In the last part of this series we looked at how to start your professional network.
At the end we looked at how to filter every new contact you meet into a shortlist by asking yourself two very selective questions:
- Could they potentially be useful work-wise?
(And that doesn’t just mean being a potential direct source of work; it could also mean they may be able to make new introductions and provide a useful market insight.)
- Did you like them?
The reasons for going through this important step is that it keeps your shortlist manageable which is going to be critical to your BD success as you enter the most essential step of the process, follow up.
It is a cliché but when it comes to networking, results aren’t generated by just turning up, they’re generated by following up. It’s simply not enough to turn up to events and go through the motions because however much time and effort you invest and however many people you speak to, it won’t lead anywhere unless you’re prepared to keep those conversations going afterwards so they turn into genuine working relationships.
This is sometimes the point in the process when people get nervous. Will I look too keen? Will I be ignored? Will I look like a stalker? The answer to all 3 questions is ‘no’. If you have put each contact through the 2 question filter, then you will have established an element of common ground professionally and some sort of nascent connection personally. Therefore reaching out and connecting with them will be received positively.
The first step is to connect on LinkedIn. However, don’t just lazily click the add connection button. Add a personal note reminding them where you met and try to include something relevant from your conversation.
The next step is to try and arrange a second meeting.
I’d always suggest this is done separately to your connection request and, to make it as comfortable as possible for both of you, to do it again by email. If you have been honest with yourself whilst you went through the 2 question filter, then the benefit of a second meeting should be obvious but if you think it will help, you can also add a bit of a steer in your invite:
“When we met at the recent XYZ event you mentioned that there could be an opportunity to write some blogs together as we’re talking to the same audience. I’d really like to meet up for coffee to see how we may be able to make that work.”
Obviously at the moment not everyone is comfortable with meeting up in person so you may need to think a little more laterally for the next few months.
A video call is the obvious substitute. You can arrange a Webex, Zoom or Teams meeting to follow up on your last conversation and find out more about your contact, their job, their clients or customers, what they have on and what they have planned for the next few months.
An email exchange is another option but it can sometimes be tough to establish any sort of rapport in writing initially so I’d strongly recommend trying to meet face-to-face even if it is online.
While you are chatting, the most important thing to do is listen. I know that sounds obvious but sometimes, especially when networking is a bit new it’s tempting to do all the talking as you seek to set your stall out explaining the reason for the call, what you do and how you can help. The reason listening is so important, is that it will give you the reason you need to follow up, so you keep your conversation live and moving forward.
During the conversation, it may be that you are told your contact would like to meet someone you know so that introduction becomes your follow up.
It could be that they are interested in a topic you’ve covered in a recent blog, Legal Update or brochure, so your follow up becomes emailing over the relevant link or PDF.
It could even be that your contact is particularly interested in Italian food and you know a good local restaurant so your follow up becomes sending over your recommendation (and of course catching up to discuss how they found it).
Relationships take time to build and you need to be prepared to do the follow up. Then follow up your follow up. And follow up again! But again, if you have been honest when you go through the 2 question filter, it will be a comfortable or, dare I say, even enjoyable experience!
The final point I’d like to make is never take no reply to mean no interest.
If your initial email goes unanswered, follow up a week or so later to ask if they received it and ask again for that coffee or call. We all live busy lives so your email may have been left to one side before work took over, it may be that they have been distracted caring for a family member or that their boiler has packed up.
There are many reasons why they may not have replied but it is very rarely that they don’t want to have that chat. Don’t give up and follow up, follow up and follow up again.