Upon my return from a conference several years, ago, I sat at my desk with a large pile of business cards. I knew that amongst these colorful cards were potential clients, partners and friends. But how would I get through this stack in a timely and efficient manner? After organizing and updating databases, I reached out to my key segment and was able to secure interest in our services from about 75% of the prospects I met. In the end, I landed three accounts that generated a fair amount of recurring revenue for the company, one partnership that opened our offering to a larger client base, and new friends. In other words: success.
It took several trips and stacks to get this system in place. What I do now starts ahead of the event. If I have access to the attendee list, I identify the folks I want to meet. I make sure that for the different types of client, I tailor my introduction to include how I can help their business grow. If I don't have access to the attendee list, I have at the very least a list of the sponsors and speakers. I do my homework and try to find out as much as I can about the company's presenting and the speakers who are of interest to me, and my business.
[Related: You Made the Connection. Now What? Tips on Building a Networking Relationship]
As I meet folks, I jot down a memory trigger point, things like: went to NYU; spoke on this or that panel; travels to Latin America; wore great shoes... whatever helps to remember. I find this very helpful. Not only does it help recall the meeting, it provides a conversation opener on the follow up email.
Once I am back home, I sift, organize and reach out. I would love to say it is the very first thing I do on my return, but it isn't. I choose a day within a week to reach out to those whom I wish to engage in a business relationship. Doing this within a week helps the person remember the meeting.
Now, for your version: you just back from a conference, full of hope, exhausted and with an inbox that doesn't quit. Now what? You look at the stack of cards you collected - how many are there? One handful? Two Handfuls? 20? Doesn't matter. Here are my five steps that can make the process more efficient.
- Prospect: High Priority
- Potential Partner/Connectors: Second Priority
- Vendors/Competition/cool folks: Third Priority
- Digital: There are a variety of apps your can use for this purpose. Scanning is the quickest way to organize them. I prefer Evernote, but others are available free of charge or for a small cost; CamCard, ABBY's Business Card Reader and Full Contact to name a few. These handy apps scan and digitize the card, upload directly to your contacts. Regardless of which one you use, check that all the information is uploaded correctly.
- Analog: For lovers of paper, or living a balanced life between the two, organize the cards into transparent sleeves, grouped by event and have them entered into an excel spreadsheet. This is key because you will need a file that can be exported to take care of the next step. (For the analog folks, you will need to embrace the technology at some point. Why not start now and make this last event, the one that has your business turn a corner?)
- If you used a card scanner app, you probably already have this feature turned on. If not, create a simple short introduction as to where you met, and why you want to follow-up.
- Using an email marketing tool - such as Constant Contact or MailChimp to send a thank you note to the new contacts and a synopsis of the company's experience at the event. Include: a. What you found interesting at the event
b. Add a couple of lines on the core business of the company
c. The company's value proposition in three bullet points
d. An invitation to chat or meet with them
- Writing personal note is always a nice, elegant touch. There are always a handful of key prospects you meet that you may wish to follow up personally. Craft a short email, remind them of your meeting, and thank them for the time. Maybe you chatted about their children, or school or sports - refer to that. It will help to refresh their memory of the conversation. Close the note with asking for an in-person follow up meeting. Choose a date at least 2 weeks out but within a month (remember, they to have to catch up on their own life).
- Again there are a variety of online follow-up tools to help you get started. I recently was introduced to followupthen.com a super efficient follow-up tool to help organize your to-do list.
Cultivating relationships is a time investment in your business. Stay in front of these folks, whether you follow them on social media, or via email. I start by inviting them to come to events at organizations I am involved with that might be of interest to them. Always give without expectation of a return. You will be pleasantly surprised at how folks respond. I really love the part of my work that focuses on cultivating client relationships.
Want more on how to get the most of our your networking efforts? Read this article to learn how to cultivate a strategic partner.
Katherina B. Ansink is a leading business development, relationship management strategist and client cultivator with 20 plus years of direct experience in financial services. She is the director of business development at a New York City regulatory change management firm that provides strategic consulting services to the banking and financial services industry. Follow her on Twitter @kbansink
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