Rules and regulations for successful networking
By Michael Goldberg
Knock Out Networking
I have been to networking events where I've been approached by insurance producers with applications in hand looking to sell me a whole life policy something or other.
Wouldn't it be great if everyone knew what they should and shouldn't be doing when networking at a business meeting or event? Can you imagine if everyone that attended association events, networking groups, chamber mixers, conferences, conventions and cocktail parties had to read, understand and sign off on networking rules and regulations? You would do a ton more business and more of you might reap the benefits of networking and jump right in.
Without knowing the rules of networking, it’s no wonder so many agents, advisors and agency directors are fearful and uncomfortable when it comes to wading into even the shallow end of the networking pool.
With the effects of the do not call list, caller ID, and the way that most producers feel about cold calling, networking has become more important than ever. Is there a better way to get more prospects, more referrals and grow your practice? Is there a better way of recruiting future stars to your firm?
Below are some networking rules and regulations that might demystify the concept of networking and make it easier for you to dive right in. Swim at your own risk.
Proper attire required
Determine ahead of time if the event requires business, casual, or very casual attire. There’s enough on your mind; why let your appearance and fashion sense be something else to worry about? Although insurance and financial services reps (and managers) tend to dress in business attire, some events may not warrant it. In fact, if your target market is a trade like construction, plumbing, or a municipality like police officers, fire fighters, or department or public works, it may not be the right environment to don a suit and tie.
Must have business cards and a pen (or two)
It amazes me how many sales producers (agents, reps, and advisors) I meet at business functions who don’t have a business card with them. Business cards breed business, and seasoned pros know that. Or they should. Even if you’re attending a conference with others who do what you do, it always pays to have a business card with you. How else are you going stay in touch and continue to learn more from your counterparts about recruiting, retention and production? And an insurance rep without a pen? C’mon!
Do your homework and know who will be there
Do you know who rounds out the guest list? Have you determined ahead of time if your prospects, clients, referral sources, colleagues, associates, counterparts, competitors, or advocates will be in attendance? Difficult to connect (or reconnect) if you’re unsure who will be attending. Often, I attend networking events and various business meetings carrying an index card complete with a list of names of those I absolutely need to connect with. As I meet and greet others at the event (and when the time is right), I reveal the index card and ask if they can offer insight or introductions to those listed. The reaction is always positive and the requests are honored when possible. The funny thing is, I’m often asked for an extra index card so those I’m speaking with can craft their own contact list.
Networking only! No selling allowed
Ok, repeat after me: networking, networking meeting. Selling, sales meeting. Got it? Networking and selling are two completely different things. Use a networking event (cocktail party, association meeting, chamber mixer, community service group, conference, convention, trade show, product show) to meet and greet others, make a good connection, prepare for your follow up, and take it from there.
Be prepared to ask questions
Know what questions you will ask those you’ll be meeting. It’s the best way to start a conversation, learn about other professions and industries, and attract people to you. Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask those I’m meeting for the first time.
- So, what do you do?
- Who do you work for?
- Do you like what you do?
- What are some of the biggest challenges you face in your work?
- How long have you been in your role?
- What brings you to this event?
- What are you hoping to accomplish here?
- How will you know you've been successful?
- How can I help you?
Greet and introduce others with passion
I love introducing people I know to other people I know. It helps provide an easy connection for others, I’m helping the cause, and I feel pretty good about myself. And they feel pretty good about me, which, of course, can’t happen enough. Besides, if I help other people in good faith, the splash I make has a way of coming back. What can be better than that?
If there is a connection, ask for their business card
Don’t be shy. If you've spent time with a quality contact and you’re interested in continuing the conversation at a later date, ask for their business card. They might just ask you for yours, too. How else are you going to re-connect? Not a bad thought to write down the information you've captured from the conversation on the back of the business cards collected; otherwise you won’t remember with whom to follow up and how. Don’t just ask for a business card for the sake of asking for a business card. There should be a good reason — you like one
another, you can help one another, you can refer one another, or one of you is an out and out prospect.
Hand out your business card
I have found it a great practice to hand out a business card only when asked — not before. Why, you ask? You save cards because most of the time, the cards you generously circulate get tossed. But more importantly, it’s a way of discovering exactly why someone wants your card in the first place. You may respond with, “I’m happy to give you my card. What are you thinking?”
Again, don’t just give it out for the sake of it or because you feel you ought to. You might feel that handing out your card breaks up that uncomfortable silence that presents itself when it seems there is no longer anything to say. It seems rude to me to offer a business card to someone who didn't ask for one. After all, if they wanted it, they would ask.
Have a buddy system and help others
I’m all about helping others get their feet wet and encouraging them to network. It’s a nice thing to do and a big part of making a splash at the event. It’s also a lot of fun (and sometimes safer) to network with a buddy — especially if they’re looking to meet the same folks as you. Just don’t let the safety and comfort you may have with your buddy prevent you from meeting new people and making new connections.
Mention your call to action (when asked)
Know your purpose, and only share it when asked. If you don’t know or can’t share your purpose, it will be difficult making solid business connections.
Keep the conversation short
If possible, try not to talk to anyone longer than six to eight minutes — without ever looking at your watch. That’s just rude. But the last thing you want to do is prevent someone from moving on and meeting more people. And you probably want the chance to make a few more connections, as well. So, when you get that lull in the dialogue, invite the contact to continue the conversation at some point over the next couple of weeks. This can be by phone or a more formal face-to-face meeting. Exchange cards, make a few notes, and say your good-byes.
If you don’t wish to continue the conversation (and they may not want to either), simply say "It was great speaking with you" and "Best of luck today." You may also want to introduce them to someone else that may be a better connection for them. Listen more and talk less
When meeting someone in a networking environment, it’s easy to get caught up in what you’re going to say next, rather than listening fully. Insurance and financial services professionals are often seen as talking more and listening less. It should be the opposite.
If producers listen and learn enough, they may have something more worthwhile to say and get more appointments.
Always follow up
Not following up is the same thing as not having made the connection in the first place. How often do you follow up? How soon after a first meeting do you get back in touch? Do you follow up at all?
Of course, if you’re speaking with someone about a long-term care policy or disability insurance, there’s no issue with the follow up. But how about when the connection you make is not with a prospect? If there’s a good reason to follow up — it’s a prospect, it’s a referral source, it’s someone you like that meets the same kind of people you like, it’s someone you can help, it’s someone that can help you — then be true to your word and get back in touch in as close to 24 hours as possible. Count on this: The contacts you make will almost never follow up with you. Following up is simply being proactive about moving a relationship along for positive and hopefully mutual reasons.
You must make a friend and have fun
Once you meet a few great people and get the breathing thing down, you will be much more comfortable in the deep end. And it could even be fun! Heck, you may even get some business out of it. If you make networking feel like work, it will be work. Just be in the market to make a friend, help people and have fun, and you’ll be an advanced networker in no time.
There are more guidelines that should no doubt make the list, but this should be an excellent start. Establish these rules and regulations as your networking standard and help provide a safe and enjoyable experience for your agency and producers.