By Jack Hubbard
There’s more to networking at events than just ‘working the room.’ By following a few basic principles, you can add value to your conversations with bank clients and prospects.
One key responsibility of bankers is to become involved in community activities such as business-after-hours events sponsored by the local chamber of commerce.
Like most components of the sales conversation process, networking has made a significant transition as well. Those who are successful at this important skill see it as net-sharing. Why? First, because if it’s work, it isn’t worth it; and, second, the key to success is making it worthwhile and meaningful for both parties. Networking is mostly working for one’s own benefit. Net-sharing is working to benefit both parties: It’s a win-win.
Self-improvement trainer Dale Carnegie got it right when he said, “You can close more business in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get people interested in you.” What he was suggesting is the law of reciprocity: The more you want in life, the more you need to give away. Here are some ideas to make your net-sharing worth your time.
Pre-select: invest your time wisely
I am chief sales officer at a sales training and coaching company. When my daughter Erin became sales manager of a boutique hotel in Chicago a number of years ago, she learned one of her key duties was to attend business meetings. “Which ones should I attend, dad,” she asked. “The right ones,” I advised.
There are an infinite number of events she could be present at, every one of them providing an opportunity for her to meet some new best friends. But while the gatherings are infinite in nature, her time (and yours) isn’t.
At first blush, the easy answer is: Go to Chicago Chamber of Commerce events. Sounds fine on the surface, but I’ve seen surveys recently that indicate only about 25 percent of businesses in any community belong to the Chamber, but 100 percent of bankers do. Should you avoid Chamber of Commerce meetings, golf outings, business after hours? Of course not. But net-sharing nirvana likely won’t occur there. More times than not, your meeting time involves playing defensive, keeping your competitors away from your best clients.
I recently made a joint coaching call with a banker and toward the end of the conversation, I asked the business owner: “How do you stay current with best practices in your industry?” “Easy,” he replied. “I never miss a local or state meeting of the XYZ Association.” Interestingly, the banker was eager to penetrate this industry. “How many bankers do you see at those meetings,” I asked the business owner. “I’ve never seen one,” he concluded.
That was all the information the banker needed. She now attends every local chapter meeting and is scheduled to speak at the state conference in the fall. She has created lots of opportunities and has optimized her net-sharing time by attending the right meetings. There still are no other bankers at these events. She has the room to herself.
Prepare: get ready for every event
Too often bankers do “doorknob event preparation”—that is, they think about what they need to accomplish for the evening right before walking through the door at an event. Instead, consider the following:
Call the meeting sponsor. Ask:
- About how many people do you expect at the event?
- Who are some of the people that have already registered?
- How long do you anticipate the meeting to last?
- Can you send me a preliminary attendee list?
Armed with answers to these basic questions, you can determine key people to seek out, what clients are likely to be present and approximately how much time to share with each participant. Some readers may find these questions intrusive or out of line. If I were running the event, I would find it to be refreshing and professional. (It’s interesting to note that I recently ran a training course on networking know-how and, after the training, 10 bankers called or sent a note to say that they were able to get advanced attendance lists from a meeting they were about to attend).
When you have the names, you can use another tool, LinkedIn, to attempt to make a connection prior to your meeting. Whenever I teach at an industry school or attend a conference, I always reach out to key attendees or students, and I’m successful at connecting nearly 100 percent of the time. LinkedIn gives me a photo, some background on the person I want to talk with at the event and much more. It’s fascinating how few bankers follow this model.
Here’s another best practice: I know a branch manager who hands the list of attendees to her tellers a few days prior to the event. They go through the list to learn if any of the guests are clients of the bank in any way—not just her clients.
When the banker can go up to someone at the event and thank him or her for his or her business, it’s powerful. Remember, you are likely wearing your bank name tag, and, while you don’t mean to ignore them, customers may expect that you know that they bank with you. Getting prepared for that ahead of time not only sets the groundwork for a great customer experience, it brings the teller into the mix and that is fulfilling to them as well.
Learn your A, B, C’s before you go
Determine an A, B, C criteria for the event. A top opportunity (A) might be a manufacturing executive whose company is $10 million in sales with X employees, located in five miles or less from your office. A second-tier opportunity (B) might be a company with $3 million in sales that does consulting. You get the drill. Creating a matrix such as this helps with follow-up strategies and time management. You can’t follow up on everybody, you need to follow up with the right buddies.
Be interested: plan some questions
The high-impact questions you ask may make the difference between successfully continuing your conversation in the future or losing the opportunity. Be gone the dreaded elevator speech! Memorizing a catch phrase and spewing it out all over the room is incongruent with today’s trust-based selling principles. And, if you are a great net-sharer, you know it’s always better to be interested than interesting.
- Why are you here tonight?
- What are two or three exciting things you are working on at your shop?
- How do you stay current with trends and best practices in your industry?
- What’s one thing you would do in your business if you knew you would not fail?
- Other than yourself who are two or three other leaders in your industry?
- Is there someone here that you don’t know that I might introduce you to?
- What do you do for fun?
- How open would you be to my calling you to schedule an appointment to learn more about your issues and initiatives?
You likely won’t get through all of them so think of two or three high payoff questions that can help you understand how to help this business colleague. Don’t forget to ask the best net-sharing question in history: Where are you from? It can take your dialogue into very interesting places.
Be certain to bring more than enough business cards and two pens that work. Your cards of course, go in your left-hand pocket. You give with your left hand and shake (hands) and take (their card) with your right. When you receive a card, be sure to look at it, comment on anything interesting and keep it in your hand during the time you are talking with your new friend.
One other prep step is to plan to arrive early. Why not be the first one there? This allows you to greet people as they arrive and lets you to go over the name cards quickly in case you weren’t able to get the list of attendees. I know a commercial banker who takes a photo of the “Hello My Name Is” cards and then goes into a corner to review who he wants to see.
When you get the answers to your questions and you move on to a new person, turn his or her card over and write bulleted answers on the back. If you meet a lot of people during an event and you ask the same questions of everyone, the answers tend to blur. The better you can capture and use the information, the sooner you are on your way to moving the conversation process to the next step. Turn the card back over and put an “A,” “B” or “C” in the upper right-hand corner. It will help with your follow-up strategy.
Without making this a speed-dating event, hold conversations with as many people as possible. That means, if the meeting lasts 120 minutes, and there are 60 people in attendance, you have about two minutes with each person. Let’s be real. You will never talk with everyone, and, when clients are at the program, you’ll want to invest more time with them. Be certain to seek out those top two or three people, and share some of your evening with them. Getting the list ahead of time facilitates this.
Moving from person to person is challenging. What if you meet “the talker?” It’s great to learn more and more and more about their business, but the clock is ticking. Once that alarm bell starts going off in your head, that it is past time to move on, walk the talker to someone else you know or have just met and get them engaged with the other person. Worst case, introduce them to a competitor. Another option is to suggest that you have all you need from them and that they are now boring you (just joking!). You could also spill something on them but be prepared to receive the cleaning bill.
We know a banker that is so good at this part, it’s scary. As it gets toward the time to meet another person, he begins to scan the room to find someone he knows or has met that the new person might benefit from knowing. He’ll say “You know, Jim, I’ve been thinking about what you do, and there is someone that could really benefit from your (product, service). Would you like to meet him?” How could the person turn down a chance for a business opportunity? That’s why he or she went to the event in the first place.
VIP: value impressions positive
Congratulations. You collected 28 business cards. Now what? World class sales people know the window of opportunity to get and hold someone’s share of mind after an event is about 48 hours. That means when you get home several things need to be done. Put the cards in A, B and C piles.
If you can access your sales force automation system from home, insert the information you obtained at the event right away. That includes the answers you got to your questions, any personal information you were able to glean and anything else that might help build your relationship with this person.
Finally, drop a quick e-mail to the best opportunities, thanking them for their time and attaching an article or a white paper—something of value. Do this for the “A” group before your head hits the pillow that evening. The “B” opportunities should receive something before the 48-hour buzzer goes off and the “C” folks are as time allows.
Sustaining net-sharing performance
Sales managers can go a long way to help bankers improve their net-sharing skills. One idea is to attend an event or two with your colleagues, observe them in action and strategize how to coach improvement. How about this? Why not run a sales meeting around the topic. Make it fun by first talking about the concept and teaching bankers what you want them to do during an event.
Or, have some senior managers play the role of clients and pre-clients at an event while your bankers practice the skills they just learned. After an hour of that, the event is over and you can debrief your team and make plans to do some individual coaching based on what you observed.
Attending community events just to make a tick mark on your weekly calendar is a waste of your valuable time. Attend the right events, do the right things and more opportunities will find their way to the top of your sales funnel. It can all happen if you do less work and more sharing.
Jack Hubbard is chairman and chief sales officer at St. Meyer & Hubbard, a sales training and coaching firm specializing in the financial services industry. The company is based in Elgin, Ill. Telephone: (847) 717-4328; email: [email protected].