Sorting it out: How to turn business cards into contacts

Every networking event should end with two things: the thought that several valuable connections were made and a pocket full of business cards. It’s not a contest of how many business cards you can collect, but rather the quality of those cards. In any case, the question still remains: “What do I do with all these cards?”

There are two types of people when it comes to business cards:

n The marketer— These are the people who instantly think that because you’ve given them business cards, it means you’ve also given them explicit permission to market to you. The marketer will add you to their e-mail list, their auto dialer and any other internal marketing configuration they’ve set up.

n The storage unit — These people understand a business card is simply an invitation to begin a business relationship. Yet, they doesn’t really know what the second step should be, so they store the business cards in little boxes or in their desks.

Imagine, for a moment, you’re a Hollywood producer and you’re sorting actors into the A list and B list. The first order of business should be to separate the people you think might become a new client or referral partner right now from those who might become valuable contacts sometime in the future. Remember that everyone can become a valuable contact in the future. So even if you see absolutely no business value in the connection, add them to your B list. You never know when that person might be the missing link one of your A list businesses needs to meet.

Once you’ve completed this task, you need to get the information into a format that’s usable. This means you need to have a contact database. There are several tools that can be used, including Salesforce, Outlook, Act or, my personal favorite, If you’ve ever heard Harvey Mackay speak, you would know his company, Mackay Mitchell Envelope Co, collects 66 pieces of information about each and every contact. One of your pieces of information should be whether a contact belongs on your A list or B list.

Now that you have your contacts sorted and entered into your contact management system, you still have work to do. First, take a look at your B list. You don’t want to ignore this list, but rather let your contacts know you enjoyed meeting them. This can be done with a quick note or even an e-mail. This leaves the door open for further contact later on if a good opportunity arises.

Now, what about your A list? Remember, these are the people you think have immediate potential and you need to follow up with them quickly. As Ivan Misner would say, you first need to initiate a “coffee connection” with each of the A list contacts. But it’s important that you remember this is NOT a sales meeting. This is a meeting to see how you can help the other person.

This meeting should be geared toward getting to know the other person, their business and, most importantly, their needs. As a matter of fact, if you can make a connection with someone that could benefit them before the meeting is over, that’s even better.

Your goal with a “coffee connection” should be to make at least one immediate connection to help the person and a follow up to find them another connection sometime in the upcoming week.

Your action item is to start doing something with the business cards you receive at networking events. You’ll only see results once you start putting a plan in place on how to follow up with contacts.

Business cards do no good when they rest in a desk or are used in ways that make the recipient feel you’ve abused the relationship before it even began.