Nail the Follow-up
It’s almost 2018, which means there are a dozen different channels to initiate a follow-up meeting after a networking event. For purposes of this post, I’m going to focus solely on email, but first here are a few thoughts on the other standard communication vehicles.
Absolutely connect on Linkedin. Find the person. Connect with them, and add a simple note.
Pros: (1) There’s no likelihood of your message being caught in an email spam folder. (2) You can already see if you have contacts in common. (3) Most professionals receive substantially fewer Linkedin messages than emails, making your follow-up message more visible.
Cons: (1) Some executives still have inactive Linkedin accounts, which means they may never read your message. (2) Your message length is limited, unless you subscribe to a Premium membership. (3) Culturally, email is still the preferred method of communication for organizing and planning follow-up meetings.
I typically refrain from calling someone after a networking event. I know some people disagree with me.
“No, I always pick-up the phone and call someone the day after I meet them to schedule a follow-up. It shows initiative.” ~ My sales friends
If you noticed my quotation attribution, you’ll see why I stay away from immediate phone calls. It feels too “salesy”.
In 2017, a phone call feels like an aggressive move for an interaction that should be otherwise pretty relaxed. If someone calls me the day after a networking event, I automatically assume the person is looking to sell me something. Not always the case, but first impressions are important.
Also, ew, phones? Does anyone use those anymore? #millennials
Unless the person specifically says “follow me” or “friend me”, I’d wait on this one. Assuming you attended a professional networking event, I would avoid friending people on more informal/personal social networks.
That said, if his/her profile isn’t private, definitely do a little fb stalking for fun. Just promise me something. During your follow-up meeting, don’t mention any details you’ve uncovered during your social media investigations.
“Oh, cool! And did you start your new role before or after you spent that week in Puerto Vallarta with your smokin’ hot friends?”
…OK, let’s move-on to our main event. Email. Here are a few basics to keep in mind while crafting those tantalizing follow-up emails the day after a networking event. At the end, I include an email template you can copy/paste to get started.
1. Provide dates
You know that “let’s grab lunch soon” friend? Every time you pass each other in mixed company, one of you insists you two should “totally catch-up” soon, but you never do. Then you have that other friend that randomly texts you and says, “Hey, I’m working near you all next week and free for lunch Tues or Thurs. Can you meet up?”
After you and that second friend have a great lunch and stay BFFs, take a moment to appreciate the great lesson this second friend taught you. It’s my first rule for follow-up email success. Pick specific dates.
People are far more likely to say yes, when all they have to do is say “yes”. The more homework and decision-making you interject, the less likely this meeting will ever transpire.
“Are you free for lunch the week of X? Maybe Y Restaurant, since it’s closer to your office?” will get you much further than “Would you be interested in lunch some time soon?”
2. Include specifics from your conversation
Pretty self-explanatory. You want the email recipient to remember who you were. Take a minute to remember something specific about the recipient, and incorporate that nugget in your email.
“Any friend of Phil Jones is a friend of mine.”
“It’s always great meeting successful people from my alma mater.”
“If I don’t hear from you before the weekend, I hope you enjoy your mini getaway!”
“I was wearing a blue shirt.”
“Hope you got home safe after all those drinks lol.”
3. Brevity is OK
Dear Diary – You don’t need to reveal all your thoughts and feelings in the follow-up email. I occasionally receive follow-up emails that are so text-heavy, I have to flag and save them for the train or a dentist waiting room.
It’s easy to get carried away and list all the topics you want to discuss with this individual and all the reasons why they should take your meeting. For purposes of the initial follow-up, however, all you need to do is pique interest and provide dates. Leave all the juicy details of your life for the next meeting.
The #1 reason people don’t secure follow-up meetings is a lack of persistence. Too often, we send our follow-up email assuming the recipient will respond later that day. Why wouldn’t they? You’re a catch! But what happens when they don’t? By the following week, you will have completely forgotten about this person, until one day someone picks up your rectangular coffee coaster and asks, “Who’s this?”
Try setting a follow-up reminder to yourself for the week after your initial email. After two unanswered emails, feel free to pick-up the phone or send a LinkedIn message if you really want to get in-touch with this individual. If you’re still getting the runaround, you have two options.
1.) Become incredibly successful despite this person and rub it in his/her face later like those Maury episodes when the dorky outcast grows up to be gorgeous and invites the (now adult) childhood bully on Maury to make him/her drool.
2.) Be present. I’m a real believer in being present. If you met this person once, you can meet this person again. Attend future events in similar circles until you see each other again and rekindle.
I have several successful people in my network whom I had to meet in-person several times before securing a follow-up meeting. They didn’t intend to be dismissive, but everyone’s time is limited.
When someone’s time is limited, they make priorities. And when they make priorities, it becomes even more important to prove your purpose if you hope to make it to the top of that priority list.
5. Include your purpose
“Mr. Exec, maybe I can buy you a cup of coffee?”
Think about that sentence for a second. You just suggested that Mr. Exec should gift you a precious hour of his incredibly busy day in exchange for two things – a precious hour of your busy day and a $3 coffee. On paper it sounds like a sweet deal for Mr. Exec, right? The problem is this:
Mr. Exec can buy his own coffee and your hour has zero value, while his hour is invaluable.
I use this example, because it’s the most commonly used attempt at a follow-up meeting. It’s in every business school text, every corporate sales training material, etc. Please help me by joining my pledge to banish this trite, empty sales phrase from the industry.
I challenge the “buy you a coffee” routine so vehemently, because it lazily sidesteps the true crux of a follow-up message: purpose.
Suggesting a meeting over coffee is perfectly fine. But why? Why should Mr. Exec take your meeting (besides the sweet venti mocha hook-up, of course)? Maybe you are involved in a charitable endeavor, and you think he and his family would be great honorees at next year’s Gala.
Maybe you’re a minority in your industry, looking to connect with other minorities in that same industry.
Maybe he’s new to the city, and you’re offering to get him and his family more introduced to organizations around town.
Or maybe… you want his help!
Despite what you see on the news, I’ve come to find that most successful people really do enjoy helping other people. If you have nothing to sell at the moment, but could really use some advice on a work-related topic, then be upfront with those intentions.
You’ll be surprised by how many mentor-related coffee meetings you schedule because you were intentional with your purpose, and left no doubt of your authenticity. State your purpose upfront and use it as your hook to lock-down your follow-up meeting.
I love keeping this website as practical as possible, so below I’ve included an Awkward Networker follow-up email template you can copy/paste and customize as appropriate.
It was so great meeting you [yesterday/last night/last week] at the [name of the event].
[Insert specific reference from conversation if applicable]
Let me know if you’re free for [breakfast/coffee/lunch/dinner/a drink] on [provide at least 3 dates]. I’d appreciate the opportunity for us to get to know each other better, and maybe talk a little more about [insert purpose].