STORY/ JAMES COMBS
Matt Wilkerson views networking through an opportunity lens.
As owner of a Verizon Wireless store in Ocala, he frequently attends Rotary Club meetings, chamber of commerce events, various community functions, and golf outings with influential businesspeople.
For Matt, this is where the magic begins.
By meeting the right people, he increases his company’s visibility, forms mutually beneficial partnerships, and uncovers new business opportunities.
In fact, networking is what allowed him to form a partnership with an unlikely customer—assisted-living facilities.
“I met a director of one of the facilities and explained that I could offer his residents home phones for $20 a month. That excited him, and we formed a partnership. He realized how beneficial it was for his residents to have a very affordable way to remain in contact with their family members and friends.”
Matt didn’t stop there. He contacted other area directors and today services nine local assisted-living facilities. That alone has brought in nearly $50,000 in sales. Home phones, once a dying technology, have become his second-best seller right behind the coveted iPhone.
“Think about it. A resident in room 208 talks to one of her friends and explains how she’s paying $70 a month for her phone. The friend tells her that she’s only paying $20 a month for her phone. Next thing you know, the woman who wants a smaller phone bill is calling me. It’s really amazing because I never dreamed about doing business with assisted-living facilities.”
Matt also serves as area director of Business Networking International, the world’s largest referral organization with nearly 3,000 chapters. Matt networks and builds relationships with other businesspeople, and he estimates 35 percent of his business comes via referrals from within the group.
Indeed, networking has paid big dividends in Matt’s success as a business owner. However, there’s more to networking than merely showing up at functions and shaking a few hands. Matt provides valuable tips to help everyone maximize their networking capability.
Play your cards right
When people walk into a room overflowing with business people, their natural instinct is to shake 100 hands and pass out 100 business cards. That’s a waste of time, Matt says. Instead, networkers should interact with other professionals in their contact sphere, meaning they serve the same client but do not compete with one another.
For instance, a cake decorator and florist would be in the same contact sphere because they could recommend each other’s services for a wedding. Conversely, a massage therapist and plumber would likely not have mutual clients and thus are not in the same contact sphere.
“Two-thirds of business cards end up in the trash,” Matt said. “You need to interact with people who benefit you and you benefit them. And it’s always better to meet people who you can benefit first because they’ll eventually return the favor.”
Sell yourself first
Let’s say you’re attending an after-hours chamber of commerce event. What would happen if you approach a stranger, talk about your product, and try to close the sale right there and then?
Odds are you won’t succeed. Building a relationship with a prospective client first is what ultimately helps you make the sell.
“I’ve found that forging a strong relationship over time is extremely helpful in closing sales,” Matt said. “We all know closing is extremely challenging and frustrating. Potential customers seem to appreciate the relationship I’ve built with them more than every bell and whistle that my phones have.”
The power of personality
Matt says there are four personality types—examiners, nurturers, promoters, and go-getters. No doubt, those personalities attend networking functions.
According to him, go-getters (the chief executive officer with a dominant personality) and promoters (the highly enthusiastic salesperson) should approach examiners and nurturers with care and consideration.
“You can pick up on somebody’s personality style within two or three minutes of the conversation,” he said. “If you’re too aggressive or forceful with an examiner or nurturer, you’re going to instantly turn them off. They’ll quickly tune you out and begin looking at their watches in hopes the conversation soon ends. When dealing with an examiner or nurturer, it is important to slow down the conversation, be precise and clear what you’re trying to sell, and allow them to ask questions.”
Don’t be a no-show
It is an incredible year. Your business has achieved a record number in sales, and the phones are ringing off the hook. That may prompt you to utter the words, “I no longer need to network.”
That’s a potentially disastrous decision, according to Matt. After all, sales could take a considerable dip the following year, and because you’ve decided to close doors rather than build relationships, there are now fewer people in your networking circle who might potentially help.
“I call this the park bench effect,” Matt said. “There may be 20 people on a bench at first, but before you know it there are only 14 because relationships have wilted and died. We’re so busy we don’t even notice people falling off the park bench. Business success runs in cycles. During the good times, it’s important to continue building and strengthening relationships and adding new people to the park bench.”
Are you a networking newbie? A local chamber of commerce is an excellent place to start. Most offer monthly morning contact breakfasts, as well as after-hours events. Attending these events can bolster your relationships and business.
• Tavares Chamber of Commerce: 352.343.2531
• South Lake Chamber of Commerce: 352.394.4191
• Lake Eustis Area Chamber of Commerce: 352.357.3434
• Mount Dora Chamber of Commerce: 352.383.2165
• Leesburg Area Chamber of Commerce: 352.787.2131
• Umatilla Chamber of Commerce: 352.669.3511
• Lady Lake Chamber of Commerce: 352.753.6029
They’re in business
One of the largest local networking groups is the Business Networking International (BNI) Powerhouse chapter in The Villages. It includes lawyers, doctors, financial advisors, and engineers. According to the chapter’s website, BNI members increase their business by 20 percent during the first year of membership. For more information, visit bniwcf.com.