During a recent CEO Peer Group meeting, one of my CEOs asked if I knew anyone who could help with some specialty financing and leasing programs. I mentioned that I did and would make an introduction. Another member who happens to be a Paul too said, “We now refer to you as the Yoda of business networking and contacts.”
I’ve been called lots of things during my career but this has to be one of my all-time favorites. While I have no plans to carry a light saber or wear a robe during the day, I like the idea of being a Yoda.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked for some of the best companies in the world and to have met some of the most talented and successful business people during my career. But after Paul’s comment I wondered how is it that I’ve mastered the art of business networking. I believe it comes down to a few simple steps:
Collect Business Cards Like the Japanese
Maybe it’s just me, or maybe it’s my old age, but I continue to be amazed that people today don’t ask for business cards when they meet. I still have business cards from 1983, when I finished college and started my career. But it isn’t just asking for the card; it’s all the steps once you are handed it.
Here in the U.S., we tend to take the card and shove it in our pocket, only to throw it away when we get back to the office. In Japan, there is respect and attention paid to the business card. It is handed over using two hands, when receiving a business card, it is carefully read and examined as though it were a priceless artifact. And finally, it is never put in a pocket or thrown in the bottom of a briefcase. It is placed on the table, arranged to correspond to where everyone is seated.
You don’t need to go to that extreme (unless you are in Japan), but take the time to look at the card. Immediately after the meeting, I write notes on the back of the card to remind me something about the person (which is why I’m not a fan of cards that are printed on both sides). It can be something as simple as, “Prefers Diet Coke over Diet Pepsi” or “Hopes to be a CEO someday.”
Always Ask for a Business Card
During all of my business travels in the past 30 years, I have been involved in two auto accidents. Both were minor and both were the fault of the other driver. I still have those two business cards. Every day, we meet new people: on a flight, in an office meeting, at a community meeting or at your son’s t-ball practice. Take those opportunities to ask for a business card.
Save it Electronically
At the end of the week, I input all of the business cards into an electronic database (I just use my iPhone and Blackberry). It is important to also transfer the notes from the back of the card to the electronic record.
If you want to be a great Yoda, find the person on LinkedIn and send a connection request. But don’t use the generic LinkedIn connection request. Instead, write a personal note commenting on your meeting them earlier in the week.
Stay in Touch
This is where 99 percent of people fall short. They fail to stay in touch. Or even worse, they only reach out when they want something. Make it a point to go through your connections and touch base once a year with them.
Ashok Pandey was on my executive team 15 years ago when I ran into issues with one of my company founders (see my April 2016 column titled, “Should You Fire the Founders?”) Pandey stepped in and took over the China office and the company and never missed a beat. Pandey went on to a successful senior role at Microsoft and then Nvidia. Every Christmas I can count on hearing from Pandey, wishing me and my family a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. He has never asked me for a thing but he knows I would do anything for him because he has stayed in touch.
Use Them to Help Others
And finally, use your contacts to help others. No one wants to be bombarded with personal requests and favors, especially if your only connection is the result of a long international flight. But, my experience has been that most people are open and happy to help someone if you make an introduction.
Easy It Isn’t; But, Important It Is
I had to do at least one Yoda-ese. Yes, it is time consuming and, yes, it’ll be a bit of a pain, but most things important in business are that way. Good luck and may the force be with you.
By T Paul Thomas
T Paul Thomas teaches business and entrepreneurship at Northern Arizona University, serves as the CEO of the Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance (NALA) and is the Chief Entrepreneur at the NACET Accelerator. Prior to joining NAU 2013 Paul spent 25 years as a serial CEO and President. Paul can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org