I received an email this past weekend from a reader of my column that included the following:
"I am aware that I will probably not get a response due to your busy schedule and workload, but I thought it might not hurt to try."
It is a shame that this person's first thought is that I wouldn't think he was worth the time to warrant my response. As our connections with each other grow more "virtual," it's easy to overlook (or ignore) an email from a stranger or an introduction made by someone you know to someone new.
But isn't that the point to sharing so much information with each other? To find new customers and make new connections?
In fact, I submit that your next customer may have already emailed you.
I have always looked at it this way: If someone takes the time to sit down and write me an email to ask me a question or make an introduction, I will always respond. Always.
I am not suggesting that you respond to every sales solicitation you receive, but if you know that another person took the time to reach out to you for advice or to make a connection, my advice and experience has been that you should always follow up. In fact, some of my best business and awareness opportunities have resulted from random connections made this way.
The biggest hurdle I hear from fellow entrepreneurs is simply remembering to follow up. Here are some tips I use to be successful:
Use a Tickler
It is very easy to mark an email for follow up. Almost every email system allows you to "flag" a specific message. You can then sort your inbox by that flag.
I love the arrow that Apple Mail automatically adds to my emails once I respond. I can quickly review the past 24 hours of mail I have received and determine if there is anyone that I have missed by keying in on the reply flag.
I have a virtual assistant who does three things for me. She helps me manage my calendar, books my travel, and she is copied on every e-mail I receive into my public inboxes.
By providing her with this e-mail access, she helps me keep of a list of individuals I am supposed to reach out to or might have missed. I simply BCC her on any response and she then knows that she can take them off her watch list. Once or twice a week I receive a list of individuals from her that I might have missed.
Manage Your Contact Channels
You should close or redirect others from any channels you are not actively using. If you don't use a channel, simply put the best way to contact you in your profile information.
I am amazed at the number of people who don't check their LinkedIn inboxes regularly or have their LinkedIn inbox forwarded to their regular email. The primary purpose of LinkedIn is to make and foster connections with others.
Many of the contacts I receive are through my about.me page. If that page didn't provide an easy way to get in touch with me, I would have missed out on countless opportunities to weigh in on a breaking story for a journalist with a deadline.
The most important reason to perfect the follow-up? The opportunity to secure your next customer, best partner, or critical business contact may very well be sitting in the emails and social media messages you have been ignoring.