Successful networkers can add up to 40 percent to their bottom lines, accord­ing to Mike Goodall, managing director of Inpro Australia.

Goodall, who has just returned to his ad­vice business after a three-year stint running the financial planning arm of ANZ Bank, says that the ability to build and maintain networks is a funda­mental attribute of the best advisers.

In a study, which he will present at this year’s Financial Planning Association (FPA) annual conference in Sydney, Goodall identifies effective networking as the “single definitive feature” of top-performing advisers.

His research centres on four advisers in the ANZ financial planning arm, two city-based and two in rural areas, who consistently outperformed their peers.

He says while all four, like most financial plan­ners, are “socially adept” it takes more than a big personality and a facility for handing out business cards to create strong networks. “They have quietly built relationships,” Goodall says. “They understand the power of networks of people who become advocates for them.”

Salaried bank advisers are not traditionally considered to be brilliant networkers; the common perception is that they merely sit at their desks waiting for the next internal referral. Goodall says while “vestiges” of this attitude might remain in bank advisory chains, most bank planners have to develop networks both “in and out of the bank”; even those advisers sitting at the end of the bank referral chain can’t rely on passive supply to build their client bases.

Goodall gives the example of an adviser who, while branch-based, made sure every person who worked in the five branches he serviced went through a financial needs analysis process. “By doing that, everyone understood what he did and were more willing to refer clients to him,” he says. “A significant proportion of those staff also became his clients and advocates for his service.”

Another of the top ANZ planners managed to secure exclusive referral relationships from several accountancy firms despite fierce competition from a number of independent financial advisers in the same area.

“He was a long-time resident of the town so he had that credibility, he wasn’t seen as a ‘blow-in’ and he had the value proposition of the bank as well as his own persona,” Goodall says. “But he also made sure that none of those accountants ever doubted his quality and ethics.”

Tricks of theTrade?

If there is a trick to successful networking, most of the advisers studied were oblivious to it. How­ever, Goodall observes that “they have a process that works and they don’t change it”. He says while most advisers would have heard the message before, not many actually apply it consistently to create networks that feed the success of their practices.

“I’m sure there will be some who will quote Homer Simpson and say ‘doh’ when they hear what I have to say,” Goodall says. “And really there’s noth­ing that [top networkers] do that I haven’t learnt in my 23 years in the industry. But what they do is apply it and stick with it.”

He says another characteristic of these advisers was their ability to quickly recognise what made their networks successful, and what didn’t. In com­parison, most ANZ advisers were more “hit and miss” with their networking tactics.

Ongoing process

Goodall says that network-building never ends. The advisers in his study ‘future-proofed’ their referral sources to some extent by throwing the net as wide as possible in the businesses they partnered with. Rather than relying on a single key relation­ship in an accountancy firm, for example, good networkers recognise the importance of forming relationships with as many people inside an organi­sation as possible.

“Nothing stays the same. People move on. If you keep concentrating on only one or two key people you could easily lose the referrals when things change in the business,” Goodall says.

All the advisers in his study were more than willing to share their ‘secrets’ and help explain why their results were 30-40 percent above the ANZ average. “Logic says that if something that a person is doing is giving a 40 percent better outcome then you’d want to talk to them and find out how to do it too,” Goodall says. “But only a tiny minority of advisers do.”

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