Handshake follow-upMeeting new people, in person, is consistently rated as one of the most effective ways to find new prospects for selling your professional services. After attending just a few networking mixers or industry meetings, you will quickly end up with a daunting collection of new contacts. But what do you do with them all?

Remember Why You Are Networking

The whole point of meeting new people is to give you a starting point for developing relationships. New contacts almost never become clients as the result of a one-time meeting. It’s not the meeting that does the trick; it’s the follow-up. So the true purpose of attending live networking events is actually not to meet people. It’s to give you people to follow up with.

Timely and consistent follow-up is an essential factor for successful sales and marketing. In addition to following up with prospective clients, you should also be following up with potential referral sources.

A good referral source can be anyone who interacts with your desired clients on a regular basis. For example, as a business coach who works with many start-ups, I look for referrals from accountants, attorneys, bankers, career counselors, graphic designers, web designers, and people who teach entrepreneurship. If you can clearly identify your target market, you should also be able to identify who might be a useful referral source.

The Mechanics of Follow-Up

Professionals sometimes find follow-up to be one of the most challenging aspects of marketing and sales. Just thinking about following up with prospective clients can provoke fear, self-doubt, and overwhelm. One key to overcoming these obstacles is to treat follow-up as a routine, methodical activity. If you know exactly what you plan to do, how, and when, it can relieve some of your resistance and uncertainty.

Once you’ve determined which of your collected contacts are either potential clients or referral sources, your next step is to choose how to best follow up with each one. It’s helpful to sort them into categories, for example, which ones you will call, which ones you will email, and which ones you would like to meet with in person. Here are some guidelines for each kind of approach. (For a handy infographic showing this process, visit Idea Sandbox.)

With prospective clients, you will most likely want to phone or email them to gauge their interest in what you do, and try to set up a meeting. That meeting might be in person or by phone, depending on the nature of your business. You could also email a personalized note, referring them to your website for more details about your business. Or, send a brochure by postal mail with a personal note.

The most effective way to follow up with prospects is usually to combine these approaches in a sequence. For example, you could call first to gauge their interest and try to develop it further. If you can’t reach them or get their agreement to set up a meeting, send them something by email or postal mail. Then follow-up again by phone or email to see if they are ready to take the next step.

If your contact is a potential referral source rather than a prospect, the best approach is usually to establish a reciprocal relationship. You can contact them to begin getting acquainted, exchange further information by email, and if it seems useful, arrange to meet in person or by phone to find out more about each other’s work.

It is completely appropriate to contact another businessperson you have met and say, “I think we might be serving the same type of customers; could we get to know each other better so maybe we could exchange referrals?” Another easy and memorable way to follow up with people in this category is to send a handwritten “nice to meet you” note with only your card enclosed.

Be considerate when making contact by email. Most people are offended by email messages that are essentially generic marketing letters, and will simply delete or ignore them. It’s more advisable to use email as a tool for communication and dialogue, rather than as an advertising medium. Be sure to personalize what you write, and remind the recipient where you met.

Making Your Follow-Up Systematic

For each category of contact, you’ll find it helpful to devise a consistent sequence to follow. For example, with hot prospects, your sequence might be: 1) call-email-call to set up a meeting, 2) meet to discuss hiring you, 3) send a proposal, 4) call or email to discuss the proposal.

When prospects don’t respond or don’t wish to meet, your alternative sequence might be: 1) call-email-call to set up a meeting, 2) wait 30 days and call-email-call again, 3) send a keep-in-touch communication (see below), 4) wait 30 days and call-email-call again.

To manage your follow-up activities, you will need a contact management system where you keep track of all your interactions. Some professionals find it easiest to use software they already know to track their contacts, by keeping them in an Excel spreadsheet or your phone’s contacts app, for example.

But the larger your list becomes, the more you will benefit by using a system specifically designed for contact management, like Insightly, Agile CRM, or Pipedrive. Systems like these allow you to track much more than just contact information.

Whatever system you choose to manage your follow-up activities, the important thing is to stay organized. Always have one central place where you record who you meet, what their interest is in you (or your interest in them), what type of contacts you have had so far, and when it will be time to follow up with them next.

Keeping in Touch Over Time

After your initial contact, you’ll need to find ways to keep in touch on a regular basis. This is just as important with referral sources as with potential clients. Call to see how your contacts are doing, or to tell them what’s new with you. Email a note with a link to a relevant blog post. To follow up in person, schedule lunch or coffee, or invite your contacts to an upcoming event you plan to attend.

Once you have a large follow-up list, it’s a good idea to publish a regular ezine or send out periodic postcard mailings. But this type of mass follow-up shouldn’t be considered a substitute for personal contact. Your contacts still need to hear from you personally from time to time.

Follow-Up Can Be Simple, Even If It’s Not Easy

This systematic approach to following up with new contacts can take some of the pain out of the follow-up process. By establishing a methodical approach to consistently following up with people you meet, you’ll begin to see a much higher payoff from networking.

And if some of the contact info you collected belongs to people who are neither prospective customers nor potential referral sources, just throw it away. There’s no reason to take your time recording details about people you don’t plan to follow up with.

C.J. Hayden

C.J. Hayden, MCC, CPCC, is the author of the bestseller Get Clients Now!: A 28-Day Marketing Program for Professionals, Consultants, and Coaches, Since 1992, she's been helping self-employed professionals survive and thrive. C.J. is the author of five other business how-to-books, and has taught marketing at Mills College and John F. Kennedy University. Find out more about C.J.'s books and courses or attend one of her upcoming programs.

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