According to LinkedIn research 80% of professionals think networking plays a critical role in their success and they actively work to build new connections. With the abundance of online groups, meetups, conferences, etc. it’s easy to meet lots of new people on a regular basis.
However, most people don't generate significant benefits from their efforts because they struggle to establish lasting relationships.
Creating a contact management system enables you to build and develop a successful network by ensuring you remember to stay in touch with all of your connections. This article will walk you through how to effectively manage your professional network and sustain strong relationships.
Consolidate All Your Contacts Into a Single System
The first step in managing your professional network is consolidating all of your contacts into a single system. You can do this by leveraging your company’s contact management software or adopting your own.
Need help choosing a tool? Check out our article:
Here’s how to consolidate your contacts:
- Gather contacts from all of the places you store them and upload them to your software
- Delete duplicate contacts
- Verify that old contact information (email addresses, phone numbers, companies, etc. ) is still accurate
- Add missing contact information
Thoroughly completing these steps creates the foundation for you to be able to effectively manage your professional network moving forward. Once all of your contacts are in one place, it becomes much easier to stay in touch with all of your connections.
Don’t have time to go through all of those steps of consolidating your contacts? A virtual assistant can do it for you and drive all of the tedious aspects of managing your network so you have more time to focus on fostering strong relationships. Download our guide How to Leverage a Virtual Assistant for Professional Networking to learn how.
Organize Your System to Achieve Your Networking Goals
Having a database filled with contacts is useless if it’s not set up to achieve your networking goals. To find relevant connections, send targeted campaigns or leverage your network in other ways, you need to organize your contacts based on the types of relationships you have with them.
Here are some examples of contact categories you might have:
- Prospects - People whom you’d like to sell to
- Strategic Partners - These are people who you want to foster mutually beneficial business relationships with
- Colleagues - Everyone you currently work with
- Potential Recruits - Individuals whom you’d like to join your company when relevant positions become available
- Professional Connections - People whom you’d like to keep in touch with but you don’t have a specific goal that you hope to achieve with them
- Vendors - People who offer great services that you may purchase again in the future
Categorizing all of your contacts based on the type of relationship you have with them enables you to create communication strategies for each of those groups and send mass messages when appropriate.
Identify Conversation Triggers
When your schedule is packed, it’s easy to lose touch with contacts - especially those that you don’t have pressing reasons to speak with. However, failing to communicate regularly makes all of your networking efforts go to waste.
The easiest way to stay in touch with everyone in your network is to build conversation triggers into your contact management system. This way, you don’t have to remember to reach out to your connections; your system will send you reminders when it’s an appropriate time to reach out.
Here are some standard triggers:
- Three months since last contacted
- Major holidays
- One year since you started working together
Since each of triggers are based on fixed dates, you can create automated workflows to remind you to reach out. Keep in mind that, depending on your CRM, you may need to manually add contacts to your workflows.
If setting up these workflows sounds tedious and time-consuming, offload it to a virtual assistant. All of our VAs are trained to use popular CRMs like Salesforce and HubSpot and our training team will teach your assistant how to use any contact management software that you choose.
Though those conversation triggers are easy to use, they’re generic and may not appeal to everyone. To establish lasting, authentic relationships, you should consider following these spontaneous conversation triggers:
- Job changes
- There’s a chance you’ll hear about this from others in your network, however, to ensure you don’t miss anyone’s promotions, check your LinkedIn alerts at least twice per week. Alternatively, you can have your assistant let you know whenever someone in your network changes jobs.
- You’re visiting their city
- Whenever you’re traveling, check your contact management software and/or LinkedIn to find connections who live in the city you’re visiting.
- Their company is in the news
- Sign up for Google Alerts to get notifications whenever your connections are in the news. I recommend only setting up alerts for contacts that you’re very eager to establish a stronger relationship. If they have a somewhat generic name, Google may confuse them with other things in the news and send you additional emails. You reduce email clutter, you can also have your virtual assistant subscribe to Google alerts instead and pass along relevant news stories about people in your network.
- They post about an accomplishment or major life event
- Congratulating people for accomplishments is a great reason to reach out. If you’re not very active on social media, you have your assistant monitor your feed and let you know when one of your connections posts about an accomplishment or major life event.
- You read an article that may interest them
- This trigger is self-explanatory, just make sure that you’re only sharing high-quality content.
- You’re going to an event they may be interested in
- When you get tickets to industry events, reach out to others in your industry and see if they’re going. If they are, it creates a perfect opportunity to meet up and, if they aren’t, they’ll most likely want to hear how the event goes.
Paying close attention to your network enables you to spark authentic conversations and build mutually beneficial relationships.
Save Time with Message Templates
Whenever you reach out to people in your professional network, your message should be authentic and personalized. However, you can still use templates to significantly reduce the amount of time it takes to reach out to your connections.
To maximize the efficiency of your networking efforts, draft message templates for all of your conversation triggers. The templates should include spaces for you to add personalized comments.
Here’s an example template for the conversation trigger “a contact got a promotion”:
Hey [first name],
I heard you got promoted to [insert position]. Congrats! I’d love to grab coffee sometime this month to catch up and hear more about what you’ll be working on.
Whenever a contact reaches a conversation trigger, you can pull one of your templates and send a quick message. Or, if you have an assistant, they can do it for you.
To make your message more personalized, you can add additional commentary based on your prior interactions with the contact or knowledge about the subject you’re reaching out about.
Keep Your Contacts Fresh
Your contact management system will quickly become obsolete if you don’t keep it up-to-date. You should update your contacts every time:
- You have a conversation with them - add notes to your contact record.
- One of their contact properties changes - for example they start working for a new company or they get a new phone number.
- You learn something new about them - Ex. their birthday, they launch a side gig, their kids love superhero movies etc. Noting these types of random facts helps you establish a more personal connection since it enables you to spark conversations about topics other than work.
Keeping your contacts fresh can be as simple as adding a couple of quick notes, updating a field or changing the contacts group. As with everything else in this article, you can offload this to your virtual assistant - you just have to keep them in the loop with your contact interactions.
Want to build a contact management system and pursue other networking strategies but don't have the time? Download our free guide How to Leverage a Virtual Assistant for Professional Networking. You'll how a VA can tackle tedious, logistical networking steps so you can focus on building strong relationships.
About the Author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.