We all know how to network, right? Actually, the question isnt rhetorical. If youre not turning many of your networking contacts into rock-solid customers, now may be the time to reassess your schmoozing skills.

Successful networkers, say advisors reached by National Underwriter, fine-tune efforts that systematically lead to new business. Among them: winning over people who can influence prospects; serving as a “strategic connector” and information resource for others; and being persistent in following up with promising leads.

Youre more likely to excel at all of these endeavors, producers agree, if youre discriminating about the folks you spend time with. To wit: Partake in activities that youre passionate about and that will link you to people who share your interests.

Trisha Gallagher Boisvert, a partner at The Gallagher Group, Andover, Mass., generates leads through 3 groups of personal interest: a successful womens entrepreneurial group, a mothers group and the local parent-teacher organization (PTO).

Michael OSullivan, a financial services professional for the Island Group, a Woodbury, N.Y.-based affiliate of MassMutual, interacts with business prospects at the Chamber of Commerce of Huntington, Long Island. He also serves on Chamber of Commerce committees, noting the volunteer efforts strengthen relationships with people who might provide ongoing referrals.

These individuals, popularly dubbed “centers of influence,” are key to effective networking, producers agree. Barry Zimmerman, a financial advisor for the Bulfinch Group, Boston, Mass., says these peoplemany of them existing clients and others who are just good friendshelp subtly to plug his business at the informal events he hosts for prospective clients.

“These outings are more about fun than finance,” says Zimmerman. “People are overwhelmed in their lives. While they may not make time to hear about estate planning, theyll certainly make time to divert themselves from stress to fun.”

An avid sports buff, Zimmerman avails clients and prospects of season tickets to professional baseball and basketball games in Boston. And he frequently sponsors golf lessons under the banner, “Swing for Success.”

“Ive found that by giving, you get back tremendously,” he says. “But theres a difference about giving. Theres giving whats easy to give and giving whats meaningful to receive. The key is to determine whats meaningful to prospects.”

For most prospective clients, adds Bob Littell, president of Jasper, Ga.-based Littell Consulting, whats especially meaningful to receiveand costs nothing to provideare contacts to people who can help them professionally or personally. To that end, he regularly arranges in-person meetings through a process he calls “netweaving.”

How does this differ from networking?

“The netweaver,” says Littell, “always has in mind 3 questions when making an acquaintance. First, do I know someone who would benefit by meeting my new contact? Second, can this acquaintance provide useful information or resources to someone else I know? And, third, has this individual impressed so much that I need to get to know him or her better?”

When answering the last with yes, Littell adds the new acquaintance to his “trusted resource network” of people who can lead him to new business opportunities. Littell, in turn, serves as a “strategic connector” and a “gratuitous resource provider” for these centers of influence and for prospects at the gatherings he hosts.

“In 8 out 10 meetings I sponsor, one or both persons will to turn to me and say, now, how I can help you, without my ever broaching the subject,” says Littell. “And when they dont, Ill still walk out of that meeting flying higher than a kite because I helped two people make contact.”

When networking for their own benefit, producers should not ignore individuals or groups with whom they might ordinarily feel uncomfortable doing business, according to Gallagher Boisvert.

“Its amazing how many advisors overlook pockets in their lives, prospects with whom they never talk on a professional level,” she says. “If they feel like theyre out of their comfort zone and are turning people off, then they need to reassess their approach. Such meetings should never be confrontational.”

Nor should they be cause for dejection. Gallagher Boisvert says “you have to have a bit of Teflon” to be in this business. Even when the prospect says no to proffered financial advice, she observes, it usually means not now.

Follow-through is another quality of the successful networker, adds Zimmerman. Too many advisors, he notes, spend a lot of time and money organizing get-togethers, only to let new contacts die on the vine.

Zimmerman himself invests considerably in his sports outingsabout $20,000 annually. Thats reason enough, he says, for keeping gatherings fresh, interesting and valuable to all attending.

“You cant do the same things year after year,” he says. “They get stale. Also, you cant do these events alone. You need support people to help organize gatherings and vendors to help foot the cost.”


Reproduced from National Underwriter Edition, July 16, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved.Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.