Networking, its primary objective and the successful methodology for accomplishing that objective, is often misunderstood. Although it’s considered a form of prospecting, the very nature of a networking relationship, and how that relationship progresses, is very different from other forms of prospecting.
In most cases, the goal of prospecting is to build enough of a relationship with someone that you’re able to set the appointment. If all goes according to plan, the appointment ends with the acquisition of a new client. It’s only when a prospect transitions to client status that the work of building a deep and lasting relationship begins in earnest.
In networking, the relationship typically progresses in an opposite fashion. When networking is most successful, the work of building a deep and lasting relationship usually occurs first, before the appointment ever happens. Once your networking contact becomes a client, the deep relationship has already been built, and the task is more one of relationship maintenance.
Because the goals of networking and prospecting are different, the plan for approaching each needs to be handled differently as well. Although you may not belong to a formal networking group, every advisor usually attends a variety of social functions throughout the course of a year. Regardless of whether you’re invited to an elegant fundraiser or a neighborhood barbeque, having a plan can help you make the most of all your networking opportunities.
The purpose of networking is to build relationships, not leave with a client by the end of the event. People refer to and ultimately do business with those they know, like and trust. Make it your objective to be known and liked and soon, you’re on your way to being trusted as well.
Always have a plan and a clear-cut objective in mind for every networking event you attend. “Working the room” may seem like a plan, but it’s only the beginning of one. To be a successful networker, you must have a concrete strategy before you walk into any event.
Advisors typically don’t any trouble receiving invitations to fantastic networking events or fundraisers. They have an opportunity to mingle in a room full of high- net worth individuals, but they attend with no plan at all. Consequently, they leave with no significant contacts at all. Your networking plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but you have to have one if you expect your networking to produce results.
Steps to Effective Networking
Plan to have a specific number of meaningful conversations at each event. Meaningful conversations should meet these three criteria:
- You make some sort of connection. In other words, you enjoy talking with the individual and you “click” on some level.
- You establish some common ground. This does not have to be business-related, and in most cases, it’s more personal in nature. You both play golf, your kids go to the same school or you both love the theater. This is how you begin to build a relationship. Establishing common ground is the most important thing you do in networking.
- You leave with a business card or contact information. Making a connection and establishing common ground is meaningless if you don’t leave with the contact information.
For some, small talk is as natural as breathing, but for others, waterboarding would be a welcome relief over small talk with strangers. Skip the waterboarding and be prepared with a couple of ice-breaker questions you can use as conversation starters, as well as questions to keep interesting conversations going. Regardless of how you feel about small talk, it does matter. Knowing what you’re going to say ahead of time gives you confidence and makes your small talk look and feel more natural.
It’s also a good idea to have some talking points or a personal story you can work into conversations so your personality shows through to others. You want to be memorable and nothing catches and keeps a person’s attention better than a short, personal story. They may not remember anything else you say, but there’s a good chance they will remember your story.
Let’s face it. Leading with, “So what do you do?” is a tired, over-used approach. Everyone in the room has heard that question dozens of times before. It does nothing to set your apart from the crowd. The question can also leave people feeling like you’re just trying to determine if they’re worth your time.
Instead of going to your next event with an old strategy, have some fun and try something new. Forget the so-what-do-you-do approach and try some of these suggestions.
You could start a conversation with this:
“Hi, I don’t know too many people here, so I wanted to introduce myself.”
“What’s been keeping you busy lately?”
A good follow-up question to the question above is:
“How did you start in your business?”
People love to talk about themselves so give them that opportunity. This can produce valuable information and insight into what kind of center of influence they may have.
Complimenting someone is always a great conversation starter and it works just as well for men as it does for women. Who doesn’t like a compliment? As long as you come across as sincere, you develop instant likability and a compliment always establishes you as friendly and approachable.
If it’s your first time at a networking event, rather than feeling awkward and uncomfortable, use it to your advantage with this question:
“This is my first time here. You have any tips for me?”
People love to give advice and it’s human nature to want to help. You can discover valuable information you may not have gotten any other way.
Food and drink is always great for establishing a connection and nothing goes better with food than humor. Start having some fun at your networking events and don’t be afraid to let your personality show through. Most people will find it a refreshing change from the typical networking banter.
“So, tell me just how drinkable is that Chardonnay?”
“Everything looks really good. I’m not even sure where I want to start. What are you thinking?”
“There’s a lot of people here. The food must be really good!”
Stay focused on the other person and not yourself. You’re there to have meaningful conversations and build relationships. The conversation will circle back to you soon enough. When it does, don’t just share your title. It’s a complete waste of breath. Share something unique that captures their attention. Instead of the typical, “I’m a financial advisor with…” response, use a carefully crafted branding statement like:
“I help people identify and avoid their financial blind spots.”
Once you feel you’ve made a connection with someone, shift to a couple of personal questions. These are natural and easy for them to answer and go a long way in building your connection.
“What do you do for fun when you’re not doing this kind of stuff?”
Personal questions lead to uncovering more of that “common ground” that’s so important to building the relationship and taking it to the next level.
Because you’re trying to build a deep relationship sooner rather than later, do not start networking contacts in a drip system. Keep all your networking contacts together but separate from the rest of your pipeline–on a separate spreadsheet or in a separate group in your contact management system. Invite networking contacts to fun or social events that are more relationship-oriented. It’s also a good idea to invite networking contacts to lunch on a regular basis so you can continue to learn more about them and nurture the relationship along.
Your networking plan doesn’t have to be complicated but, you must have one. The purpose of networking is to build relationships. People refer to and do business with people they know, like and trust. When your primary objective is to be known and liked, then it’s just a matter of time before you’re trusted as well. This is how you join the networking elite.
For more information on Networking, be sure to check out our Building Your Influence Infrastructure article for step-by-step instructions on building your own COI Power Group.