How important is face-to-face networking to sales, relationships, career and success?
I asked my commercial insurance agent, John Cantrell, to give me a synopsis of his networking strategies. John has been a friend, client and vendor for the past 22 years.
Here are two important facts about John:
1. His insurance business has exploded with growth over the past 22 years.
2. He is a major business networker in Charlotte.
I wonder if these two facts are connected. (Hint: They are!)
I asked John to tell me what networking has meant to him and his business over the past 20 years. His immediate answer was: “It has been the foundation of my most valuable clients, friends, suppliers and relationships.”
Here’s the background of how to succeed as a local business networker from arguably the toughest sales category on the planet: insurance. This is John’s story and tips in his own words:
“When I started in the insurance business, the first thing I did was join the Charlotte Chamber. I started in the insurance business in 1993 as a fresh graduate from East Carolina with a finance degree.
“My dad gave me an opportunity, a desk, a chair and a salary with a declining scale. He wasn't going to throw me into the 10-foot-deep water immediately, but he did make the impact known that I had to learn how to eat what I kill.
“Shortly after joining the Chamber, I was a little discouraged. One of my best friends, Richard Herd, and I were talking one day about me not continuing to participate in the Chamber. It was about six months after my joining and he said, "Just stick it out, get involved, get on some committees and see what happens after a year. If you don't like it, I'll pay for your membership.”
“Little did I know that 20 years later, some of the people that I met then would be my best friends and longest-term clients — people like Richard Herd, Jeffrey Gitomer, Michael Meehan, Eileen Covington.”
Here is John’s networking and leadership history in the Charlotte Chamber:
1. Business Growth Network. He served on committees welcoming new members and meeting other small business owners.
2. Entrepreneur of the Year Awards. Committee member and chair for three years, involved in selecting, interviewing and running the event.
3. Charlotte Chamber Business Owner Peer Group. For five years, he met monthly with noncompeting business owners to discuss business problems: how to hire, fire, train and market business.
4. Chamber New Member Orientation. For two years, he chaired and led a monthly meeting to explain how the Chamber works for new members.
6. Business After Hours. Cocktails after work with other business professionals at different venues around town. Great way to keep friendships current.
7. Charlotte Chamber Board of Advisor. A higher level membership that attracts more of the high-level business owners and managers.
John says, “It's about developing core networking places and participating, getting involved and establishing a leadership position. But everyone is different. Some people are morning people and some are night owls. Work at your best system and process that lets you get the most done in the time that you dedicate to networking.”
Here are John’s other core networking groups described in his own words:
Rotary: “I have been in Rotary clubs since 1997, when I was the founder of Mecklenburg South Rotary. Rotary has been a great organization to participate in. It is not a sales networking organization; it is a service club that gives you the opportunity to meet and network with others.”
Leads groups: “I have been in numerous different groups that have differing levels of success. One of the best things that you can do in those is use it as opportunities to build relationships with people that you trust and value and who work in similar circles as you do.”
Note from John to newcomers: “When you are brand new in the sales world, you don't have a lot of things filling your calendar. Fill it with networking events and Chamber events. Fill it with opportunities to meet and build your network of people. The best strategy is to help them achieve the things they're trying to achieve. Pay it forward, and you’ll always get paid back.”
Note from Jeffrey: Thank you, John, for providing your personal achievements. You are a model networker. I hope many other salespeople and businesspeople will follow your path.
Editor’s note: Jeffrey Gitomer is on sabbatical. This column originally appeared in the March 9, 2015, Business Journal.
Jeffrey Gitomer is the author of 12 best-selling books. His real-world ideas and content also are available as online courses at GitomerVT.com. For information about training and seminars, visit gitomer.com or gitomercertifiedadvisors.com, or email Jeffrey personally at firstname.lastname@example.org.