The Green Sheet Online Edition
October 27, 2014 • Issue 14:10:02
How to network like an industry leader - Part 1
O ne of the many skills required of payment professionals is the ability to network effectively. And more options exist today than ever before. The traditional venues such as in-person meetings of chambers of commerce, community and religious groups, athletic clubs, trade associations, etc., still bear fruit. However, the Internet and mobile technology have opened up other opportunities, including social media platforms, online forums, website comment areas, interactive webinars and more.
As industry leaders, members of The Green Sheet Advisory Board have gained significant networking expertise, and we thought it would be valuable for them to share some of their knowledge with our readers. With that in mind, we asked them to answer the following:
- What forms of networking do you employ now, how did you decide which types to use and how do you measure their effectiveness?
- How much emphasis do you place on networking in your company? Do you conduct training for employees and associates? If so, what types of training or mentoring have been most helpful?
- What have been your most and least successful networking tactics to date? Please explain. Have you tried an entirely new form of networking recently? If so, how did it pan out? If not, why?
- How important are payments industry tradeshows, and how do you decide which ones to attend?
The article contains a portion of their responses. The remainder will be published in an upcoming issue of The Green Sheet.
Adam Atlas, Attorney at Law
- The ETA has been a great networking event and is complemented by the regional shows of the various associations. Follow-up from tradeshows is important, as it helps take the first steps toward working together after having met in person. Online, LinkedIn has proven to be a very effective tool at keeping track of who is where. Folks in our industry change jobs every few years – but I still want to keep in touch with them; LinkedIn is helpful in that part of my networking efforts.
- Networking is very important, not just to meet new people, but also to help others meet new people. As a lawyer in the acquiring industry, clients look to me to help them get established with suppliers. I am frequently helping to build other peoples' networks – which is as important as building my own.
- Providing great work product is the best form of networking – because it leads to more work from the client who received it and also can lead to referrals. A new form of networking that I have tried has been to comment on blogs that have questions about payments. This method has met with mixed results. There are so many blogs out there that only a handful get read, and comments get buried in a flurry of writing that can sometimes make contributing useless. That said, I am still in the practice of looking to answer peoples' questions in public forums, as I think it is a great way to keep in touch with my constituency.
- They are very important. My decision as to which one to attend depends on how many people I think will be present and how long I have to take out of my schedule to attend. I wish I could go to all of them – but I think there is a payments tradeshow every week, so I have had to be choosy. ETA and regional shows continue to be strong in acquiring, but I also attend some of the emerging payment shows.
"Networking is very important, not just to meet new people, but also to help others meet new people."
– Adam Atlas, Attorney at Law
Andrew Altschuler, AmeriMerchant LLC
- Currently, we attend lots of tradeshows as we feel that, even in the digital age, one-on-one contact is still the most effective way to network. Our process is linear: We make introductions in person, and then follow up digitally whether it's email, Facebook and especially LinkedIn.
- We do not do any formal training. Instead, we prefer networking skills to grow organically. Networking isn't an exact science and can be only improved upon with experience. Once an individual gains knowledge of the industry and makes his or her own contacts, the networking opportunities come.
- Our most successful networking tactics have always been in-person meetings and social events. Our least successful methods usually involve blanket cold emails to contacts with no real relationship in place.
In regard to new forms of networking, we do like to use the traditional food/beverage meet ups whenever we can. Sometimes, we'll bring a group to a workout class or sporting event just to mix it up. We find that when you go outside the box you can build stronger and more unique relationships.
- Payments industry tradeshows are vital to the success of our business as we feel that they represent the best opportunity for networking and growth. When we decide on which ones to attend, we look for the best opportunities to play "offense" and "defense." If a company we want to target is attending a tradeshow, we'll attend and look to set up a meeting in person, as in we'll make sure to get in front of them and create a relationship. Conversely, at the tradeshows, we have the opportunity to see our existing relationships, interact with them and see how we can potentially better serve them.
"Our most successful networking tactics have always been in-person meetings and social events. Our least successful methods usually involve blanket cold emails to contacts with no real relationship in place."
– Andrew Altschuler, AmeriMerchant
Matt Bruno, Payment Logistics
- Typically our networking involves tradeshows like the acquirer association shows, Internet forums, and local networking events like chamber events, etc. We measure the effectiveness by the increase in business based on where the contact was first made. Because networking is a long-term strategy, it's usually measured in three-, six-, nine- and 12-month increments. When deciding how to network, we look where our target contacts are gathering.
- As a company focused primarily on external sales channels like MLS agents, POS VARs, and developers – we place a high value on networking. We have in-house training for employees who travel to shows. The most effective trainings have involved "classroom" type instructions with role playing and "on-site" type training where trainees shadow trainers during the events.
- The least successful networking tactics have been using one form of media to make contacts – for example, just going to networking events. The most successful networking tactics have involved multiple media contacts – for example, going to a networking event, following up with emails and calls, meeting the same people at other events, etc. Basically, multiple in-person contacts with the same prospect typically yield better results.
- They are as important as the attendees that show up, which changes year over year. When evaluating shows, we typically look at the current and/or historical exhibitor list, the attendee list, total number of attendees, association that puts on the show, and speak with existing/prospective partners about the show, and the stated purpose of the show. As with all marketing events, the ROI dictates which shows we attend more than once.
"The most effective trainings have involved "classroom" type instructions with role playing and "on-site" type training where trainees shadow trainers during the events."
– Matt Bruno, Payment Logistics
Lane Conner, Bluestar Payment Solutions
- As salespeople, we all know the line: A.B.C. – always be closing. I like to supplement that by A.B.N. – Always Be Networking. Networking is not something that is a sometimes thing in sales. It is an all the time thing. It doesn't matter if you are at a ball game, at an airport, with family over the holidays, etc. There are people around us every day that are potential customers or referral partners. Now, there are places where networking is made easier such as LinkedIn, the chamber of commerce, a country club, etc., but the thing to remember is that in every setting there is always a potential sale or a potential contact to be had.
- We provide leads to our salespeople; however, we always tell them that the leads that we provide are just a supplement to what they bring to the table. We conduct training for our people like we would sales. On Monday, we get together and discuss what each team member did over the weekend and potential partners/customers that we met over the weekend.
- We tried to work with a young professional group that didn't work out as well. You have to be careful of the groups that are there just to talk. I want our people to focus on people that can help you win.
- Payments industry shows are incredibly important to build your network within the industry and to see the newest technology that is available. It is a good time to catch up with old friends and to create new ones.
"We provide leads to our salespeople; however, we always tell them that the leads that we provide are just a supplement to what they bring to the table."
– Lane Conner Bluestar Payment Solutions
Nancy Drexler, Acquired Marketing
The more high-tech we get, the more important human interpersonal relationships become. At the end of the day, people still do business with people. And in an industry where most provide similar services in a similar fashion at a similar price, it's the person at the other end of the phone who really makes one company different from the next.
That said, there is no faster way to spread the word and build brand awareness than digitally. So I recommend using digital and social media to broaden audience and boost brand, backed by one-on-one marketing (email, direct mail, in-person) to seal the deal.
For Acquired Marketing, LinkedIn has been an invaluable resource. It keeps me connected to more than 1,000 very specific individuals in a very specific industry (i.e., potential clients) and aware of what these industry players are thinking and doing. At the same time, the regional conferences are where I cement existing relationships and get to form new relationships. And pretty much all of my business growth comes from that. I try to go to all the regionals because they give me that ability to connect one-to-one.
"And in an industry where most provide similar services in a similar fashion at a similar price, it's the person at the other end of the phone who really makes one company different from the next."
– Nancy Drexler, Acquired Marketing
Mark Dunn, Field Guide Enterprises LLC
- Being somewhat old and calcified, I don't do a lot with online networking or social media. I have a LinkedIn profile and some folks have found me that way. However, I find Facebook off-putting. I have a Twitter account but don't do a lot of tweets. I do follow a number of industry people on Twitter. I much prefer person-to-person networking at industry events and conferences. I can learn a lot in talking with someone for a few minutes.
- There is no substitute for networking (of all kinds) and getting your name out there. In this industry, there is so much to be gained when other professionals know you and know the quality of your work. Social media is fine, but person-to-person contact and familiarity is indispensable to getting new business, getting referrals and finding work in the payments industry.
- At trade conferences I really try to "work the room." There's a temptation to always talk to the same people I'm familiar with, but I work at getting to know folks I don't recognize. It helps to make a goal of getting to know six, 12 or 18 new people.
- I get a lot of new business contacts at the regional shows and the ETA annual conference. These are very important to my line of work. I go to all of the regional acquiring association shows because they generate a lot of new business for me.
"In this industry, there is so much to be gained when other professionals know you and know the quality of your work."
– Mark Dunn, Field Guide Enterprises LLC
Mike Fox, CPP, Group ISO Merchant Services
- Our organization has a strong focus on networking. We feel that if effectively executed, all forms of networking including, face to face/tradeshow networking and social networking like LinkedIn and Facebook can be very effective. In my opinion, measuring their effectiveness is the most difficult part of networking. For the sake of not writing a novel on this subject, I would say ROI and/or brand recognition are the two most important factors.
- Networking is an important part of our business whether it be for new customers or potential strategic partnerships. The hardest part about networking is the training for employees because they need to be knowledgeable enough to recognize the opportunity in front of them. If a representative is speaking with a potential partner and talking with them as if they are a potential merchant, that could be very hurtful to the possibility of creating a working relationship with that potential partner. When this happens it shows lack of leadership mostly, but also it portrays a lack of knowledge which can be 1. confusing to most when networking; and 2. a big turnoff to any potential customer (merchant or partner).
We train by role playing with each other in order to practice our skills and perfect our performance. There are three main areas we focus on: 1. eliminating filler words or seal talk such as ums, ahs and likes; 2. recognizing the opportunities in front of us by first listening to the potential customer and then; 3. properly executing the presentation of a solution or program that is truly right for that particular customer.
- I always look at network marketing in two groups: low and high investment. Low investment networking would be attending a tradeshow, chamber events, social media, etc., and high investment networking would be exhibiting at a tradeshow, sponsoring an event, or geo-targeted marketing through social networking sites like LinkedIn and Facebook. While both can be highly effective if executed properly, some do deliver different results and must be measured accordingly.
- Although I have heard many opinions about this subject, I feel when attending these shows you, the attendee, must network and find the opportunities that may be there. If you personally don't seek out and engage the other industry professionals at these shows, talk to them, find possible synergies and just plain out ask questions, you'll never see the value of these industry tradeshows. Our company will draw up game plans and goals for each and every show we attend; whether it be meeting with existing partners or canvassing for new ones, you will only get out of it what you put into it. If you expect/do the least, that's exactly what you'll get. At Group ISO we have an acronym for this; it's called G.O.Y.A, it stands for "Get Off Your @$$" (backside)!
"The hardest part about networking is the training for employees because they need to be knowledgeable enough to recognize the opportunity in front of them."
– Mike Fox CPP, Group ISO Merchant Services
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