The Networking Secret That Opens Doors

Last Updated Sep 7, 2010 1:02 PM EDT

Francine Manilow knows a little bit about service. She was a stewardess back when that's what they were called; she started flying in 1963. Seeking an entrepreneurial niche she could own, she discovered short-term corporate housing. From 1980 to 2000, her company was on the runway. It didn't achieve cruising altitude until she retired from the airline in 2002 ... just in time to hit the headwinds of the housing bust. But she's got a secret weapon. All those years of serving the flying public has made her a master of "gatekeeper" management. Here's how you can apply her revenue-building referral skills.
Tending first-class passengers on international flights attuned Manilow to their expectations. Companies spend big bucks when they send someone on short-term assignment. They want to make that executive at maximum productivity to squeeze the most value from an expensive field trip. Manilow realized that she could extend the experience of upgraded flying to the short-term housing market.

This epiphany coincided with the condominium boom in the early 1980's, which started in Chicago, where Manilow lives. She launched Manilow Suites by buying seven condos. That didn't work out well. She didn't have any influence over neighbors and condo associations were difficult to deal with. She switched to leasing blocks of apartments at swanky buildings. Owners and property managers were thrilled to deal with a reliable tenant who provided concierge services to her short-term tenants.

She outfits the 200 apartments in her portfolio with her company's own furniture and accoutrements. She arranges for housekeeping, deliveries and amenities. Recently, she brought in guest beds for anthe visiting family of an executive temporarily posted in Chicago. With the rental market currently flooded with inexpensive condos peddled by owners desperate to cover their mortgages, the short-term rental niche has become chaotic. She is redoubling her efforts to keep Manilow Suites on the speed dial of budget-conscious corporate travel managers and administrative assistants. Here's how she keeps the loyalty of these critical gatekeepers.

1. Remember the influencers. The gatekeeper makes the purchase decision, but takes into consideration a constellation of factors. Manilow stays in daily touch with property managers, chief doormen, and managers of all the service providers that clean, do laundry, and provide other services. Their occasional feedback to the gatekeepers validates their good judgment in retaining Manilow's company.

2. Emphasize local knowledge. Manilow knows Chicago. She can slot an executive in a location that's convenient to lakefront running routes, if that's what she wants, or in a different location that's within easy walking distance to the office, if that's the priority. Don't underestimate your knowledge of your gatekeeper's locale and market. Mirror her reality.

3. Keep the gatekeeper updated, especially when there isn't a problem. Weekly bulletins on the executives' special requests -- roses, not lilies, for example - - gives the gatekeeper intimate inside knowledge that hones her ability to anticipate the needs of her internal clients. Make her look smart to them, and that gate will forever be open.

Morguefile image by melodi2.