Last month had the rare free evening were I could attend a networking meeting after hours. Since I don’t get out much in the evenings, I was excited to see that there were many new faces in the room, meaning a ton of new relationship opportunities. As I walked into the room I connected with a particular gentleman that was a veteran of the group. We had a great conversation, and decided to exchange business cards and schedule a follow up meeting to get to know each other a bit better. Due to our hectic schedules, we set something for a month out and continued networking at the event. Later on that week, I ran into a referral opportunity for that very same gentleman, and wouldn’t you know, I had no idea where I had put his business card. I had no contact information, and no way to connect with him until we met. This incident reminded me of the importance of having a system in place to manage your business contacts.
While I have been successful in many areas of business networking, this is one particular area that I have always struggled. This is very strange, since I consider myself to be VERY organized (my wife and kids would say completely anal retentive). Fortunately, I am not alone in this area. Whenever I have had this discussion with other business networkers, it turns out that it is a pretty common challenge. Most of have a stack of business cards, rubber banded together in a drawer or shoved into a remote corner of our desk. The challenge with this is the fact that we can rarely remember anything meaningful about the people attached to those cards. Where did I meet this person? What did they like to do? What set them apart from their competition? So, the reality is that a stack of business cards really does not constitute a system to manage your contacts.
Many of the professionals that I have met swear by maintain their contacts in a spreadsheet or simply a notebook. I even know some that have binders upon binders full of business cards and notes on ever individual. While this may work for them, most people look at them like they have a third eye. Over the past several years there have been hundreds of popular CRMs or Contact Management Systems invented in an effort to eliminate this problem completely. The majority of these even have fancy mobile apps available to streamline the entry of your contacts. Some of these systems are extremely easy to use, but tend to lack features. Others are very robust, feature rich systems, where you need an advanced engineering degree just to enter a new contact.
Whether you are a professional using the paper method or electronic means of managing your contacts, both are better than just a stack of business cards. The most important thing is to have a system that works for you. Here are a few tricks that I have found to help me connect, improve relationships and maintain meaningful contacts:
- Social Media – As soon as I return to the office, I will often search for the individual on Facebook and LinkedIn. Connecting with them online helps me to remember them, as well learn a bit more about their lives that may help me to deepen the relationship in the future. Best of all, it normally doesn’t matter if I lose their business card if we are connected online!
- Take Notes – If meeting someone for the first time, it is great idea to take some notes on the back of their card. Where did you meet? What made them stand out to you? This is a great way to remember the personal information that will help you to build common points of interest down the road.
- Virtual Business Cards – One of the most inventive tools created over the past few years are mobile business card managers such as CamCard. There are many options available, but these systems generally allow you to snap a picture of someone’s business card, and automatically save their contact information and notes to your phone. This makes them easy to share and reference in the future.
- Schedule a One to One Meeting – The reality is that I really don’t remember much about a person until we have spent an hour together getting to know each other better. Scheduling a One to One meeting immediately while still at the networking event is my all time favorite method of managing my contacts.
Hopefully, you will find some of these tips helpful in connecting with your contacts after your next networking event. Whether you use one or all of these, they are surely better than just adding to the dusty stack of business cards on the corner of your desk.
Maybe someday I too will find the perfect solution for managing all of my networking contacts. I’m not perfect by any means, but if I find the holy grail of contact management solutions, I will gladly share it. In the mean time, let us know about how you are managing your contacts. Share below!