You made great connections, deepened relationships, and worked the SunEdison and Shoals parties like pro last week at Solar Power International. Likely, you returned to the office inspired, exhausted and overwhelmed with work that accumulated while you were gone. How do you turn that stack of business cards on your desk into cash? With two words; Follow up.
At SPI this year, let’s say you met 15 people who could bring your company serious revenue. While another 15 people are solid connections to future revenue. If you turned only 10% of these people into a client for a year, that would likely more that cover the investment you made going to the conference. But if you don’t follow up with them, there is little chance you will convert them into cash. Would you throw away the chance to increase your revenue with a short 30 minutes of email work? I think not. So, here is my time-tested system for following up after a conference.
1. Take advantage of other people’s the down time
In my networking workshops, the standard rule is you have 18 to 24 hours to follow up with someone and keep their interest. This is because during the average work day, people are bombarded with emails, tasks, to lists and everything else all day long. The more time you allow to pass before you follow up, the greater likelihood there is that people will either forget who you are, or lose interest in the connection you two made.
However at conferences, the opposite is true. People are not as busy with their email boxes. Instead, they are focused on the conference, staying up late, getting up early, and letting email interaction slide.
If you follow up with someone while they are still at a conference, their is a higher chance they will forget about you, simply because they are so distracted. So, following a conference you have a grace period of 1-5 business days after the conference to follow up.
Regardless, my rule is to follow up the Friday or Saturday after the event. This is because, after an event, people typically will be catching up on work on the weekend, and have a bit more bandwidth to respond to your email, vs the Monday after a show. If you do have to wait until the week after a conference, do the follow up on Tuesday and not Monday, and no later the Friday after.
2. Divide and conquer
Start your follow up by dividing your business cards, or the people met, into two categories, an A group and a B Group. I typically do this at the end of each night at a conference, so I can keep everyone straight.
The A Group people are those that you know you want to connect with more. They are people of influence and hold the potential to provide you what you are looking for to achieve your goals at the conference, i.e. potential new clients, partners, or job prospects. Write them a “Great meeting you!” email and suggest a time for meeting up within the following seven days to continue the conversation. Ideally, you want to hold these meetings in person, but Skype or phone calls also work. The more influential the person is, the harder they will be to schedule. So be prepared to move that timeline out a few weeks if necessary, or provide some value to them first, before getting that meeting.
Typically, my A Group follow up emails look something like this:
It was great meeting you at the [insert event title] this week. I regret that I didn’t get a chance to discuss [insert company] more with you.
It would be helpful to learn more about where you are with the business and which of my connections would be good resources for you.
Would you like to meet up for a quick coffee next week in [insert city]? I’m available [insert dates/times]. What would work for your schedule?
Your B Group of people are those whom you had a decent connection, but there is no immediate opportunity for the person to help you meet your current goals. Regardless, you also must send them a “Great meeting you!” email.
Too often people skip following up with their B Group, because short term thinking has them writing these people off. However, networking is like farming. By planting a lot of seeds and making sure they get all the water and sunshine they need, you support the potential for any seed to bare fruit, i.e. resources and connections for you.
Typically, my B Group email goes something like this:
It was great meeting you today/this week at the [insert event here]. Let’s stay connected and see how we can support each other!
Remember, this system is not about following up just once. People are so busy, you may have to follow up two or three more times, before you get their attention. Think about sending a second email about 5 days after your first one. If you need to send a third, pick a time about 7 days out from the second email. If you still do not receive any response, try a phone call.
Since you will likely have to follow up multiple times, it’s always good to hold back some compelling information in your first email, and use it in your following emails. From my PR experience, replying to your original message and changing the subject line can help to get people’s attention. It also allows your second email to be short and succinct, with a new piece of compelling information added in. All people have to do is read it, and your previous email below to give them full picture. Here’s an example:
Hope you’re having a great week back after SPI!
Just wanted to gauge your interest in a quick chat about [insert reason for meeting, or value you can provide]. Shall we schedule a quick call?
I’m available [insert windows of time]. What would work for you?
Meanwhile, attached is a new case study I just put together. You might appreciate the flow chart on the second page.
3. Maximize social media with new connections
Regardless of the A or B group status, everyone also gets a secondary follow up as well. This ensures that we have multiple points of contact directly following the event.
- LinkedIn – mandatory
- Twitter- only if you use it
- FaceBook- only if you feel comfortable mixing business and personal friends
Only using a LinkedIn connection request for your B Group follow up does not count as adequate to fully satisfy the emotional connection one receives from being the recipient of follow up. I repeat, B Group follow up must at least include a personal email and a LinkedIn connection request.
Think about it, you have no way of knowing what the notifications settings a person has on their LinkedIn profile. They could also have notifications going to their personal email, which they may check less frequently than work email. Furthermore, you have no idea how often people check their LinkedIn to accept the connection request. Thus the only way to guarantee that people receive your follow up is to send them a direct email. This as the added benefit of getting your email address into their system. This is why only sending a LinkedIn Connection Request is not effective. It’s also pretty impersonal.
If you are active on Twitter or Facebook, Google + etc, search for these people in those networks as well. Connect up with them in any social media venue you can think of so that as you are active on social media, these new connections have a better opportunity to see your posts and keep you top of mind.
4. Electronically save the business card information
After you’ve done your follow up emails and social media connecting, it’s time to make yourself a copy of their information on your computer. When I started out networking, there was very little in the way of technology to help me efficiently add people’s information to my computer. So I bought a business card scanner to help me quickly import information. The draw back was that I would wait months to scan the cards, and use the fact that I had not added these people to my newsletter list as a reason not to send a newsletter.
Today there are a variety of smart phone apps that allow you to take a photo of a card and upload it to a cloud database. Many people use apps such as Evernote, World Card Mobile, ScanBizCards and Contact Snap, which typically have both free and paid versions. Each one allows you to take a photo of your card and upload that information into your address book, and some also offer connections with LinkedIn.
Personally, I prefer Full Contact. It is a paid app, but it allows me a wide variety of ways to automatically import people’s information into third-party applications, such as LinkedIn, MailChimp, SalesForce, ZoHo and more. For $9.99 a month, all I have to do is take a photo of the business card. That’s it. What used to take me 2 hours every few months is done by the time I’m boarding my plane home.
With Full Contact a real person reads the information and imports it into my Full Contact Dashboard list. At the same time, it sends the person a LinkedIn request and adds them to my MailChimp list. Since the Full Contact database also has more information on people than what’s on their business card, the system adds additional information, such as more social media profiles. I can go to may dashboard and click on their Twitter feeds, Google + accounts and many other social media platforms to connect with them that way to.
Full Contact utilizes Zapier to create specific actions you want conducted once a business card if uploaded. This is a highly customizable platform for maintaining your database. It will take you about 30 minutes to set up and save you hours of time after every networking event.
Wood Allen said 80% of life is just showing up. At conferences, showing up is the easy, (and fun) part. To really make your conference investment turn a lasting ROI, make follow up your primary objective. For a conference, that’s what it means to show up. Make the time, execute and reward yourself when you are done. Do this over a few conferences and soon you’ll be converting contacts into cash.
Learn more about Lisa Ann Pinkerton’s upcoming networking workshops here.