everybody the fuck else. We get along just fine without your pontificating speeches about how your stupid chapter is different than all the other stupid chapters out there that don’t follow BNI’s rules.

    You fucking rebel.

    You are all too stupid to live and I have several gold fish that are kind of on the edge, so please. see your way into oncoming traffic so as to make room for more profitable life forms.

    P.S.

    All my contact information is available from this blog. If you are in BNI, it is not your fault, and there are support groups setup to assist you with your transition back into the real world of sales where people actually just work for a living instead of paying some manscaped asshole shitload’s (didn’t know that needed a parenthesis) of money for pointing you toward the dish washer and soap and taking credit for every clean dish in the house for the next 5 years, all for the low low cost of whatever the fuck you have in your wallet plus…I don’t know…what’s your kid worth to you?

    P.P.S.

    Fuck you.

  27. Second Star Technologies said:

    Shit. I made several grammar and spelling errors in my previous post. If you are a BNI member you will not know what that means. It is because you have been brainwashed and / or are stupid.

    I personally down vote the previous post because I am drunk and because fuck you; That’s why.

    (see, that was the proper use of a semicolon…probably)

  28. Bonnie Kramer said:

    The goal of the organization is to bring a group of people representing different professions together once a week to pass sales leads to each other. BNI is a worldwide organization with chapters covering most of the civilized world. Generally any city of a moderate size will have many BNI chapters. Each chapter usually has 10 to 30 members which meet once a week as a group. The theory is that the other people in your chapter will act as your virtual sales team. So joining BNI is like adding 20 to 30 sales people to your sales staff so the marketing says. This is of course utter and complete bullshit. Like so many other sales and marketing heavy organizations the reality rarely lives up to the hype.

  29. Jon W said:

    I’ve been a member of BNI for 5 years and it has worked for my B2B, but it has not worked for many because if it did we’d still have almost 50 members like we once did and now luck if 12 of our 16 or so “members” show up. Those that do are great as all have “real” businesses and I do business with most of them and get outside referrals. I also like to give referrals out because I know there people will do a good job for those that I refer to them.

    A few months ago I brought up that we are not growing and a large part I believed was the membership costs. I also have never liked that we send this money to the “BNI Gods” and what do we get? My suggesting at the time was we go our own way or join with another local organization that is similar but costs less and keeps the dues local. Dues could be spent advertising a feature member in a local publication. This was met with resistance from a number of members. Some former members I spoke with liked the idea and said they would think of returning.

    Recently we were informed the “BNI Gods” want more money starting June 1st. Appears now my suggestion is getting a second look from some of those resistant to the idea before.

    To a degree its been good for my business. My customers are generally small businesses with 1-20 employees with a few larger clients with up to 200 employees. During my 25 years in business its been on referral from one client to another. So BNI with the right members, those that own “real businesses” and not some MLM works because its in my “wheel house”.

    That all said I think the same can be accomplished without BNI.

  30. roland said:

    toe@arco.louder” rel=”nofollow”>.…

    спс!…

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