The No. 1 mistake in networking: Follow up or go home

If you’re not following up, you’re not networking! Why don’t people follow up? Let’s debunk five popular excuses.

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You attend an event and engage in the most revered, all-star networking behaviors. You are friendly and witty. You only consume food that can’t get stuck between your teeth. Your dazzling, off-the-cuff remarks flow forth, as a small crowd gazes on in awe. You propel out of the room, waving at new acquaintances – neither overstaying your welcome nor rushing out suspiciously early. Watching the cityscape dreamily rush by from the backseat of your Lyft, you recount the evening with a self-satisfied smile.

The next day your hectic routine of work and home lassos your life. A few weeks later, you discover an unceremonious heap of tattered business cards at the bottom of your briefcase. A perfunctory skim leaves you without the vaguest recollection of where they might have originated, so you toss the whole pile in the trash.

Your efforts were for naught. Without follow up, you’re just talking to people.

If you’re not following up, you’re not networking!

Why don’t people follow up? Let’s debunk five popular excuses.

Flimsy Excuse #1: “I have a bad memory!”

Stalwart Response #1: An A+ memory is not a prerequisite for follow up. Quality systems save the day. After an encounter worthy of next steps, offer your business card and request one in return. Immediately upon parting, note pertinent information on the front of the card you received such as:

  • Name, with correct pronunciation hints
  • Event location and date
  • Topics discussed
  • Intended follow up ideas

Flimsy Excuse #2: “I sent a general follow up to everyone I met at that thing.”

Stalwart Response #2: Anyone can send a generic follow up to a BCC’d list of recent encounters. This is a hazy imitation of real follow up. Nonspecific language masking as a personal note is quickly dismissed.

Flimsy Excuse #3: “I’m too busy.”

Stalwart Response #3: Quality over quantity. Choose where to direct your effort and accomplish meaningful follow up with remarkable alacrity. Prioritizing means putting more effort into fewer people. Focus those who made the strongest impression.

Flimsy Excuse #4: “They can contact me if interested! Following up seems needy or pushy or desperate (take your pick).”

Stalwart Response #4: That’s ridiculous.

Putting the onus on others is a surefire way to lose valuable contacts. It’s all in the execution. Have you been a recipient of follow up that rubbed you the wrong way? Reflect on why it had that impact. Was it aggressive, pleading, or demanding? Ensure yours is respectful, articulate, and thoughtful.

Flimsy Excuse #5: “I followed up and didn’t hear back!”

Stalwart Response #5: Follow up is rarely a one-off. You may not hear back initially for loads of reasons, and virtually none are intended as a personal affront. Lack of response does not equal lack of interest.

Be resilient

People are stressed, overwhelmed, and – behind their shiny veneer – alarmingly disorganized. That means diligent outreach can wind up lost in space at the other end. When our efforts don’t get a chipper reply within a few days we have all kinds of reasons in our minds. Far more likely? They never read it, read it and got distracted, intended to reply, or could swear they did reply.

Calibrate

In your initial encounter assess what matters to your new contact and let that guide you. Is there a sense of urgency? Are they merely fact-finding? Adjust your communication to these cues. If you’re not sure, ask questions. When checking in, be upbeat and concise.

Timing

Follow up within two days, with the interaction fresh in your minds. We forget half of what we hear within about forty-eight hours. [merge these two paragraphs]One caveat. Monday is considered the worst day to follow up, make requests, or ask for a favor. Many of us are unlikely to respond to anything perceived as non-urgent the first day of a workweek.

Be useful

Consider sending your new acquaintance a relevant link, reference, or article of interest. A thoughtful gesture conveys that you are helpful and recall the conversation. Include your website so the recipient can learn more about what you have to offer.

Submissions

When providing a proposal, job application, or, project quote, it is fine to request acknowledgment of receipt with your initial submission. [merge these two paragraphs]

If you hear nothing back with the deadline encroaching, email a brief check-in that includes the original submission. Keep it simple: “Just confirming you received my proposal sent June 18, attached here. Let me know if I can provide additional information.”

Letting go

Despite best efforts, some sought-after connections don’t pan out. At a point, outreach yields diminishing marginal returns, and it’s time to move on. Don’t obsess over sunk costs. Knowing when to cut your losses is as important as being attuned to genuine receptivity.

Devora Zack is CEO of Only Connect Consulting and author of NETWORKING FOR PEOPLE WHO HATE NETWORKING: A Field Guide for Introverts, the Overwhelmed, and the Underconnected, Second Edition (Berrett-Koehler, May 21, 2019).