Community networking Featured

8:00pm EDT October 26, 2008

You go to your child’s soccer game, and as you are standing on the sidelines, you strike up a conversation with another parent. During the course of the discussion, you discover that this person is unhappy with the service he or she receives from his or her bank. As a banker in the community, you know this person could benefit from your expertise. A result of smart networking or simply a neighbor helping a neighbor? Why not both?

“I enjoy meeting other people in my community that I volunteer with,” says Michelle Parnell, principal relationship manager and vice president, Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. “In these relaxed environments, such as soccer games and swim meets, there is always an exchange of personal information with those you feel comfortable with. Typically, once my new acquaintances learn I am in the banking industry, they perceive me as a trusted adviser, friend and confidant. They do not feel pressured and begin sharing freely with me, since they have a personal connection.”

Parnell concurs that community events can fulfill both personal and business objectives.

Smart Business spoke with Parnell about the importance of getting out in the neighborhood to get a pulse for the business community.

How important is it to live in the same community where you work?

Extremely important. Originally, I did not work in the same community in which I lived. My remote location hindered the level of service I was aiming to accomplish for both my client and employer. I enjoy seeing those I serve on a regular basis. When you work with individuals in a volunteer capacity, you become a resource person for those people. This allows you to maintain a consistent business image.

When I finally had the opportunity to live and work in the same community, I capitalized on it, which opened many doors for me. I immediately participated in the chamber of commerce as well as my child’s activities. This enables me to meet other business people. In these neighborly conversations, I discover what they are interested in, their life goals and career objectives. In these zero-pressure atmospheres, a rapport is established and my new acquaintances open up to share concerns they have regarding their banking or financial needs. A combination of this community involvement and sincere human interest contributes to my success.

For example, while attending my child’s swim meet, I ran into an old acquaintance and learned that he owned a business. He had some concerns about his current banking situation, and he started talking with me on a hypothetical basis. It gave him a comfort level that I was not just trying to win over his business but, instead, that I sincerely cared about him and his problem. We had a great conversation and later he moved his business to us, simply because he trusted me. I had given him some ideas and encouraged him to ask his bank certain questions. If they had answered those questions in a way that satisfied him, he would probably still be with that bank. As a result of his satisfaction, he has referred multiple corporate clients to me. Transactions like this occur frequently. The ability to live and work in one community is an invaluable resource. At face value, I would not consider a swim meet a corporate networking event, but you do meet executives in need there.

Do you approach these situations as being a possible networking opportunity?

No. I never lead with the expectation that these community events will yield a networking opportunity. I have a genuine interest in people. When you approach an encounter as if you are trying to obtain someone’s business, the lack of sincerity will become transparent.

So what makes someone a good networker?

Aside from having the skills and industry knowledge, being outgoing, articulate and well-spoken are crucial attributes. Proving you are an exceptional listener and someone who enjoys building personal relationships with others are also key to effective networking. Regardless of whether or not they are a close friend, acquaintance or client, I always try to help others even when there is no direct benefit.

Planning for an impending hurricane, a retail client and I developed a plan of action that both my company could deliver on and his company could execute under the compromised circumstances. In the storm’s aftermath, I was in daily contact with him assisting with unexpected issues. My client was thrilled not to lose incremental business and even more so with the service we provided. I am confident that he is out there promoting the level of commitment we provided and spreading positive word-of-mouth networking, as well.

MICHELLE PARNELL is a principal relationship manager and vice president with Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Reach her at (281) 913-2764 or michelle.parnell@wellsfargo.com.