Why people say "BNI does not work" is pretty common. Let's first talk a little about what BNI is before we say it doesn't work. What is BNI? Sure people know it as Business Networking International but what is it really. Is it a business, is a networking group, is it educational? Well, it's all those things. BNI is an organization that's in the business of organizing networking for businesses. Yes, their business is networking. The sell, promote, and support business networking. They want as many people to perform networking through their organization as possible.
Now that we know that BNI is networking let's deconstruction the "why BNI does not work" comment. If BNI is really just networking why would individuals say that? Networking is how we get in front of opportunities all the time. It's in books, it's recommended by mentors, and more. So, why BNI does not work.
Here's the common problem why BNI appears to not work. The clean structure provides a lot of perception that much of the networking work will actually be done for you. As if you attend these weekly meetings that leads and referrals are brought to you. Is that networking? No, it isn't. BNI is not a lead gen or source to just get leads. Where do you think those leads are coming from?
People. Referrals come from people. People don't do any more work than they need to, and for you to expect them to do work for you with nothing in return just silly. If people don't think about you constantly they'll never refer you. Your business needs to be memorable, easy for them to refer, and they have to WANT to refer you. Just showing up to the meeting won't cut it.
BNI talks a lot about giver's gain. You give and you'll likely receive. When you show up every week and don't pay anyone in referrals they're likely to not do anything for you either. Try paying someone in referrals, watch the magic happen.
All too often people expect to just show up and receive referrals without having to do any work. Also, work is not just providing presentations. You'll often find that many members know all there is to know about your business. It's possible they're bored to death of your pitch. This happens when you keep selling to people in the room. How many people are even in your room? Maybe you've already sold to everyone in the room. Now what? Teach them to sell you outside the room. That's another topic.
BNI does have some limitations. The fact that you're required to be in-person for every meeting filters out businesses who basically start to have employees. Running a business requires work and the more resources you have the more you're required to fit the role of a Business Owner. When you're networking you're performing sales. Sales is a large part of your business but it's not running a business. Business owners either have earned enough time to just hang-out (business runs itself), are still actively running the business, or are just starting out and still need to perform their own sales. Depending on where a business is at in its lifecycle can determine how it will participate in BNI. The starting out business is mostly what has time and sales ambition to participate in BNI to the level it requires for it to be successful.
Until BNI recognizes that it is filtering out business owners who don't want to perform selling it will always attract small businesses.
What about the network? BNI is global. Members have access to the largest networking organization in the world. Some 9k chapters averaging 25 members. Do the math, and each member is hungry to perform a one-to-one meeting with you if you're a member. There's lot's of potential if you're aggressive and wan to network. Not sell but network. How many people could you possible meet with an networking organization that size. You couldn't meet everyone in a lifetime. Also, because people are always rotating. Depending on what you sell you could connect with people all over the world.
Does BNI work, yes, for the right business.