As someone who spent over 20 years working in service-sector branding and marketing, I know that communications are the lifeblood of any business, but for many the pulse is weak and needs to be given a shot in the arm before the lack of it flat-lines their company.
My old boss at the agency where I was Creative Director had some simple rules for any communication: It is NOT a Communication until it has been: Sent, Received, Acknowledged, Understood and Acted Upon.
The most common method for following-up after meeting someone at a networking event is email and I encourage Urbano members to adhere to a simple policy – Be CRAPP: Concise, Relevant, Appropriate, Personal and Polite.
If you have agreed to communicate by phone or email, use that channel. Use their name after the word Dear, reference the conversation you had and the event where you had it, and don’t send them the too-common modern equivalent of Paul’s Epistle To The Romans, now with four pdf attachments; 3-4 paragraphs is plenty and end with one request of the recipient, usually a coffee to find out more where you can co-operate.
For most general communications, I prefer email because I have a conversation trace of who said what, when and what, if anything, was the response? I try to reply within three hours of any email, but if I can, Ireply as soon as I see it (usually on my phone travelling somewhere) even if it is just a one-liner acknowledging I have seen it and committing to whatever task is requested.
Teamwork within the Urbano office means that most enquiries get a proper response within 24 hours and I think with most networking, a quick ‘Thanks for your email’ reply as soon as you see their message alongside a promise to action within a stated time-limit, is the best response because then you are also inviting the other contact to follow-up again at a later date if they have not received your second message.
At Urbano, for instance, we try to sort exact speaker dates within 7 days of their acceptance of our invitation, even though it means juggling venues and other events we may have scheduled. Often, we try to do this within the same week, because we know our speakers are popular and therefore busy. The sooner we Act Upon their Communication, the better it is for our business network.
Now, I am not a fan of the Read Receipt you can set up through Outlook (other inferior email options are available), but we use them at Urbano when it comes to emails which contain important instructions or invoice attachments. It helps when chasing the Acted Upon stage of receiving payment.
Often at Urbano we act as facilitators for our members’ communications and we rely on them to respond to introductions we have made on their behalf, both through our system, through me, or the office. But though we are forwarding introductions from potential suppliers they have requested, they and we can wait weeks for an acknowledgement. Such lack of courtesy is never forgotten in business. Likewise, we get daily comments on how quickly we reply to emails.
Because there is nothing more damaging to a company or its brand than not replying to a requested or agreed email. If you meet someone at a networking event and your final parting words are ‘Email me and I will [insert commitment here]’ then if you don’t do exactly that, you have wasted any chance of potential future business that new connection may brought you. And if we know a member is not responding to communications, we give them a prod or ten until they do.
But you can buy yourself time. Be honest. Send them a holding email as soon as you can, the file them in a networking folder for your networking contacts. Do this on the train or last thing that day. You can even write them on the Underground and they will send when you next get a signal. Then action properly the next morning.
But beware the firewall. Never assume an email you have sent has been received. I always allow two days before sending a repeat containing the previous text. If that doesn’t elicit a reply, call them. You have their business card. Call their mobile, best at lunchtime, and if they don’t answer, leave a message. If they don’t respond then, assume you are better off without them in your business life because how can you ever rely on them if they treat potential avenues to new business with such rudeness?
If you see any of yourself in the above descriptions, set yourself some new rules for your communications. View anything you say to someone when networking as a promise to keep. And if you don’t keep your promises, you won’t have a business.
Because if I can be polite, trust me – anyone can!