Networking lunches play an integral role in how we go about making new business contacts and connections. I’ve found a direct correlation between the time spent networking and the number of new business opportunities. This is rarely the result of a single sit-down meal but rather a carefully constructed process that may take equal parts patience and action.

So, you’ve had lunch. Now what?

It’s all about the follow-up!

In order for a brief networking connection to become a solid business relationship, trust must be gained and credibility earned. It may require several lunches, and perhaps a few more interactions, in order to develop the connection into something meaningful and productive.

Consider these critical follow-up steps in order to get the maximum return on your networking activities:

  • Assess the quality and potential of each contact, and determine the method and frequency of your follow-up. Use a CRM to keep track of your contacts and to monitor ongoing conversations. Unfortunately not all contacts have the same potential. You will learn a person’s potential as you nurture the relationship, and your follow-up should match the potential of the contact.
  • Reach out to your contacts with valuable touch points. It may be quite some time until your products or services are needed. Nurture a connection thoughtfully and develop your relationship strategically by helping them with introductions or providing information that can be beneficial for their business.
  • Be patient! Solid, mutually beneficial business relationships take time, especially if you provide a highly “needs-based” product or service. The contacts you meet through networking are busy, and it may require their efforts to identify a situation wherein you can work together. Don’t get discouraged, of course, but if at any moment you feel you must “pull the plug,” it is easy enough to maintain the connection by sending them your newsletter or e-blast.
  • Unless the circumstances have greatly changed they may still be a good contact but don’t waste too much time. Consider it a case of “you never know” and deploy your efforts elsewhere.