In my last entry, I talked about common sense as a marketing tool, and in this blog I talk about common courtesy as a marketing tool. You can apply this one to social networking if you like; it works for both analog and digital relationships, so to speak.
I can't begin a discussion of lead follow-up without the soapbox introduction. (start soapbox)Can you believe that in this day and age, the best way to keep track of the people you meet is by exchanging a piece of paper with ink on it? Even if the person has inconsiderately used glossy colored paper or if the card is two-sided, you can still fit in some scribbled notes in the margins. Nothing invented to date can take the place of having that pile of cards with notes on it. You get back to the office and scan the cards in and put the notes down in a database file, but fundamentally, we are still using little cards to introduce ourselves.
It's true that the booths at trade shows have barcode scanners, but they are useless. They offer no way to identify the real leads from the giveaway-vultures, and now way to put in personal notes next to the name of the person whose badge you have scanned. And of course, only the exhibitors have the scanners at the booth. Even if the scanners were useful, they are useful in the minority of situations (trade shows) and for the minority of participants (exhibitors only). Booth visitors have to take a slip of paper or other physical reminder they have been there.(end soapbox)
Given that you've been to a trade show or networking event and have collected either scanned bits of digitized contact information or information rendered on thin dead tree scraps, the next step should be to do something with the information gleaned. Amazingly, this step is overlooked by the overwhelming majority of people. The most "professional" booths scan your card and add you to their newsletter list, which is ok, but it doesn't actually create any useful business contact.
It is rare for you to get any direct personal mail from the person you met, or from the person they said you ought to meet in their company. I wish I could think of any logical explanation for this behavior but I can't. Well-organized sales people are the only follow-ups you get. You can immediately tell these people are using a lead management system. You have to wonder, why don't all the staff use the lead tracking system? Why shouldn't product managers, financial managers, and ops managers track their contacts in an organized manner? It's really a matter of common sense.
It's also a matter of common courtesy. If you meet a new person and say you will be in touch, the idea is that you want to be in touch. Maybe you are secretly hoping they won't hold you to it, because actually you don't have any business interest in staying in touch. One of the beauties of online social networking is that you can "friend" these new people or add them as business contacts, without any obligation to really have a communication.
In fact, it is much more common for me to go to a networking or other event, meet someone I frankly have nothing in common with, and have them friend me on FB or LinkedIn than it is for me to meet someone I have real business interest in and have them send me a personal communication. Think about that for a moment. People would rather add you to their "network" for no particular reason than contact you for a business reason.
But you know what, at least some of the blokes you send out there DO add those guys to their business network and now have another "link" when needed. Some folks are too reserved even to add the link or friend the people. Now, when you think about who you are sending to expensive trade shows, you have some insight about their effectiveness. It's easy to find out who in your company at least LinksIn or Facebooks, right? It is the ones who have more than a couple of hundred friends/contacts, many of whom are from the industry. Before you book those tickets for your staff, check their LinkedIn profile (If you targeting European markets, check their Xing profile.).
Hopefully, you don't have to resort to this methodology with your sales people, because the sales people are tracking their leads already, and you have a quantitative idea of who is or isn't effective at large events through an automated system.
One final word on follow-up. Amazingly enough, if you do follow up and send a personal e-mail, most people don't answer you. I can understand they might not really be interested, or they are overwhelmed, or whatever. In fact I know why they are overwhelmed. When I don't get an answer, I have a tendency to send them another e-mail or two before giving up. No wonder they can't keep up with the flow. If they'd just answer me in the first place and say they aren't interested, it would reduce their incoming e-mail by 50%. It would also be just plain decent.
I know that you are thinking "gosh, if I answered all those annoying sales people, it would eat up my day". Truthfully, that is just ridiculous. I answer all those annoying sales people at my job, because it is my job to work with suppliers and offer my company various marketing options. I can't know about them if I don't talk to those annoying sales people. I often tell them right up front it's not interesting, and then they go away. Sales people work on commission and if there is no chance of commission, they go away very quickly.
Having common courtesy is so uncommon these days it leaves an amazing impression, even on people who will not do business with you. No matter who you are, there is some way to get through all that e-mail in a courteous way. You might need an auto-reply, but frankly I doubt it. One of my most memorable e-mail exchanges was with Guy Kawasaki. I wanted to add this blog to alltop, a library of top blogs and I wrote to the info address (or whatever it said there). Guy personally answered me and we exchanged a few mails.
I don't know who you are, but if you are reading this blog, it's safe to say you aren't busier than Guy. It's worth asking yourself, what is it that is preventing you from having the common courtesy and business sense to simply behave professionally and politely with all of the people in your network on a weekly (if not daily) basis.