Sales and Marketing Advice for Florida Business
How to turn a business introduction into a lasting relationship
Exchanging business cards is never enough.
You’re at an industry conference or maybe a professional networking event and then it happens. No, it’s not the anxiety producing, “What do you do?” question. In some ways it’s worse: “Do you have a business card?”
Yes, It’s the dreaded exchange of business cards. You’re thinking that this is nutty, after all who doesn’t want to collect business cards. Or better yet, get their card in the hands of someone who will surely call later and buy your product.
Yet, here’s the reality -- most of us don’t call or email. Others don’t do it and you won’t either. The art of timely, artful follow up is kaput!
Your intentions are good, but you’re busy and stuff gets in the way. So, the card sits there on your desk and eventually works its way to the bottom of a pile of papers. When these lost business cards are finally rediscovered, it’s way too late to do anything about it -- even if you could remember what the conversation was about.
The doctrine of unintended consequences and perverse results strikes again. Lots of connections and cards, and very little to show for it.
The clock starts ticking as soon as you meet. What’s a card collector to do?
The real quality of a connection is not in the card exchange – it’s in the relationship.If you’re asking “what relationship?” then we really need to have a long talk. One brief conversation in the middle of a convention center will not create an instant bond or a solid lead. Yet, if there’s no real common ground, then there’ll never be any value in this new connection. As you’re chatting it up and before your conversation wanders off to the unusually hot weather, decide what potentially connects the both of you. Think in terms of the usefulness you can offer -- to solve a problem or perhaps connect them with someone else. This attitude goes beyond focusing only on trying to sell the other person your stuff. Then ask yourself, is there a long-term relationship here. There are no guarantees this will happen of course, but is your feeling positive enough about investing the time to follow up? If no, just move on. If yes, spend a few more minutes in wonderful conversation, ask for a business card, and then move on.
Following up can be so hard to do.Why? Don’t waste a good contact because you didn’t cultivate them carefully, personally, and wisely. The obvious first step is some sort of follow up action. Force yourself into a habit of never exchanging business cards without a next step in mind. It can be as simple as letting them know that you have an article relevant to your conversation you’ll be happy to send them. Or you’d enjoy getting to know them and learning more about their business and will call to set a time to meet for coffee. Or jot a note on their card to remind you of something significant you learned, such as “met at the chamber of commerce mixer, daughter’s team is playing in soccer championship this weekend”. That’s your clue to take action as soon as your get back home or to your office. Success doesn't happen overnight, yet it’ll never happen if you don’t start flowing up.
The follow through. This is where I’m supposed to recommend a snazzy piece of software or service to automate your follow up. Not at all, yet there’s one thing you do need -- a system. Any kind of system. Whatever works for you is the best way to go, but you’ve got to stick with it. Maybe it’s a modest to-do app for you iPhone or an Excel spreadsheet customized to fit you needs. I know people in the high-tech industry who still use 3 x 5 file cards with little color-coded sticky tabs to prioritize contacts and remind them when to follow up. Then transfer the key points from your notes on the back of the card; note to self, never get business cards that are glossy on the back side. Now, act and send that email -- “It was wonderful to meet you at the Chamber event. Best of luck with your daughter’s soccer championship game next weekend! We started to talk about the state of the widget industry and it’d be great to continue our conversation and get your perspective. How does your schedule look next Wednesday to grab coffee or lunch?” Don’t forget to use LinkedIn after you've met to keep the conversation going.
Don’t waste good contacts! Too many businesses will never reach their potential simply because they didn’t have a strategy for keeping in touch with new contacts and existing customers.
Constantly reevaluate your follow up approach and how you can improve your system. We tend to treat gowning a business as if it were a never-ending sprint. Yet the reality is, it’s more like a marathon.
Ron Stein is founder of More Customers Academy, helping business leaders build strategic messaging and positioning that cuts through the competitive noise to grow revenue. Ron has developed his own highly successful 5-step Stand Out & Sell More approach to winning new customers as a result of his twenty-five years of business development, marketing, and selling experiences. He works with a range of businesses, from startups to large corporations across industries including technology and healthcare, manufacturing, and financial services and banking. Ron conducts workshops, leads company meetings, offers keynote talks, and consults. He can be reached at 727-398-1855 or by email.