If half of life is just showing up, then half of successful networking is following up.
How many times have you been at a networking event, had a great conversation with someone, got their business card and then nothing happened? Chances are it’s because neither one of you bothered to follow up. Maybe you connected on LinkedIn. But then what?
At a recent networking event, I met a woman whose company has a product that drew me in. She told me that she would connect me to someone who could tell me more about it. And within minutes, she had sent her colleague an email. After that, however, crickets. So I emailed my first contact, who told me she’d spelled the person’s name wrong and resent the email. Still nothing. So I called the company and was told that the one person I should speak to was out on leave. I persisted and scheduled a time to meet with someone else, but then, regretfully, left word that something had come up and I needed to cancel. I waited patiently for the return call to reschedule, but none came. I went elsewhere.
As with so many missed connections in business, the company had a promising—even eager—lead and they blew it. It may have been an unusual convergence of missteps, but the result was I wound up turning to their biggest competitor. Here is how to avoid this happening to you.
Don’t Just Collect Cards. At your next networking event, make your connection and then offer something. It could be a link to an article, an introduction to someone helpful, or a good book referral. Bring a pen as well as your business cards to every event. Then write on the back of each card you receive what your next step will be.
Follow up immediately. We are all busy and have short attention spans. You want to follow up while people remember who you are. Don’t just send a quick LinkedIn invitation. Include a note, with a reminder of how you met. Say something about your conversation and then propose a way of connecting again. Consider setting a date for a phone call, coffee or lunch to learn more about the other person’s business.
Think long-term. Your next step is to build a relationship—not necessarily to close a deal. Your new connection won’t give you business right away unless there’s an immediate need for what you do. Do use messaging that conveys urgency and immediacy, but also invest in getting to know the person. You may find you have mutual interests or that your contact is connected to someone else who might be important to your team.
Stay in touch. Reach out periodically by sending an article that might be of interest. If someone you’ve met is mentioned positively in the news, send them a note.
Build a follow-up system. Don’t rely on your memory to stay in touch. As you build your network, develop the means to stay in touch. To maintain a presence that’s right in front of them, use a contact management system that lets you manage and maintain relationships. As noted in a recent article from PCMagazine, there are dozens of tools from which to choose. If you believe you don’t quite need a robust customer relationship management (CRM) system, a simple Excel spreadsheet may serve the purpose.
Use social media wisely. Figure out what social media platforms your contacts use and communicate through those. A word of caution here. Don’t spread yourself too thin. Pick one or two platforms and focus on those. Platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram send handy notifications of birthdays and work anniversaries. Don’t just hit the “Congrats” button, but take the extra step to write a short note.
Pick up the phone. In addition to reaching out by email and social media, turn to your smartphone. It’s used relatively rarely these days, but it can be incredibly personal if used correctly. Chances are you may get a voicemail. Leave a short voice message or send a text.
Follow-up is just as essential to networking as listening is to effective communication. It’s about staying connected in ways that continually demonstrate your interest in and value to the other party. Done respectfully and with an eye toward the other person’s needs, follow-up will make all the difference to growing your business and your professional affiliations.