Sending a quick note to a new contact after the first meeting or checking in regularly with well-acquainted business partners is a well-established practice for business people, but what sets the great networkers apart from the run-of-the-mill salespeople? How do you go from stranger to trustworthy business partner?
“Not following up just means you’ll have to haul yourself back out on the cocktail circuit again and again and again,” says consultant John Corcoran. Here’s how to do it well:
1. Have a follow-up system in place
By having a follow-up system in place, one contact can potentially open the door to many more leads. Business coach and author Michael Port, in his book Book Yourself Solid, says: “If you don’t have a systematised and automated Keep in Touch Strategy in place, you may, as the old saying goes, leave a lot of business on the table.” Founder of BNI Ivan Misner talks about following a formula: Drop them a note within the first 24 hours; connect with them on social media in 7 days and arrange a face-to-face in 30 days. While these may differ, you need to have a “system” of your own to minimize missing people out.
2. Keep in contact online
The Internet has given networkers a plethora of tools to remain up-to-date with contacts, and even to set reminders to reach out to them on a regular basis. Corcoran advises adding your new acquaintances on LinkedIn straightaway, as its News Feed will keep you updated on their career changes. He also advises using automated reminders such as Contactually, a paid CRM service that pulls your contact info from all email accounts and even external business applications such as MailChimp, and sends reminders when it’s time to follow up with contacts again.
3. Mind your timing
An impeccable sense of timing is key to the follow-up. Fabian Böddecker, managing director of consulting firm SGDE Services and Consulting says: “The most important in following-up on a meeting is deciding when is the right time to get in touch again. If you follow-up too early you might seem desperate to develop the relationship and if you follow-up too late, all the impressions from the first meeting will be gone and you are close to starting from the beginning again.” In his company, the internal guideline is to follow-up on meetings within 2-4 days, depending on how well the meeting went.
He adds: “In addition, we don’t follow-up via email. It is not personal enough and that is what it is all about for us - establishing a successful relationship. My advice is to pick up the phone.”
4. Be a real human being
Michael Chow, publisher of TTG Asia Media, a travel and tourism publisher as well as events organiser, says the most important principles to bear in mind when following-up are: “First, understand the needs, objectives and profile of your contact; second, empathise with your contacts and put yourself in their shoes.”
Corcoran says immediately after an event, he goes home and writes down what he can remember about the contact, usually on the back of their namecard, whether it’s the name of his children or what her husband does, as the information could be useful later.
As they say, the devil’s in the details. Remembering the small things like someone’s birthday or sending a handwritten note, can go a long way in showing you care for them as people. Don’t underestimate the importance of a well-timed gift. “I build relationships by following-up with contacts regularly whether or not there is a business agenda,” said Caleb Gau of Irma Insights. “The best time to do this is during festive occasions and with small thoughts like a card or gift hamper.”
The follow-up is a skill that is hard to master, but one that will reap dividends for those who invest the time and effort to do it right. What are your best tips? Tell us!