Expanding Through Natural Affiliations

Let me tell you how my son got into the College of his choice. He didn’t get it on his first try, he was waitlisted. He was a smart kid with good grades who could easily have fit into this college’s freshman class and he was like literally thousands of others of kids with good grades and strong activities who were waitlisted or rejected.

So, in the late Spring of his high school senior year, we sent money to one of the schools that did accept him. And, about six weeks later, he got a call from his first-choice school inviting him to be part of the freshman class. After about 3 seconds of thinking about it, he accepted. Why did that happen?

We think it was because of his soccer connections. My son had played club soccer for one club from the 7th grade on and, eventually, high school soccer. They were very well coached. From time to time during those five years, the men’s soccer coach from what turned out to be his first-choice college would come to do clinics for his teams. And one of the parents on the soccer club’s board of directors worked in the admissions office of what turned out to be his first-choice college. And we think that, as they were looking down the list of waitlisted candidates, my son’s name stood out because they knew him from soccer. They knew his work ethic. They knew about his academic performance. And they liked him. So, they gave him a shot. We didn’t ask for that. It just happened.

This is the power of expanding your network through natural affiliations. The idea is to establish many “listening posts” on your behalf – people in many walks of life who know you, like you, trust you, and remember you through the affiliation you share so that, when they see or hear something that would be good for you, they let you know. And, so that you can ask them at some point, “Hey, do you know this or that person… would you be comfortable introducing us to each other?” And, sometimes, they turn out to be prospects.

One of the most successful commercial bankers I’ve met shared a story with me about his life outside of the bank and he told me that he had a couple of beautiful dogs. “Dogs?”, I asked. “Yes,” he said, “hunting dogs. I love duck hunting.”

“Duck hunting,” I replied? “Yes,” he replied, “and it’s been a wonderful source of business for me as well as a great pleasure.” Why such a good source of business? “Well,” he said, “do you know who has time and the money to have this hobby? They’re the people that I want as clients or they are connected to the people I want as clients.”

In my view, the people with the best networks, the best listening posts and the best connectors, win and natural affiliations are one contributing part of those networks.

Natural affiliations are people who are engaged in formal or informal groups in which you or your family participate. Formal groups have structures and charters and boards. A Chamber of Commerce is a good example. A community sailing organization.

An informal group includes people that you run into from time to time around a common purpose … Starbucks at 7:42 in the morning, members of a weekend bicycling peloton, parents in a school parent teacher group, soccer team parents, your kids’ coaches and teachers.

Some of the Natural Affiliation groups you’re in more-or-less by default because of your kids’ activities or your work commitments. Some you choose because you enjoy them – a book club, a sailing club, a non-profit in which you volunteer. Some you choose – an industry trade group, a particular country club, a specific arts organization – because you want to meet and mingle with the members because you expect and believe that they are or may be connected to people you seek as clients.

So, the question I would ask you is, “have you met everybody in the formal and informal groups in which you participate?” The answer is probably “no” and don’t feel bad about that, very few people have. The trick is to systematically reach out to the people that you haven’t met, start conversations with them, and began to develop a little bit of a friendship connection with them. Who are they? What do they like to do? How can you or your network help them? Who do they hang out with? And then decide, is this somebody that I want to nurture a relationship with because I like them and there’s a good reciprocity here… or not?

And over time, as you reach out and meet people and introduce yourself and establish these early steps of friendship, you establish this network of listening posts that I described earlier – people who know you, like you, and remember you so that when they see or hear something they think would be interesting to you, they let you know.

And the approach to them doesn’t have to be hard. It’s something like, “Hi, Jamie, this is Madison Smith with M&T Bank but that’s not why I’m calling. We’re both members of the ABC Organization and we’ve never met. So, I just thought I would ask if you’d be open to spending a few minutes so that we could introduce ourselves to each other and possibly connect at an upcoming meeting.” Something like that. Loose, informal, and genuine. And then it’s like the line from the movie Forest Gump – “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.”


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