CHECKLIST: 12 ways to stop wasting time on dead-end efforts.
"Top Questions to Ask at Your Next Networking Event"
By Jean Marie Caragher
90-Day Marketing Plan for CPA Firms
Many CPAs would rather have a tooth pulled or wait in line at the DMV than attend a networking function. Yet, networking continues to be the #1 tactic to generate leads for accounting firms.
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For a firm that was founded on networking, Herbein + Company, Inc. – a regional certified public accounting firm with six offices in Pennsylvania – continues to promote the value of building relationships through networking.
Jack Kolmansberger, Herbein’s chief marketing officer and a past president of the Association for Accounting Marketing, plays a key role in the firm’s networking strategy.
Referral Source Mixers
“We sponsor Meet & Greets with law firms and banks 10 times per year in each of our two largest markets,” explains Kolmansberger, “as stepping stones to building relationships.”
Marketing serves as the gatekeeper to determine the law firms and banks the firm should meet with. “Herbein receives more leads from lawyers than bankers,” says Kolmansberger, “so that is a factor in determining who we should meet with.”
If referral source mixers are new for your firm start with who you know, a law firm or a bank that is a friend of your firm. Think about the advisors who work with your clients or have referred business to you. Then, branch out and invite those you want to do more business with.
Following up your mixer is critical. Herbein’s marketing team handles their followup to make sure the right team member follows up with the right banker or lawyer. An email is sent to all firm Meet & Greet attendees asking who they will follow up with; marketing compiles the responses.
This can be done by creating a spreadsheet of attendees and compiling the followup activities, e.g., lunch, further introductions, adding to your e-newsletter list, LinkedIn connections. Hand-written notes to those you spoke with are a nice touch and will be remembered. Your marketing professional, marketing partner or managing partner should follow up on the status of these follow-up activities on a regular basis.
Herbein’s marketing team also tracks the organization memberships of its team members, which differ by market. For example, Pittsburgh is one of Herbein’s larger markets and has more specialized organizations like Associated General Contractors and chapters of national organizations. Reading is a smaller market, which makes networking easier because you can get to know everyone.
“It’s not about the number of meetings,” says Kolmansberger. “We meet with our team members and determine how to refocus if they’re not doing the right things, and if they are doing the right things, how to leverage it.”
How do you know if a networking organization is right for you? Diane Darling, in her book "The Networking Survival Guide," offers the following questions to prioritize your network:
- Whom do you like?
- Who gives you business?
- Whom do you give business to, and why?
- Who makes introductions on your behalf?
- Who returns your calls?
- Who is fun?
- Who makes you feel good?
- Who makes you feel stupid?
- Who is on the executive team?
- Where did each person go to school?
- What community organizations is each person involved with? What professional associations? What nonprofit boards?
- Where do each person’s children go to school?
Your answers to these questions will help you determine where and with whom you should invest your networking time.
What about networking for the next generation? Kolmansberger notes that millennials are being smarter with their time. “We find the right mix of networking for them,” he says, “and not require them to network just for the sake of networking. It’s about finding the right people they can grow together with in their careers.”
Ask Interesting Questions
In his seminal work, "How to Win Friends & Influence People," Dale Carnegie advises us to encourage others to speak. The easiest way to keep the other person talking is to ask smart, interesting, open-ended questions. What you’ll learn during these conversations will enable you to build a network of genuine relationships, which will ultimately result in new business referrals.
The Bottom Line
How does Herbein know networking results in new business for the firm? It’s all about their Pipeline Meetings, which happen 10 times per year. “These meetings provide the opportunity to report on individual marketing activities,” explains Kolmansberger, “and review the status of our leads, proposals and new business. It’s always good to have something to say at these meetings.”
Cross-check the new business referrals you receive with the organizations you’ve held mixers with. Also, review the specific referral sources and how you met. This will tell you how you are meeting your referral sources and how effective your team is with their networking skills and asking for the referral.
While networking may not be your favorite activity, you can choose to develop a system that will build your network, foster relationships, and generate new business leads for your firm.