Following Up with Finesse

An old adage says that 80 percent of success is just showing up. But how do you accomplish that other 20 percent – particularly following a networking event like a tradeshow or membership meeting? What comes after collecting a stack of business cards – and handing out plenty of your own, of course – to turn new acquaintances into useful business resources?  

The follow-up is easily one of the most crucial steps in the networking process. There’s a certain window of time in which you can reconnect with those you’ve just met to show your proactivity and willingness to invest time and effort into a new business relationship.  

How do you make that important next step? Here are some ideas for following up flawlessly:

  • Be organized – Upon returning to the office following a networking event, take time to prioritize your new stack of business cards by those with whom you want to follow up within 48 hours, those you plan to contact within a week, and those to whom you’ll reach out in a few weeks. By breaking up the sometimes daunting task of following up into manageable pieces, you’ll be able to take on the challenge with confidence.
  • Plan with goals – Set a measurable goal for following up, such as getting three face-to-face meetings (whether that be over coffee or lunch, or merely in the office) out of each networking event you attend. Remember, in today’s connected world, there are a plethora of communication channels you can use in following up. Put some thought into which method will connect best with that individual and how you want to present yourself.
  • Look for cues – Treat networking like going on a scavenger hunt, gathering personal clues and cues all around. People love to talk about themselves – particularly about their children, pets, or hobbies/interests. Find the common ground when you meet new people – and then remember and reference it when following up. Did he mention an upcoming trip? Respond with a suggested restaurant or tour book. Did her son have a baseball game? Ask about how the game went. Show a genuine interest in them, not just in what they can offer you business-wise. Jot down talking points before calling, or draft an email and then come back to it after a few hours before sending. Be sure to put your best foot forward.
  • Prepare for any response – Keep in mind that despite your most valiant efforts, not everyone to whom you reach out will respond in kind. It could be that they’re not interested in fostering a relationship; it could simply be that they’re too busy and don’t have the bandwidth to invest in a new relationship at the moment. Don’t get discouraged. If they don’t respond to your first contact, wait a week and reach out via a different medium. If that doesn’t take, then perhaps try once more, but beyond that, let it go. Your paths may cross again at a better time for your contact. Also, when making a meeting request, be sure to ask in a way where “no” is a viable response for them. Providing that level of ease right off the bat shows professionalism and confidence that are the building blocks for a successful business relationship.

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