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Stop Cold Calling, Start Networking

Joining a professional organization can provide access to qualified prospects.

By Peter Bates

The sound of running feet thumps across the floor above. In a nearby room, metal weights clang against barbells like Neolithic music. The main door outside the function room opens and closes 15 times a minute with a brassy clunk. There’s no denying it; the local YMCA isn’t the best place to give a presentation to a couple dozen Kiwanians. “But it sure beats cold calling,” says Mike Miele, a financial advisor for the Morton Financial Group in Wellesley, Mass. (a subsidiary of Wachovia).

Miele has been frequenting networking and community groups for several years now. Prior to that, he’d been tied to two phones, calling prospects all day with little to show for it except ear calluses and glazed eyes. He was just pitching a product and now, with the do-not-call list, even doing that has become more difficult.

“When people realize that you’re there to stay, they respect you. You’re not a “fly-by-nighter.” You’re there for the long haul.”
—Mike Miele

The “elevator speech”
But when he went to his first networking meeting at the Boston Chamber of Commerce and later started getting contacts, he realized he’d done the right thing.

“I began getting a clientele committed to what I was offering,” Miele says. “Not only was I able to meet with them face-to-face in an environment that expects—even fosters—such contact; I also found I was getting bigger orders. Nothing beats speaking to someone directly.”

You do a lot of talking at networking meetings. At the chamber of commerce, Miele would give his 20-second “elevator speech” every week, so called because it is designed to replicate the first, brief speech you would give to an important prospect as you travel down an elevator together.

And not only do you do a lot of talking; you also see a lot of faces. “The chamber has its good and bad points,” Miele notes. “On the plus side, you get to talk to a group that changes at every meeting, with few holdovers from week to week. On the negative side, you get to talk to a group that changes at every meeting, with few holdovers from week to week.” Still, the large pool of attendees made it easy for him to select prospects from his predefined contact spheres, such as employees changing jobs and in need of 401(k) plan rollovers.

Finding another audience
It’s never enough to join only one networking group. As a result, Miele joined an entirely different group—the more tightly structured Business Networking International. If there’s no other advisor already in the chapter you’re wooing and if they’ll have you, BNI can be the mother lode of networking contacts. BNI members, like Miele, are given a chance to deliver their elevator speeches every week just like they do at the chamber, but the group is structured differently. Each meeting has the same core group of businessmen and businesswomen, with the occasional new member.

“We become like business associates attending social events together,” Miele explains. Once a quarter, he gives a 10-minute presentation about his business, usually about a topic that’s been on people’s minds lately, like stocks. Observing BNI’s bylaws, he finds contacts for others in the group and, in return, they recommend him to their friends and colleagues. Thus, BNI acts like a natural, enforced referral system filled with qualified leads.

Keep it low-key
However, it can take some time for advisors to reap the rewards of a networking group. Miele attended BNI meetings for a year before people started using his services. He wasn’t surprised because it often takes that long to develop visibility and trust.

“When people realize that you’re there to stay, they respect you,” he says. “You’re not a “fly-by-nighter.” You’re there for the long haul.” And success soon bred success. When Miele started getting contacts within the group, he made it a point of noting—with their permission, of course—his satisfied customers. “What could be better than having your recommendation sitting two seats over from you?”

Soon the networking process seeped from one group to another. A networking contact he developed at BNI asked him to speak at his local Kiwanis Club. Because everyone at the club knew and trusted the contact, Miele found it easier to relate to his audience during the presentation. He later gathered business cards by conducting a raffle for a gift certificate. “Do you know,” Miele asks, “how long it would have taken me to gather that many interested individuals through cold calling? Days. Maybe even weeks.”

Peter Bates runs Bates Communications, a marketing communications firm in the Boston area. You can contact him at pbates@batescommunications.net or through his website at www.batescommunications.net.

Wachovia Securities did not assist in the preparation of this article. The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Wachovia Securities or its affiliates. The material has been prepared or is distributed solely for informational purposes and is not a solicitation, an offer to buy any security or instrument, or to participate in any trading strategy. Wachovia Securities, LLC., member NYSE/SIPC.

 


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