How do you turn social situations into business opportunities? Very carefully! But here’s the truth. People don’t want to feel obligated to do business with you just because you took them to a ball game. Or wined and dined them over lunch. Or spent hours playing golf on a Tuesday afternoon. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best financial advisor, broker, planner, rep, producer, agent or wholesaler in the world! Business happens at the speed of trust, and if there is no trust, no value, no genuine relationship and no synergy, all the ball games in the world aren’t going to change those relationships.
A few years back, a wholesaler for an annuity company saw me speak at an event and hired me to speak at a couple of his road shows. He thought my message about networking would be a great incentive to attract financial advisors to his events. And he was right. In fact, his events were such a success that he hired me again and referred me to some of his counterparts around the country who also hired me. (I’m just saying.) I returned the favor by introducing him to some of my client firms in his region.
Now, the business was nice, but I also thought I got a great friend out of the deal. We’re based only a few hours from one another and share a love for the same football and baseball teams — a rare find! Still, the relationship never took off. For some reason, the wholesaler became reluctant to respond to my messages. I actually saw him at a client event (I referred him) where again I was the speaker. He was very nice to me and even apologized for being so bad about returning messages. I joked about it but it was the last time we spoke. I still have a relationship with him but it’s not where I thought it was going.
Here’s my point. I thought I did everything right in terms of building the relationship. The connection felt natural and our conversations were fun and never felt forced. He may have felt that if we developed the relationship further that he would be obligated to hire me — which I’m hoping wasn’t the case. It’s never a sure thing even when you do everything right. So imagine the cost of doing only some things right? Or everything wrong?
Here are suggestions to help you do everything (or at least most things) right when looking to develop social situations into business.
1. Understand what networking is all about.
It’s not just shaking hands and kissing babies. Or handing out business cards. Or even promoting your firm and how awesome your products are. OK, there’s some of that, but not much! Networking is about learning from and potentially helping people. Good people, those you like and want to help. If you help great people, they help you right back!
2. It’s all about them.
Always focus on learning about the other person until they start asking questions about you. Typically, I don’t talk about myself unless someone asks me a specific question. The exception might be if something just happened in my world that I’m excited about and want to share. If something is going on in your business or even personal life that is so exciting that others will relate or be interested in hearing, feel free to share. But remember to shift gears and start asking questions about them. By being interested you become interesting.
3. Be a connector.
As you’re learning about people you meet, think about who you can introduce them to that will help their cause. Some clients you work with (and those prospects you’re looking to work with) may have a niche in, let’s say, the manufacturing industry. Maybe you know the VP of Operations for a manufacturer and can provide an introduction. Givers always gain, so look to offer help and make connections in the best interest of the parties involved. I have two hard and fast guidelines to providing introductions — you must really like them (because if you don’t, your friends may not either) and all parties must be great at what they do (i.e. professionally, they must offer value and make you look great in the process).
4. Find common ground.
The best way to find common ground is to ask great questions. So, how did you get involved in financial services? What college did you attend? What made you become an accountant? What are some of your current initiatives and goals? What are your biggest challenges? How do you market your business? What do you do for fun? If you don’t get similar questions asked in the form of, “How about yourself?” you’re doing something wrong or there’s simply not a good connection.
5. Say what you mean and mean what you say.
Be very specific about what you want when it comes to business. If there is a specific type of referral you want, mention it (when the time is right). The more specific you are, the more likely you are to get it. Remember the manufacturing example I mentioned earlier? If that financial advisor doesn’t mention manufacturers and related details about how they help, that connection does not happen. So, make it happen.
6. Speak the language of WE.
Practice using WE language to establish a sense of collaboration. This is what true networking is all about. You can say something like, “You know, it’s been great that we’ve had the chance to spend time playing golf (badly) and learning about each other’s businesses. I would love to explore how WE might help one another moving forward?” Yes, you can be direct if you use WE language and make the business relationship truly that — a relationship!
7. Out of sight is out of mind.
Believe it! Establish a “staying in touch” strategy that keeps you connected and learning from those you meet, like, and value. Examples include a standing phone meeting every 30 days, dinner whenever you’re in town, quarterly meetings, or whatever. I have sushi with one client every quarter (she buys!) and we discuss movies, television, family stuff, and spend about 5 minutes discussing business.
There’s nothing new under the sun and these ideas are far from revolutionary. But most business owners (advisors too!) don’t have a system in place to do a lot of the little things consistently. Who are you looking to meet or get to know better? Implement some of these ideas into your day to day with brokers and see what happens.
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