Zvi Band is the co-founder and CEO of Contactually, a venture-backed relationship marketing platform. He's listed as Forbes' 25 Professional Networking Experts to Watch, as well as the co-organizer of the DC Tech Meetup, one of the largest events of its type in the country. 

Let's say you wanted to take a bath. You draw the water so that gallon upon gallon flows out the faucet. It takes a while to fill, so you come back after ten minutes, only to find an empty tub.

Water was flowing into the tub, but it turns out you didn't take the time to make sure the bathtub was plugged. Water came out as fast as it came in. In this case, absolutely everyone would be frustrated with the waste of time and water.

When it comes to filling our network with valuable relationships, shouldn't we feel the same? When one thinks of networking -- the act of building semi-professional connections for mutual benefit -- they often imagine a sterile room, bad music, awkward conversations, and the exchange of business cards.

I still shudder at how intimidated I was, as an introverted engineer, doing laps around the rooms of the first few mixers I attended. But eventually I overcame the fear, started introducing myself, and ended up walking away from each event with a number of loose connections and new friendships.

The problem with "networking" is it stops there. We put so much effort into making the initial connection and building mindshare, but often do little to keep that investment from walking right out the back door. After gaining enough courage to make the initial connection, oftentimes the only time I would engage the people I had met was at the next networking opportunity both of us attended.

Why is the initial introduction such an insignificant part of the battle? I've channeled this experience into my own business, whose mission is to heighten the value of business relationships. Here's what I've learned in the process:

The Time Decay of Mindshare

If you were to walk out of a 30-minute coffee meeting, you could immediately recite exactly what you spoke about: their personal details, interests, challenges, next steps -- even what both of you ordered. It's highly unlikely that two weeks later, after a half dozen similar meetings, you could recall those same details with the same clarity.

Six months later, you'd be lucky if you each could recall that you had met at all. I remember fishing through my laundry for the business card of someone I had met weeks earlier, trying to remember who it was. That's because our knowledge of others (mindshare) decays just like any other knowledge.

As we continually gain more experiences, meet more people, and acquire more information, our mind's ability to recall older knowledge decays. Dunbar's number applies not just to our casual social relationships, but to the professional relationships that represent the lifeblood of our future success.

If the people we're constantly meeting pose the key to leveling up, how do we combat that?

The Solution

If our target is to build and maintain mindshare with strategically important people, we must focus on not the initial phase of a relationship, but everything that happens afterwards.

If you're at the point of having any relationships where you work to stay in touch with the other person, you've likely tackled the former. To prevent that relationship from fading away into a context-less entry on LinkedIn, we must focus on prioritization, cadence and value.

  • Prioritization: How important is this relationship to any of my personal or professional goals (if at all)? If this person has little likelihood to lead to any value, even indirectly, we're best focusing our limited proactive efforts on others.
  • Cadence: To combat the effect of time on that person's memory, do something to invoke your name with them on a periodic basis.
  • Value: As the perceived value of a relationship varies, so must our ability to contribute to them. While lower-priority connections may elicit a "just touching base" email, you may start going to lunch, making a valuable introduction, solving a problem, or sharing valuable news and information.

Those three concepts form a strategy of what we must do after that initial business card exchange: consistently market ourselves to our relationships. Without any large amount of emphasis placed on the middle of the funnel, we're throwing away every minute we've spent building that relationship.

So the next time you're considering throwing on that name badge and entering a room full of opportunities, ask yourself whether you have been effectively staying engaged with the people you met the last time you were in the very same room.

Published on: Jul 13, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.