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Networking: The Art Of Human Connection In The Internet Age

Book Review: Make networking work for you—and others

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  • Written by  Joe Frederick
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  • Comments:   DISQUS_COMMENTS
Networking Like A Pro–Turning Contacts into Connections. By Ivan Misner, David Alexander, and Brian Hilliard. 252 pp., Entrepreneur Press. Networking Like A Pro–Turning Contacts into Connections. By Ivan Misner, David Alexander, and Brian Hilliard. 252 pp., Entrepreneur Press.

Many bankers have been fortunate to have their services essentially presold. A bank customer tells a colleague, “I do all my business with John Smith at Anytown Bank. He’s terrific—you should talk to him.”  When the referred colleague meets the banker, trust is already established and the probability of acquiring this customer is high.

When purchasing an item on eBay, the seller’s rating is often a critical criterion, and the ratings come from anonymous sources.

Getting referred is an essential part of many businesses, but until recently, sometimes banking was not an industry known for effective cultivation of references. Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media networking sites are all valuable ways to connect with customers and potential customers, but these resources by themselves cannot replace the physical presence, applied techniques, and methodical process described in Networking Like A Pro–Turning Contacts into Connections.

The book assumes that the reader is already worthy of the referral. Speaking as a banker, I feel this should be true about you and your bank, but this is the first unnamed step of an effective referral process. No one would recommend a restaurant with bad food and worse service and expect to maintain credibility. Being good is essential to getting a reference. 

In the referral world, “givers gain”

Co-author Ivan Misner is the founder and Chairman of BNI (Business Networking International). BNI is the largest business networking organization in the world, with over 5,500 chapters  internationally. The authors use their experiences as BNI practitioners to help readers understand the step-by-step, methodical way to Network Like a Pro.

Like a dance studio silhouette of feet on a floor, the authors take the readers through the steps necessary to build networking skills through a series of methodical practices, strategies, and techniques designed to help the practitioner succeed. There is far more to authentic networking than appearing at an event attempting to distribute and collect business cards.

The authors gracefully redirect readers to less-boorish behavior, endorsing a more well-mannered approach that will be better received.

Indeed, the BNI approach to networking begins with a timeless premise that has been stated in many ancient religions and philosophies. It remains relevant today. Whether it is Zig Ziglar’s saying “You can get anything you want, if you help someone else get what they want” or NBA Coach Pat Riley, writing in The Winner Within, “You can only receive what you are willing to give,” the karmic motto of BNI is “Givers Gain.” 

By giving references and authentically helping others, the giver gains references and assistance in return. The “Givers Gain” pillar of the BNI approach rests on the belief that the more you share, the more you have.

Authentic sharing and helping benefits the giver in a “pay it forward” manner; this creates more benefits than the effort takes, just as the planting of a single nurtured seed can lead to an orchard. “Givers Gain” is more than mere reciprocity, but a lifestyle of generosity that, methodically and authentically implemented, can help create a virtuous circle of benefits. This requires an investment of time and generosity for which there may not be an immediate benefit, but it will ultimately benefit the giver much more than the effort of referring and helping others in your network.

The book is divided into six parts:

Part 1. The Networking Mind-Set

Part 2. Your Networking Strategy

Part 3. Networking Face to Face

Part 4. Making Your Networking Work

Part 5. Secrets of the Masters

Part 6. Is Your Networking Working?

The networking mind-set

Part 1, “The Networking Mind-Set,” consists of four chapters explaining the BNI Givers Gain approach with examples, anecdotes, and analogies. This section explains that social capital is the accumulation of resources developed in the course of social interaction. If your collective efforts are selfish, they will be self-limiting. If you enter into networking with the purpose of giving, abundance will surely follow.

Many bankers limit their expectations of themselves and their contacts and clients. Simply asking to be referred by satisfied customers is a very good start, and everyone needs what a bank provides. Bankers are trained to be polite, helpful, and courteous, but they are seldom trained to build and maintain a network. The work we do is noble—getting a roof over people’s heads, assisting with a safe and secure retirement, helping entrepreneurs create jobs, or just providing a safe haven for primary liquidity—so asking for a referral can become second nature and a goal to nurture. If you have a genuine interest in serving others, you should be looking for more chances. A networking mindset starts the process.

Devising a strategy for networking

Part 2, “Your Networking Strategy,” begins with such fundamental questions as: “Who are my best contacts?”, “Where do I meet them?”, and “Whom, exactly, do I want to meet?”

The answers to these questions begin your networking strategy. The authors discuss the advantages and limitations of online networking, chambers of commerce, business associations, and service clubs. Most of the “old school” networking events are, already, usually very well attended by banks and their competitors, but that doesn’t make them worthless.

Attendance and presence is often viewed as a requirement of the job in many banking organizations, but typically it is not developed and nurtured properly. Having a strategy makes these appearances purposeful. Knowing who you want to meet and know and where they gather are the first steps.

For example, a community bank CEO I know quietly retreated from promoting the “Kids Club Accounts.”  When asked why, he said “I am targeting people with a paycheck, not an allowance.”  Cold, maybe, but you understand whom he wanted his bank to meet.

This section also evaluates online methods to connect and build a personal network. This strategy, while essential for many people, would not be a good fit for others. Building an online network is not for everyone, and Chapter 9, “Online Networking: Click Here to Connect,” gives the reader much to consider.

Making networking happen for you and your bank

Part 3, “Networking Face to Face,” gives help in the “blocking and tackling” associated with gracefully networking face to face. This section includes discussion of the etiquette of joining in a conversation and how to make graceful entries into a conversation and mingling with a group.

 Social discomfort is reduced with an effective script and knowing your role. To help the reader prepare, the authors advocate a rule called “12x12x12.” 
The 12x12x12 Rule is:

How do you look 12 feet away? How do you look 12 inches away? And what are the first 12 words out of your mouth.?

The authors advise readers to look the part, act the part, and to have a unique selling proposition when asked, “What do you do?” 

Are you more inclined to say ,“I work for Anywhere Bank in the trust department” or do you say, “I help clients create and manage and create wealth”?

Having an honest, compelling, and unique selling proposition demonstrates an understanding of what the mission of the job is and gives a distinguishable, memorable, and powerful self-introduction. The book gives an example of a dentist who answers the “What do you do?” question as “I believe in the tooth, the whole tooth, and nothing but the tooth.” 

It may sound silly—but it is also effective, distinct and memorable.

Getting your network machine going

Part 4, “Making Your Network Work,” describes step-by-step ways to apply the techniques of leveraging new contacts, powering up your personal database, and the eight-step process of the successful referral. The authors remind the reader that this process is like fishing. You cast your line, not knowing when or if you will get a bite, but you can’t get a single bite without having your line in the water and being patient.

Part 5, “Secrets of the Masters,” includes a chapter titled “Becoming the Knowledgeable Expert.”  This means using the Givers Gain BNI model to give valuable information about your area of expertise when asked. This is not a transparent way to sell what you do, but to become a resource for whomever you are talking to, whether a potential client or not.

Having expertise and knowledge in your profession is required for doing an adequate job. By helping others, we help ourselves. One of the “Secrets of the Masters” is to be mindful of opportunities when they arise, even at times that are not designed to be networking events. This is not a mindless trawl looking for sales, but an awareness of opportunities when they present themselves, wherever it may be.

A de novo bank organizer recruited investors at unlikely places, like professional organizations, just by being enthusiastic for the new bank prior to the stock sale, and making small talk with other members. When the bank began the capital raise much later, many of his colleagues were aware of the opportunity, asked to be included and told friends. Each organizer was limited as to the amount of stock they could place, but this organizer found himself as the most effective source of shareholders and dollars investing into the new bank.

The gatekeeper role—a natural for bankers

Chapter 24, “Becoming a Referral Gatekeeper,” encourages readers to become a “go to” person for references. As bankers, we all have a strategic advantage: we know people and companies in professions that clients may ask about. There is an understandable reluctance to refer a particular person or firm when you may be serving many people in the same profession. Bankers are natural referral gatekeepers, and while you may not give a particular firm a specific advantage, you may be able to say, “Here are several places I know of … ” and “I have heard good things about these people, firms or companies … ” 

Another Secrets of the Masters is Chapter 26, “Creative Rewards.” Bankers must be particularly careful about internal policies and regulatory restrictions, but there isn’t a regulation yet that prevents saying “thank you” for an introduction, referral, or kind word. A de novo bank model was based on cultivating referrals based on expressing gratitude and asking shareholders, as part of their stock purchase, to refer the bank to others. A reference without acknowledgement from the recipient is bound to stop, even with the strongest believer in the Givers Gain approach or ownership in the bank.

There are several ways to properly reward sources for referrals, but as bankers, we are often guilty of grateful neglect. “Creative Rewards” is a chapter on not taking a reference for granted but creating some grace.

Personal network diagnostics—is it working?

Section 6, “Is Your Network Working?”, gives the top 10 ways others can promote you. Many banks use several of these techniques already, but few do it with the methodical consistency that the book advocates. Ad hoc efforts help get referrals but are inferior to an integrated, methodical plan to work the network.

The book concludes with a networking score card. Seldom do people play golf without keeping score, but it’s not unusual to network without keeping track. The score card focuses practitioners on opportunities and purposefully being present at business and social.

Assessing where you are now

Many people chose banking as a profession because the marketing requirements were not as demanding as in other careers. Few people choose sales as a career to practice accounting, but sales people are required to adhere to the accounting practices and procedures a company implements. The reciprocal of this is to integrate marketing within your company as a critical component of survival and growth.

To Network Like a Pro, a person will have to do the work required to be effective. Just as professional athletes practice and train vigorously to get just the slightest improvement, anyone wishing to get networking right will need to commit to putting in the work. This book can help make the time more efficient and jumpstart the effort, but it does not replace the fact that networking is work—work that many people will find too daunting for their talents and demeanor. For those committed to this task, this book is a roadmap to acquiring greater success though methodical, sustained and purposeful effort.

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