August 8, 2013

Money & Career, Networking

How to Follow Up After Meeting Someone in Person

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Editor’s Note: This a guest post by John Corcoran.

Last year, AoM published a thorough guide on How to Network Effectively, written by Antonio. As he always does, Antonio crafted the definitive resource for how to prepare for and execute a night of networking and socializing.

But even if you already love networking and have enough personal style, charisma, and wit to put Ryan Gosling to shame, you might struggle with what comes next: the follow-up. What happens after you attend a networking or social mixer can make the difference between a productive evening and a complete waste of time.

Many men have trouble following through on and nurturing relationships established at these types of networking events. It’s not easy to approach people who you might have spoken with for only a few minutes before exchanging business cards and moving on. Even though it might be convenient to blame the networker, the problem is usually not with the person. The problem is the system, or lack thereof.

The Importance of Having a Follow-Up System

Although most people understand the important role networking and socializing can play in a career or a business, very few people put in place a methodic system for following up with the people they meet during an evening of networking and socializing. In fact, many just drop the ball entirely and never follow up at all.

Michael Port, a bestselling author and business coach, says having a strategy for keeping in touch with contacts you meet “may be the most important marketing strategy you’ll ever use.” In Book Yourself Solid, Port suggests taking the time to create a system for keeping in touch. “If you don’t have a systematized and automated Keep in Touch Strategy in place, you may, as the old saying goes, leave a lot of business on the table.”

Those who hate networking the most are usually the worst at following up. If you get sweaty palms just thinking about entering a room full of people you don’t know, I’ll bet you are the type who neglects the follow through entirely. That’s actually the worst thing you can do. Not following up just means you’ll have to haul yourself back out on the cocktail circuit again and again and again.

The solution is also not more networking. Spending more time networking without a follow-up system in place is like bailing water from a leaking ship — it will keep you afloat in the short term, but eventually your ship will sink. A better choice is to implement a better system.

Your business or career may even depend on it. Port argues that many businesses have failed simply because they didn’t have a strategy for checking in and keeping in touch with contacts and clients.

Approach Follow-Ups with a Philosophy of Service

When Keith Ferrazzi was growing up, he caddied at a local country club in the wealthy town next door to his own. During those long outings, he had ample time to observe how successful and wealthy members of the country club treated one another. “They found one another jobs, they invested time and money in one another’s ideas, and they made sure their kids got help getting into the best schools, got the right internships and ultimately got the best jobs,” says Ferrazzi. In other words, Ferrazzi saw that the very successful were invested in a spirit of service to one another.

In Never Eat AloneFerrazzi writes that the country club provided him “with a simple but profound lesson about the power of generosity. When you help others, they often help you.”

If you struggle with following up, the best approach is to think of your follow-ups with a spirit of generosity. Your goal is not to follow up with people you met because you want to get something from them; you are following up so you can help them, just like the successful members of the country club helped one another.

In the rest of this article, I’ll lay out a system for following up and maintaining contact with people you meet at networking and social events. I have broken down the system into three phases:

  • Phase 1 - what steps you should take immediately following a networking event.
  • Phase 2 - how you should continue to maintain contact on a regular interval (i.e. every 30 or 60 days).
  • Phase 3 - how you should deepen the relationship over the long-term.

Immediate Follow-Up

Let’s assume you just attended a social or networking event, and you met a number of men and women. You can see some potential business or career value to keeping in touch with the people you met. In other words, it wasn’t a Burning Man meetup and you didn’t just get back from Comic-Con, but you actually see business value to further developing these relationships.

Here’s what you should do immediately:

1. Take Notes About The People You Met

Immediately after an event, I will jot down a few quick notes about the people I met. Usually I will write these notes directly on the back of the business cards I collected. It’s important to do this that evening or the next morning while the conversations are still fresh in your mind.

I like writing down any personal details I learned about the person, such as his spouse’s name and his childrens’ names and ages if he has any, and any likes or dislikes or hobbies, such as favorite foods. You never know when this information may come in handy in the future.

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2. Send Memorable First Emails Within 24 Hours

The second step is to send memorable follow-up emails. For this first email, you want to demonstrate that you are thoughtful, reliable, and consistent. Just as you will have put in effort to make a good impression at the event itself, you should also make a good impression in your first email. That means you should make sure there are no typos or spelling errors, run-on sentences, clumsy hit-ons, or off-color jokes.

Even though email can be a more casual form of communication, that does not mean it is acceptable for your email to sound like it came from a tween sending texts from the mall food court.

Here’s what your first email should not look like:

Hi Mike:

It was great meeting you, hopefully we’ll run into one another again. Keep in touch. I LOL’d all night – your so funny!

–Joe

A better approach is to follow up on a topic you discussed when you met. Here is a better first email:

Hey Mike: It was great meeting with you, and talking about your burger business’s dilemma with re-branding itself.

I’ve thought more about it, and I think Avalanche Burgers would be a good new name. I saw a statistic recently that 50% of consumers prefer to purchase from a business with a sense of humor, and the fact that your burger joint is attached to a ski resort suggests you have a sense of humor about the threat of avalanches. I also asked my wife what she thought and she says Avalanche Burgers sounds “very cute.”

I have a cousin who works for a branding firm in Chicago. I’m happy to ask him for his input as well. Just let me know.

Good luck as you weigh your decision.

— Joe

You can see how much more memorable that email is. Here’s why this follow-up works:

  • Sharing Useful Data. Joe isn’t just pontificating like a know-it-all; he actually shared the useful statistic that 50% of consumers prefer to purchase from a business with a sense of humor, and this piece of information could be very valuable to someone seeking ideas for re-branding their business.
  • Surveying Others. Not only did Joe provide Mike with his opinion, but the fact that he asked his wife for her opinion demonstrated he put in extra effort to help Mike out.
  • Offering Further Help. By offering to reach out to his cousin, Joe is offering something of even greater potential value to Mike.
  • Focusing on the Recipient. Notice Joe did not ask Mike for anything at all.

This second email would take just a little more time than the first, and yet it demonstrates how useful Joe would be as a member of Mike’s extended network. Joe wants Mike to think, “Now this is the kind of guy I want to get to know better.”

3. Send a Handwritten Note

If you really want to make a great impression, send a handwritten note on nice stationery. I received a handwritten note as a thank you from someone I had met recently and I can say it made a big impression on me. I would still send an email anyways, however, so that you demonstrate immediate follow-through, and so it’s easy to connect via email again in the future.

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4. Connect on Social Media

The next step is to connect with the person on LinkedIn. Once I am connected with someone on LinkedIn, I know I am less likely to lose touch with them and they will be reminded of me every time I post something to LinkedIn. It’s a great tool for remaining “top of mind” with people in your extended network.

I have a simple, free browser extension called Rapportive installed in my browser so when I start to compose an email in my Gmail account to a person, I see a snapshot of that person’s social media profiles on the right side of my “compose” window.

This great tool allows me to learn a little more about the person, and I can quickly connect on LinkedIn or other social media services in one click.

Monthly Follow-Ups

After the initial follow-up, it’s very easy to lose contact. So the next step is to create a practice of following up on a regular interval, i.e. every 30 days or every 90 days, or even every six months. You can decide whatever interval is comfortable, but be sure to stick to it. The point is to make sure you don’t let so much time go by that the relationship goes cold.

Add Follow-Up Reminders

The next step is to make sure you follow up with that person. This is one of the hardest parts of the follow-up process to manage.

You can go cheap on this strategy by trying to remember to follow up, although chances are contacts will fall through the cracks. Another option is to add reminders in your calendar, but that can be very labor intensive.

I recently started experimenting with an online service that allows me to categorize people based on how frequently I want to follow up with them, i.e. every 30 days, every 60 days, every 6 months, etc. While it isn’t totally necessary to use such a service, you may find as I have that the benefit outweighs the cost. There are plenty of other customer relationship management (CRM) services that you can use.

The most important thing, whether you use a paid service or not, is to make sure relationships don’t go stale. Make sure 6 or 12 months don’t go by without you checking in with people who are important to your business or career. They will forget about you.

How to Follow Up & Add Value

One of the hardest parts about following up with people who you still don’t know all that well is finding excuses for contacting that person without sounding like you are a used car salesman.

A few weeks ago, I got a voicemail completely out of the blue from a business broker I had met a year earlier. In his voicemail, he actually said he was calling to see if I had “any business for him” in the form of clients of mine who might want to sell their business. I felt used, like he had no interest in me at all, only in what I could provide for him. There are a number of excuses he could have used for calling out of the blue, but calling to ask if I had any business for him was not a good approach. Needless to say, I didn’t return the call.

Here are a few ways you can follow up without sounding like you’re only in it for you:

1. Send An Informative Article, a Blog Post, or a Book

One of the easiest and most effective excuses for contacting a person is because you want to share an article, blog post, or book that you think might be valuable to that person. This piece of content could relate to their business or profession, or it could easily relate to a passion, hobby, or family member.

For example, if I know a person’s daughter is about to start a new job after graduating from college, I might send that person an article I read on how to ace your first day and week at a new job. Oftentimes, demonstrating your thoughtfulness as to that person’s beloved family members is a way of forming a stronger personal bond with them.

2. Make an Introduction

Another strategy I love to use, especially with people I just met, is to introduce the new person to someone else I know. People love relevant introductions, especially when the introduction can help them in their business or career. What’s more, if the two people really hit it off, they will always remember you were the person who introduced them.

Here’s an example:

Hey Jim:

I’m cc’ing by way of introduction Phil Mitchell, who I met last night at a Chamber of Commerce mixer. Phil is a business coach in San Francisco focusing on software startups. It turns out Phil is also a huge Cubs fan so you two have something in common.

Phil: Jim lives down the street from me, and our sons are in preschool together. Jim is the founder of a startup called Pets.com that I think is going to be the biggest thing since sliced bread. I thought you two would get along so that’s why I’m making the introduction.

Best,

John

NOTE to self: I should definitely never be a venture capitalist.

3. Invite the Person to a Free or Comped Event

Free or comped events are a great excuse for getting back in touch later. For example, I got an email recently from a woman I know, inviting me to a small panel discussion she thought would be of interest. She was a board member for the sponsoring organization, so she offered me a complimentary ticket.

The key here is the event has to be (A) free or paid for, and (B) relevant or useful to the person you just met. If you try to get the person you just met to buy a ticket to some event you are promoting, you will probably only annoy that person.

4. Mention the Person in your Writing

Another great way to make an impression is by mentioning the person you met, or their company, in a blog post or a YouTube video. For example, Antonio included a photograph of him and Tom Julian, one of his favorite men’s style authors, in his How to Network Effectively post. This is a perfect example of how to create an excuse for further contact. As an author, I’m sure Mr. Julian was grateful to Antonio for mentioning him on such a wildly popular and high-traffic blog.

How to Deepen your Relationships Over the Long-Term

The final step is to deepen your relationships over the long-term. Your goal should be to move the people you meet up the ladder to deeper and more meaningful relationships.

Before you start deepening relationships, you should first ask yourself some tough questions about with whom you want to further relationships.

Determine Which People for Deeper Relationships

Even though you should approach networking with a philosophy of helping others first, you still want those who you help to be in a position to one day repay the favor.

I recommend writing out an actual list of 50+ people who you most want to get to know better over the next 12 months. Having to sit down and create this list may even help create greater clarity as to your business and career goals. The list may include everyone from celebrities to CEOs to colleagues and current or past clients or customers. Every once in a while, you should revisit this list and decide if there are any people who should be added or removed.

Choose What In-Person Events to Use

Once you’ve determined who you want to deepen relationships with, you should start reaching out to meet for lunch, coffee, or a drink. This is a great way to get to know the person better than you probably did in your initial meeting.

There are an infinite number of different types of in-person events you could engage in — lunches, coffees, drinks, dinners, sporting events — but you should choose carefully. If you don’t naturally like networking, then be sure you don’t put yourself in a situation that will make it more uncomfortable. If you’re not athletic, don’t get roped into a golf game. If you hate drinking, don’t meet someone for a happy hour at a bar. If you are great at one-on-one meetings, then perhaps a quiet lunch at an out-of-the-way cafe would be best. Play to your strengths.

Which industry you are in is also going to make a difference as to what events are appropriate. Here are a few ideas:

  • Athletic Outings - in some industries, it may be popular to network over a round of golf. In others, it may be popular to play pickup basketball.
  • Entertainment Outings - professional ballgames, musical performances, and plays can be a nice way to get to know someone in a relaxed atmosphere.
  • Meals, Drinks, or Coffee - if you don’t have a lot of money, this can be a great way to network. Most people have to get lunch or coffee each day anyways, so you might as well turn these activities into networking opportunities by inviting someone to join you.
  • Shared Interest Events - from attending religious services to a joint outing at the shooting range, if you have a shared interest, that’s a great opportunity to bond.
  • Skype or Phone Calls - if the person lives far from you, then you can always connect via Skype or over a phone call to get to know each other better.

Bring a Small Gift

For bonus points, bring a small gift to give to your recipient when you meet. A gift, however small, can make a huge impression. When Michael Fishman, a marketing advisor and consultant, set up an initial lunch meeting with Ramit Sethi, the popular blogger and bestselling author of I Will Teach You To Be Rich, he brought along an obscure, out-of-print book as a gift. Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz sells for around $100 on eBay – a fact which Sethi didn’t know at the time.

Sethi was so impressed by the gesture that when Fishman later asked Sethi to speak at a conference Fishman was organizing, Sethi agreed to waive his standard $20,000 fee.

When you offset the price of the book, that one small gift saved Fishman $19,900. Not too bad for a used book.

Send Thank You Emails After Your Meeting

After you’ve met, send a follow-up email or note thanking the person for meeting with you, no matter who you met. Whether the person is CEO of a Fortune 500 company or unemployed, they gave up their time to meet with you, and thanking them aligns with the spirit of service we are seeking to achieve.

Constantly Re-evaluate Your Approach

The final thought I want to leave you with is to constantly think about how you can improve your follow-up system. Your system should be fluid, just like relationships are fluid. Most of all, proceed with a positive attitude and spirit of helping others, and you should have no trouble developing deeper and more meaningful relationships.

What are your tips for following up after you meet someone new at a networking event? Share them with us in the comments!

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John Corcoran is an attorney, former Clinton White House Writer, and blogger at SmartBusinessRevolution.com, where he writes about how to use political strategies and tactics in business. You can download his free ebook, “10 Ways to Use Secret Political Strategies and Tactics to Grow Your Business.”

 


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