Offering Joint Networking Training to Your Firm AND Clients
A friend asked how she could encourage her firm to market more closely and effectively with their financial-institution clients.
My favorite way is offering joint marketing training. Banks like giving their young professionals professional-development training, and many banks, particularly the smaller ones, don’t have the budget, opportunity, or critical mass of participants to offer this themselves.
I first ran a program like this when I was at Ungaretti & Harris 20 years ago. We invited our top few bank (and accounting firm) clients and prospects, as well as some top clients to join us in conducting networking training for our associates.
That is, I was going to be training our associates anyway, but to make it more practical and tangible, we invited their same-age (25-35 y/o) middle-manager peers at other banks and professional-services firms to participate as well. Everyone that age likes learning how to network more effectively. It’s a critical business skill. And we were offering it to them for free.
Here’s how it worked:
We had maybe 100 total participants. I offered some practical networking tips, like how to initiate a conversation with a stranger at a conference, then told them all to stand up and practice what they’d learned. “Red badges (e.g. lawyers), meet some yellow badges (bankers). Green badges (accountants), meet some blue badges (industry).” Then they’d awkwardly practice what they’d just learned, mostly staring at their shoes.
After 5-7 minutes of practice, I’d sit them back down. Then I'd offer more tips, e.g. how to exchange business cards, then have them practice again. By the third round, I could barely regain control of the room because they were having so much fun. They’d learned how to introduce themselves to strangers, ask good questions, trade business cards, exit the conversations, and move to the next person. Mortified introverts learned that they could actually do it without fainting. After an hour of training, we moved everyone to the bar for a casual 90-minute party with hors d'oeuvres and drinks, so they could practice in a more-realistic environment, passing out their cards while balancing plates and glasses.
Everyone left with a stack of new business cards.
They'd met a dozen actual professionals their age, and had a reason and the motivation to follow up and continue the conversations.
I still offer that interactive program to firms, and it’s just as effective today. It can be challenging to persuade partners to invite their clients, and it takes time to get all of the internal approvals.
Regardless, it’s a powerful training model (I didn’t invent the structure ― I first participated in something like this when I was a young associate myself and found it very helpful).