The follow up process is one of the areas of networking that still seems to confuse some people. Most realize that meeting someone at a networking event for five minutes isn’t enough to build a relationship, and that follow up is critical.
The fortune is in the follow-up
But while they may have good intentions of following up with the contacts they meet at events, once they’re back in the office they find themselves staring at the stack of business cards they collected and wondering what’s the next step?
Follow up can be awkward if you don’t have a plan. Sun Tzu once said, “Every battle is won before it’s ever fought,” and I feel the same could be said about the follow up process. What you do BEFORE the follow up will make it easy or hard.
5 steps to make follow up happen
To make the process as smooth as possible, before you end a conversation with someone you want to follow up with later, make sure you follow these steps:
1) Find a reason during the conversation to follow up. It’s always easier to make the follow up call or send the follow up email if you know the other person is expecting it. Ask enough questions during your conversation to learn about their goals and what’s important to them, and listen for ways you can help.
2) Make sure the reason to follow up is a value-add for them. Look for a reason to give information that will have value for them, not just something that benefits you. In other words, unless they specifically asked for it, promising to email your sales brochure or your resume doesn’t count.
3) Once you find an opening, make the follow up offer. When you find a way to connect them to a resource or contact in your network, speak up. You can say something like, “I have a contact who may be able to help you with that. I’d be happy to send you her information.”
4) Ask how they would prefer to be contacted. Ask for a business card so you have their contact info, but also ask what’s their preferred method of follow up. Some people like email while others prefer the phone. They’ll appreciate that you asked and are likely to be more responsive.
5) Follow up soon after the event. Do your best to send the information you promised within a few days of the event. Not only will it clear up your to-do list and mental bandwidth, but it will also show that you have your act together and that you care about the relationship.
6) Stay in touch. Connecting with each other on LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter allows you to stay in touch unobtrusively and follow what is happening with them so that you can continue to find ways to add value and strengthen the relationship.
Follow up doesn’t have to be a numbers game. You don’t have to spend time meeting hundreds of new people every year hoping that a handful of them will convert into good contacts. By following some simple steps, you can turn just about any contact you make into a lasting connection.
Liz Lynch is founder of the Center for Networking Excellence and author of Smart Networking: Attract a Following In Person and Online (McGraw-Hill, 2008). She writes, speaks and consults to experienced professionals on how to seamlessly integrate social media and traditional networking to save time and accelerate results.