By now, you have a robust profile on LinkedIn, you tweet several times a day with hashtags, you have a Facebook Page, several videos on YouTube, and you’ve even created several clever boards on Pinterest. You attend a handful of networking events every month, and you venture out to interesting events like SXSW a couple of times every year. But after all that, how do you build your social circle and influential contacts in key centers of influence?
How do you maintain, nurture, and ideally, bridge the gap between relationship creation and relationship capitalization? How do you turn friends and followers into active, interested social currency. How do you foster engagement to create valuable, lasting relationships?
Well, it has to do with the evolution of our on- and off-line business relationships. How do our business relationships evolve, why do we screw some up, and how can we repair them? Why do some partner, client, investor, supplier or even colleague relationships tend to accelerate naturally, while others fizzle and never fully materialize as you had hoped?
Quite simply, the manner in which we build business relationships has evolved. Find out how to keep the pace.
You meet someone or, ideally, are referred through a trusted introduction. Tossing an unsolicited email over the wall is a losing proposition. Online and in-person relationships are getting more sophisticated, better protected and constantly pressured for efficiency and effectiveness.
The critical focus here is to add value in every interaction, to provoke, or to provide a contrarian perspective. In other words, if you want to elevate yourself above the noise, ensure that a person remembers your conversation. I recommend that you become well-read in a variety of topics, listen intently, question constantly, and capitalize on the value of brevity (aka Twitter etiquette). Finally, get to the point without pontificating.
If, during the initial contact, you made a strong, positive and value-centric impression, people will begin to seek you out. The conversation was impactful enough to warrant immediate action on their behalf.
Their follow-up email starts, “I left our visit excited about the conversation on X topic,” or “I enjoyed meeting you and discussing X technology.” The timeliness of their response should communicate that your interaction was a priority.
But what if the roles are reversed, and you’re the one following up? Here are my recommendations.
- Pre-Initial Contact: Research the event, the topic of discussion, potential attendees, industry trends, topical conversation starters and recent similar events. And get there early! If you’ve already been introduced online to the person you’re targeting, reinforce credibility by association. If you were engaged around an interesting topic, bring up a question to jump-start the next interaction.
- During the Event: Engage proactively, be present in each conversation, add value, don’t be a conversation hog, and don’t distribute business cards excessively. After speaking, immediately capture a couple of notes about the conversation. Be as diligent disengaging from conversations as you were proactive in initiating them. Finally, anticipate their needs; simply meeting their current or articulated needs is not enough. Don’t let them ask you for more.
- Immediately After: Send a brief follow-up note the same day, and include something of value, for example, a link to relevant data, a PDF of an article, a couple bullet points of interest, or an introduction to an influential relationship. Finally, proactively suggest a next step.Be interested but casual. Pace yourself — too much, too fast turns most people off. Be poignant, practical and pragmatic and always give them options, for example, “Can we meet or Skype next Tuesday or Thursday at these times? If next week is bad for you, let me know what the following week looks like on your calendar.”
- If the person’s business stature is higher, position yourself as a peer and don’t get delegated to others down the food chain. If the business stature is same or lower, be humble and make time. Most importantly, be candid: “Apologies in advance. I travel extensively, so please don’t take my unavailability as a lack of interest — it’s simply a lack of immediate bandwidth.”
- A Week Later: If you haven’t heard anything in a week, call and email to make sure they received your follow-up. Be professional and polished, and remember to add value at every interaction.If you don’t get any response, ask yourself whether you could have done anything differently. If you didn’t add sufficient value in your early interactions, pestering them won’t do much good. Move on and focus on working with, helping and adding value to relevant, responsive contacts.
Never lose sight of the fact that your performance, execution and results rely on fostering relationships. Lack thereof will dilute your credibility and relevance. Remain competent within your industry and among your peers, and the resulting value will match the effort.