We all know the importance of having a strong network. In fact, Porter Gale’s famous quote, “your network is your net worth,” sums it up nicely. Yet the problem lies in how to keep the connections going.
Sure, it’s simple to have the first coffee meeting with someone you’ve met from an event, but it’s the structure the first meeting helps determine how the relationship plays outs.
Building your network can be intimidating and awkward initially, and like every new skill, it takes repetition to master. So here is a simple process I use to build and nurture my network.
- During your first meeting ask a lot of questions. Being interested in the other person means you’re asking questions about them. Small talk helps to loosen things up and build trust. In fact, small talk is vital to learning what drives your new friend. The personal stuff is what matters to us so asking about family and hobbies do more than build rapport. It’s intel. I’ve had people ask me how they can support me and I rarely ever have a definitive answer, but ask me what are my challenges, and well, I can talk for 5 minutes on that. So think about what information you want to learn about that person and have a few questions on hand in case you freeze up or forget.
Hint: Think F.O.R.D Family, Occupation, Recreation, Dreams. Ask questions from each group.
- Clarify your intentions for the one on one meeting. Why do you want to meet this person? Are their clients your ideal clients? Are you interested in making a purchase? Do you have possible referrals for them? If you’re interested in meeting with them to pitch your business and it was not agreed upon, you should rethink your meeting. Networking is about exchanging information, developing contacts, exploring collaborations, etc. It’s not about pitching your products unless the other person agrees. If someone agrees to meet for networking reasons and then wants to hear how you can help them, that’s a sales conversation and should be scheduled for a different time. BOOM! Easy follow-up! Actively listen for how you can help them.We often listen to respond and when this happens, we can’t remember what was said. Active listening help you pick up on nonverbal communications and see the full picture your new friend is painting for you.
Hint: Think of the conversation as time of possession. The goal is to all the other person to talk more than you. If you’re doing the majority of the talking, either you’re pitching, or you turn into a prospect.
- Agree on the next steps before parting ways.By the end of your meeting there should be 1 or 2 action items to exchange. This could be an introduction, the start of a collaboration, cross marketing, sending information, becoming accountability partners, etc. If they are interested in hearing more about your solution, the next step is to schedule a discovery meeting/ sales conversation.The next steps should be mutually agreed on and restated before you part ways.
Hint:If you’re being genuine about wanting to help the other person succeed, it’ll come through so don’t worry about being salesy. Just have a desire to help. This alone can add value.
- Send an email follow-up/ Thank you card. A super easy way to increase business and strengthen connections with your new friend is sending thank you notes. Yes, it’s old school and I’m sure you’ve heard of this. If you haven’t tried it, or fell off the wagon, YOU’RE MISSING OUT! Sending a personalized thank you via snail mail is uplifting. It also keeps you top of mind, which is what you want. With most advertisement switched to online marketing, most of us only receive bills in the mail. There have been times I sent a thank you notes to new friends and the saw them at an event. They were happy to see me everything time and appreciative of the note. It’s an easy way to build influence in a non-salesy way. Sending follow up emails is also a common way to keep the connection going, especially to reiterate action steps. You can and should do both.
Hint:Send the follow up email right away then send the thank you note the following week.
- Check in with your new friend.Once the first connect happens and action items are completed, it’s time to check in with your new friend. Ask them about a project they’re working on, their latest accomplishment, follow up on an introduction you made, etc. Then share what you’ve been working on. You can send a message via email, LinkedIn, Facebook etc. If you start to wonder about your friend, then that’s a perfect time to check in. If you’re concerned about how often you check in, you can do it once a month. The frequency will vary depending on the relationship and what is being worked on.
- If you made several attempts to reached out over a period of time without a response, it’s time to move on. Not everyone you meet with will be a good fit or will be responsive to your communications. It happens to us all. I have a follow up system I use where I reach out 6 to 8 times over 2 months. If I don’t hear from them after the 8th communication, I’ll move their contact to my cold list.I’ll reach out to them less and use different methods to communicate. If they’re still non-responsive after 6 months, I’ll archive them. Whatever your follow-up sequence is, including a cutoff point is essential to keeping your CRM current and functional. Your CRM is the heart of your business and if it’s cluttered with people who aren’t helping you do business, then your CRM isn’t of much value. Keep your CRM healthy and clean by clearing out those contacts who you’ve haven’t heard from in years.
Hint:Your follow-up system should include 2-3 communication methods. Using email as the only way you contact your people grows stale and sends the message you don’t really care.