Business leaders are always looking for tools to give them a competitive edge. If you haven’t thought about the value of networking lately, perhaps it’s time to revisit the subject.
Claudette Jasper, vice president/business development officer for Wells Fargo Bank in Houston, is one business pro who has used networking to her company’s tremendous advantage. “When I got into the business side of banking, I realized very quickly how valuable networking was,” Jasper says.
Networking has enabled her to grow her client list impressively over the years and make more business contacts than would have been otherwise possible. Jasper says that networking is all about marketing and referrals. “Networking enables you to contact potential customers and disseminate information about your products and services,” she says.
Smart Business asked Jasper how businesspeople can take full advantage of the opportunities available.
Why should businesspeople network?
Networking allows you to meet people who can give you a warm handoff to other business prospects. When you say, ‘John Doe suggested I give you a call,’ it gives you a better introduction than a cold call.
When you network, your business development efforts are multiplied. For instance, there are 20 people in my Business Resource Group, and 15 people in my 15Networkers.com group. In essence, they’re all out there helping me make new contacts.
What types of networking opportunities are available?
There are many. Some examples include:
Networking groups and chambers of commerce Sometimes you will be the only representative for your specific industry. So when someone is looking for a referral, who are they going to think of? You!
Economic development groups These provide good opportunities to learn about new businesses coming into your area.
CPAs and corporate/real estate attorneys They can advise you when new business ventures are forming and introduce you to the key players.
Existing customers A terrific and easy source of referrals.
What should someone look for in a networking group?
Scrutinize the group first. Make sure it screens new members carefully. Does it conduct one-on-one interviews with potential members? Does it require them to submit a rsum and show a certain number of years in their business and/or field? You want to make sure that any groups you join are conscientious because when you refer someone, you put your reputation on the line. You need to feel comfortable with the person you refer and confident that they will do their very best.
Why should top level management encourage employees to network?
All companies want to bring in new business and increase sales with existing customers. Networking increases an organization’s visibility, multiplies its business development efforts, resulting in increased product sales. Importantly, it fosters credibility and trust. Salespeople are not just sales officers; they are marketing officers. Top-level management should have as many people out there marketing the company as possible, using all the tools available to increase the company’s visibility and augment its other marketing efforts.
How can someone make the most out of their networking efforts?
Realize that successful networking requires a time commitment and be prepared to meet it. Many groups meet once a week, bimonthly and monthly for at least two hours. My business resource group also holds quarterly luncheons where a guest speaker presents topics for prospects and customers, providing them an opportunity to learn and network with their peers. Find out how often the groups you’re considering meet. Serving on a subcommittee also takes time, as most of these meet at least once a month as well.
Besides the time you actually spend at meetings and functions, you can enhance your networking efforts by staying in touch with other members throughout the month, often through e-mail. The idea is to keep in touch with one another and to offer useful information to your contacts. Adding a note such as, ‘I thought you might be interested in this’ can go a long way in developing a relationship.
Other possibilities may include hosting a meeting at your place of business, offering to speak or provide a speaker for a luncheon, or helping to plan a special event or cocktail party.
CLAUDETTE JASPER is vice president/business development officer for Wells Fargo Bank, Houston. Reach her at (281) 315-8990 or Claudette.D.Jasper@wellsfargo.com.