Relationships are the key to a successful career. They provide us with the opportunities and connections that take us farther, yet we often fail to put in the effort to nurture them. That’s a problem.
Merely knowing the people in our networks isn’t enough. To be master connectors we must actively work on relationships. As the famous sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said, “Relationships, like cars, should undergo regular services to make sure they are still roadworthy.” Without maintenance, relationships will undoubtedly crash or rust in the driveway without reaching their full potential.
Luckily, it’s not hard to optimize professional relationships if you take the right approach. Here are a few ways you can immediately improve your relationship management.
Capture the important details
The truth is, the basic information we’ve been trained to record doesn’t actually tell us much about a person. To establish powerful, meaningful connections you have to dig deeper than things like name, phone number, email, and place of work. How did you meet? What was the topic of discussion? Do you have any shared interests? Were next steps identified? Getting these details down will prepare you for your next interaction and give you a strong foundation to work from.
Tip - To make sure you get everything recorded before it slips your mind, write down or type up your notes immediately after a conversation.
Always follow up
Every relationship should have a next step. By setting up next steps, we keep our relationships active and avoid losing steam and, ultimately, stagnation. The best way to establish your next step is to schedule a follow-up meeting.
The follow up itself must be well crafted, and most importantly, it should actually get sent! There are a couple of surefire ways to always you follow up.
Put the follow-up on your calendar
Using calendar events as reminders is a cost-free way to ensure you stay in touch with your contacts. You can set the subject line as the contact’s name, then fill the description with all of the details of your first interaction. Create a separate “Reach Out” calendar to distinguish it from your personal or work calendars.
Use a reminder tool
Reminder tools such as FollowUp.cc, Boomerang, Yesware, and MixMax are basically real-life cheat codes that help you follow up with your contacts. All of these reminder tools integrate with your email, making them an easier (yet more expensive) choice than a calendar event.
So, what exactly should you say in your follow-up message? While a quick email simply asking how the contact has been is better than nothing at all, but the best follow-ups carry weight by building upon your relationship history. For example, ask about the new project they mentioned in your first conversation, or shoot them an article that brought the person to mind. This demonstrates that you care about their work and value their friendship.
Go the extra mile
We’ve all heard it before: you get out what you put in. If you’re willing to selflessly help out others with no expectation of reciprocation, they’ll be more likely to return the favor. Introduce a contact to someone in your network. Give honest feedback on a contact’s offering. Endorse a contact on LinkedIn and other professional outlets. To paraphrase Seth Godin, everyone has a personal brand — it’s how people perceive you. Make yours memorable by remembering theirs.
Use a relationship management tool
Relationship management tools take the stress and effort out of maintaining your network. But in today’s world, nearly all of them focus on the customer and speak from an industry specific perspective. Salespeople organize leads with Salesforce. Customer Success Representatives handle tickets with Zendesk. Marketers manage their funnel with Hubspot. These tools are great for their relevant niches, but don’t address professional relationships. However, there are a couple options out there that do:
While predominantly a sales tool, Streak also offers templates for dealflow, fundraising, and general relationship management. It takes the form of a spreadsheet in your inbox, allowing you to manage contacts within completely customizable pipelines. If you’re at your best working within spreadsheets, Streak is an easy way to keep your relationships in check.
Like Streak, Twist helps you manage relationships without ever leaving your email. But instead of spreadsheets, Twist utilizes an intelligent sidebar that displays your contacts as you interact with them. Users have the ability add notes, set reminders, schedule events, and see what’s coming up with their contacts. If you prefer a more lightweight option, Twist might be the pick.