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Meet, Greet & Sell

Get your name out by joining a networking club or finding opportunities in your own back yard. Hint: It’s all in the delivery. 

Meet, Greet & Sell
LaShawn Norden is a testament to the power of networking. Norden, a sales associate with Watson Realty Corp. in Longwood, had $11 million in sales last year and attributes 90 percent of it to her networking leads. Of that, $2.1 million came from one person in a networking club called the “Orlando Pros,” of which Norden is the director. The 13 professionals in the group refer clients to each other and feed off each other’s businesses.

Norden’s business has steadily grown since she became a sales associate five years ago because of her strong efforts to solidify meaningful relationships outside the office, she says.

“People do business with whom they know, not whom they meet the first time at a cocktail party after work, at least not in my industry,” Norden says. “It takes time to build relationships, and that’s evident from a marketing standpoint. I have a billboard, a Web site, advertisements in the papers and magazines, and the return [from them] is so much smaller than [from] networking.”

Tearing Down Barriers
Networking tears down significant barriers to prospective clients, says Joe Kennedy, Los Angeles author of “The Small Business Owner’s Manual” and its associated Web site, www.tsbom.com. During the past 15 years, Kennedy has founded three small businesses and has used his networking skills to keep those businesses successful. With the changing market, sales associates more than ever need to master the art of meet and greet, he says.

“The majority of quality leads come through networking,” Kennedy says. “When you’re introduced to someone, a lot of the normal filters or screens are not applied to you versus when [they] call [you as] a stranger in the phone book. [When they do that, you] have hoops to jump through before they’ll do business with you. But if someone recommends you, the entire process is easier and goes much faster.”

You should spend 40 to 80 percent of your time focusing on networking, Kennedy says. “People should probably weigh it more heavily than they do,” he says.

How do you establish a web of sales leads? Here’s how some Florida sales associates have become known in their communities as the go-to professionals for real estate needs:

1 Host events. Position yourself as a leader, where you’re at the center of attention. Become the generous contributor or the magnanimous person who brings everything together.

Norden orchestrates a wide variety of parties and events for her top 100 clients so that she networks with them consistently. “They already have had a good experience with me. Why cold market when you don’t have to?” she says.

Norden targets most of the events to women because, she says, “They typically decide the house.” She dubs the gatherings, “Girls’ Night Out.” Activities include pottery and jewelry making, progressive dinner parties for neighborhoods in her farm area and wine tastings.

She also invites her top 100 clients, including spouses and children, to an annual client appreciation event at Wet ’n’ Wild Water World. She pays for parking, admission, lunch, and drinks for the day, plus a half-price discount for admission in the future.

2 Warm up to walled-off groups. Sarasota has a huge retirement community. So when Matt Orr moved there in August 2002, he found the age span between himself and his potential clients and customers to be particularly burdensome. Orr, a sales associate with Michael Saunders & Co., discovered the Young Professionals Group, a club of people unified by the same challenge.

Today the group has about 1,000 members, who get involved with community charities and causes. Some, like Orr, are board members for nonprofit organizations and government entities. All members are required to do a minimum of five hours of community service per year. This introduces them to formerly unattainable clients, Orr says. He adds that 95 percent of his business comes from his community involvement.

“It’s outrageous how it’s affected my business,” Orr says. “You’re involved with boards whose members are the most influential people in town. I work on the city’s film festival, and some of the wealthiest people are on that board. And I’m on the chamber board, which is the largest in the state of Florida and contains bank presidents and city planners. It’s a good way for clients to begin to trust you.”

The local media have even dubbed Orr “Mr. Downtown” because it’s his market area. Influential people have identified him to reporters as the person with solid information about local properties. “It’s a fluke. The nickname stuck. I don’t mind it, though!” he says.

3 Mingle with your peers.
The only people Richard De Ceglie knew when he moved to Palm Coast were his parents. De Ceglie, a sales associate with Watson Realty, decided to use other sales associates as his primary networking tool. To that end, he developed his business around the seller market. As a result, sales associates who were representing buyers weren’t his competition anymore.

“I treated them, in my mind, as my best employees. I’d look up their mailing addresses and send them my listings. Then I’d ask them to send me theirs so that we could establish a networking system,” he says.

“I would encourage them by saying, ‘If you have a buyer, send them to me.’ There are more sales associates going after the same number of [prospects], so why not divide the tasks?” He also networks with complementary businesses—attorneys who deal with real estate matters, for example—to get referrals. “My time is limited, so I have to be creative,” he says.

4 Show that you care. At heart, St. Augustine is a small town whose residents are close-knit, says Peggy Gachet, also a Watson Realty sales associate. In 1992, when she first arrived in town, she met a financial planner who was “extraordinarily involved” in the community. “She sat me down and said, ‘What do you plan to do? I [will] tell you that you’ll only be successful if you get out and show people that you care,’” Gachet recalls.

She took the planner’s advice by getting involved with Communities in Schools—a nonprofit that works with at-risk children and champions community involvement in schools. Group members help with after-school programs such as tutoring and reading programs. Flagler College, a big supporter of the organization, donates office space. Gachet was first attracted to the group because it held a new-shoe drive for children who showed up for the first day of classes without proper footwear. Sadly, some of them were even barefoot. The group takes the children on a field trip to shop at a store. JC Penney and Reebok donate funds or shoes. “It got me hooked,” Gachet says.

She estimates that 80 percent of her sales come from networking with people in the group and with other charitable organizations. She sits on the local United Way board and is also involved with Anastasia Baptist Church. On average, she volunteers about six hours a week with the different groups.

One caveat: Don’t volunteer solely to generate business, because people will see through your motive and resent it, Gachet says.

“You can’t expect business to come to you. You have to do it because you love doing it. When that shows, people will gravitate to you. In a small town like mine, people want to work with people that they know and like. I prefer using advertising to build business credibility, but I prefer the nonprofit work to build credibility as a person,” she says.

In fact, Gachet recently saw how credible her reputation really was. When she asked a new client how he found her, he said, “I was in a restaurant talking to the waitress about real estate, and she gave me your name.” Gachet couldn’t figure out how she knew the waitress—until she went to choir practice at church. It turns out that Gachet sat next to the waitress’s daughter during rehearsal.

5 Capitalize on networks of families. Be aware that your current clients have a host of family members, says Cyndi Andrews, of Florida Real Moves Realty in Davenport. More often than not, they rely heavily on each other for business recommendations.

Andrews received a tangle of referrals that started with one buyer. He recommended Andrews to his friend. The friend then recommended her to the original buyer’s ex-wife. The daughter of the ex-wife (and the original buyer) then used Andrews to buy a house near her father. Meantime, the daughter recommended Andrews to her aunt.

“Once you have trust from one or two family members, they will not hesitate to use you as a [sales associate] and recommend you to everyone else in the family,” Andrews says.

Whether you’re mingling with professional groups, or making a name for yourself through your hobbies and community interests, networking ensures you have referral business for years to come.

Heidi Russell Rafferty is a Georgia-based freelance writer.