How to Stay in Touch with Everyone

No one would argue that having a large network is valuable in business development. From getting in the door to turning individual relationships into organizational relationships, having a personal connection to someone at just about any company you’re looking to engage is incredibly helpful.

But how do you actually develop a strong network of relationships that can serve as the gateway to BD opportunities? In my case it comes down to a core rule: Stay in touch with everyone.

To be truly great at business development, you need to be able to maintain long-term relationships. And to do that, you need to have a natural curiosity and interest in other people. Of course, it would be naive to say that a good business development person isn’t always mindful of the value that a person can offer to himself or herself. It’s natural for an ambitious business developer’s mind to race with the possibilities of what opportunities a relationship may bring. But to engender a strong long-term relationship, a business developer must subdue any selfish ambition and allow his or her genuine interest in other people to rise to the surface.

While I can’t truly say I’ve maintained a relationship with just about everyone I’ve ever known, I have made a practice out of staying in touch with people over the past few years and re-engaging erstwhile connections gone cold.

Some examples come to mind:

  1. I once interviewed for a job I didn’t get. A few months later I emailed the person who would have been my boss to check-in on how the company was going and wish them well. Now I know his company just folded, so he may be looking for a new job. I sent him an email offering to make any introductions that I can if it’d be of help.
  2. About 2 years ago I saw a listing for an event featuring a panel of business development folks. One of the names sounded familiar — it was someone I’d worked at a startup about 12 years earlier. We hadn’t kept in touch, but I thought it’d be nice to reconnect. I took a guess at his email, shot him a note, and now we catchup every 6 months or so.
  3. A friend of mine is interested in a job posting at a company, and she noticed I was connected on LinkedIn with the CEO. I vaguely recalled having one or two exploratory partnership conversations with him in the past, but I’d be surprised if he has any recollection of me. No matter, I said to my friend that I’d be happy to drop him a line to request an introduction. I figure he might appreciate the opportunity to connect with viable lead for his company’s candidate search. He responded within minutes.

How to Stay in Touch with Everyone

Staying in touch with people is relatively easy, as long as you do it from the start.

  1. Email check-Ins: Maintaining a relationship doesn’t require you to meet in person every time. Getting coffee two or three times a year? Delightful. Getting coffee every 6 weeks just because you both promised to “stay in touch?” Quite a time drain. The simple act of sending an email to say, see how things are on their end, and provide a brief update on what’s new with you is sufficient to stoke the flames of a relationship and keep it from going cold.
  2. Invite them to an event: One of the best things I’ve ever done was to start organizing small dinners for BD people in NYC. We have 4-6 people, over dinner, just chatting. I often invite people that I want to connect with, but they get the benefit of meeting the other like-minded folks at the table.
  3. Offer introductions, carefully: Offering to facilitate an introduction to someone that you believe can have legitimate benefit to someone is a great way to proactively offer value. As long as you respect their time with a double opt-in first, of course.

Staying in touch is easy enough while the connection is still warm, but what do you do when the contact goes cold? How do you re-engage with someone that you haven’t spoken with in years? You need to reheat the connection.

Reheating Connections

Just like with Chinese food leftovers, there are two ways to reheat connections: you can slowly bring it back up to temperature as in a conventional oven, or you can microwave them.

Reheating a connection with the low-and-slow oven method takes time, but has the potential to back the full flavor and texture of the original relationship. Reaching out to an old contact for no reason at all other than to say hello and ask how they’ve been is a perfectly nice and neutral way to re-engage someone.

The crucial element in the conventional oven method is the lack of any sort of request. Being 100% focused on the personal relationship may not serve any short-term goals for winning deals, but it’s a human element that is so often missing in our professional lives.

It’s endearing to be asked to connect with a long-lost connection when there is no expectation of giving or getting on either side. Slowly warming up the relationship over time without an ulterior motive — perhaps first with an email, and then an introduction, with an event invite somewhere along the way– can organically restore a relationship to it’s original condition.

Microwaving Relationships

A faster but riskier alternative to reheating a connection is to microwave the relationship.

Microwaving is dangerous — just as microwaving some foods can turn them rubbery and gross, so too can you inadvertently nuke a cold relationship by trying to shortcut the cooking process.

A surefire way to turn a relationship to mush is to reach out to a cold connection only to ask for help. There is nothing more transparent, or off-putting, than a thinly-veiled attempt to reconnect draped in a burdensome request for help (“Hey! Long-time no see! [Insert request here]”).

If you’re going to microwave a relationship, the safest way is to at least do it to offer value first. While giving before you get can help warm up a relationship over time, when microwaving a relationship at least aim to give while you get. Providing some form of value — an article they may find interesting that brought them to mind; a listing for a job that you thought might pique their interest — in the same breath as making an ask may not take the stink off your intentions, but at least there is the potential for a mutually beneficial quid-pro-quo.

Being Hot and Cold

Is it sometimes a bit uncomfortable to reheat a relationship? Absolutely. Just like public speaking, reheating a relationship is a practiced skill that you can nurture over time but still may cause some stomach jitters each and every time.

The good news is that unlike public speaking, there is a viable way to avoid having to regularly reheat relationships.  Keep relationships warm from the get-go, and stay in touch with everyone.

6 Responses to How to Stay in Touch with Everyone
  1. HC Lucson Reply

    I like the idea of having occasional dinners or get together with other BD people. Could you tell me more about this…venue type, typical discussions, did this grow, as others learned about it, etc?

    • slpollack Reply

      I’ve experimented a bit over the years, and ultimately found that the best formula is 3-5 people over a communal meal (I like Korean BBQ) with no structure to the conversation. The first few times I hosted these events they were 8-10 people with a formal agenda (“Everyone gets 10 minutes to chat about a particular challenge they’re facing”) and they were terrible. Too large of a group means that there’s only individual conversations happening whereas 3-5 is perfect to have a few side chats that give way to a table-wide conversation. And not setting any sort of agenda at all — just relying on the fact that everyone is related in some way (all friends with the host, all work in the same industry, etc.) results in organic conversations and real relationships.

      • HC Lucson Reply

        Thanks, Scott. Very helpful. I will try something like this.

  2. Richard Vance Reply

    Good and concise articles. Thanks for the info. I am checking into a BD opportunity. Your articles have been a great refresher overview course.

  3. Oren Reply

    Hi Scott, I enjoy reading your stuff. I actually stopped in the middle of this one only to send half a dozen re-connect emails. Thanks!
    One of the issues I’ve been having, and I’m sure many others as well, is that my LinkedIn connection list grew out of proportions over the years. So even though I use it to re-connect 🙂 it takes a very long time to sort the people I really know from the list of loose connections… any suggestions on how (practically) to manage this better?

    • slpollack Reply

      I hear you – LinkedIn still serves a valuable purpose, but it’s harder and harder to separate the mere “connections” from the real, meaningful relationships. I’ve attempted to do this the old fashioned way: Exported a list of connections, sorted them by date (older connections from LinkedIn’s early days were both more likely to be people I know and worked with), and went line by line to manually mark the ones that I knew. Then, I’d reach out to folks individually. It’s slow, manual, and requires putting in a lot of work: just like building a relationship :).

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