(Part I of this story) Here's my system for following up:
- After I've make a contact, I'll decide if this person is a potential customer, a potential partner, a referral resource or just someone who is a nice person. I do this immediately after the event is done, so all of the people I've met are fresh in my mind and I can remember them when I look at their cards.
- During my evaluation time, I'll assign these contacts with a letter or number, denoting how important they are to me. I use "A" for most important (potential customer or hot referral resource), "B" for the next step down (potential partner or warm referral resource), and "C" for least important (seems like a cooler partner or referral/lead resource, but could heat up later). I do have a "D" category for the people who can't really help you, but are just good people.
- The next day, after I've entered them into my database or address book, I'll write my "A's" and "B's" a quick personal note to thank them for their time. I won't try to schedule any kind of follow-up meeting or call in this note. I just make it short and sweet. I give the note a few business days to make it to their office, depending on location, at which point I'll call to follow up.
- For my "C's" and "D's," I'll e-mail them a quick thank-you the next day. I only mail notes to "C's" and "D's" if they don't have e-mail addresses. I've already added the "C's" to my database, but I've discard the "D's."
If you're like me, you live and die by your Microsoft Outlook contacts database, which is dutifully copied over to your BlackBerry, Treo or other kind of PDA. To help easily enter your stack of business cards, consider purchasing a card-scanning product like CardScan. A flatbed scanner with optical-character recognition (OCR) can be a big help, too.
All of that is just for immediate follow up. Some people I know have newsletters and complete calling programs to continually follow up with people they've met. I have a similar kind of program, too. Sure, it is a lot of work. But the people I know who make following up a part of their business plan are the most successful people I know.
You may be asking yourself why I discard the "D's?" They're people who are nice enough to rate a quick "thank you." But at the particular point when I've decided they're a "D," it's only because I've determined they won't be able to give me any kind of follow-up business. In subsequent meetings, they may make it to a "C," "B," or even "A." Never say never.
What if you don't follow up? Simply put, you end up being just "that gal" or "that guy" to a lot of people you meet. You're not dependable, thoughtful, or most important, the person that pops up in their mind when they think of your profession. Or worse yet, they forget about you entirely, which means all of that time, energy and money you've sunk into networking has a return on investment (ROI) of exactly zero.
In this world of sameness, where chances are a lot of people have your job at other companies, you don't want to be just "that gal." And you certainly don't want to be a nobody. If you make following up a part of your daily business life, you'll be well on your way to success.