If you had told me four years ago that the man I met at a local business-to-business networking event would be a mentor, friend and referral partner responsible for a huge chunk of my new business revenue, I wouldn’t have been able to pick him out of the crowd.

Although we are encouraged to network and develop our referral partner pipeline with quality relationships, it seems like an impossible task to determine who is worth our time and follow-up effort, especially when meeting to vet someone’s potential means putting off other tasks. When I am asked this question, the answer is simple: EVERYONE.

Infinite Opportunities of Networking
In 2010, my company had recently joined a professional networking organization and, frankly, we were skeptical about the potential return on investment based on the initial membership fee ($15,000). To make sure we were getting our money’s worth, I was charged with attending as many events as possible to promote our company, find strategic partnership opportunities, and help our company stay top of mind.

During one such event, I met a gentleman in passing. In line with my networking best practices, I invited him for coffee with an agenda of mutual understanding that the goal was to simply learn more about each other. We shared our core services, target demographics, and growth strategies.

Over the next year and a half, we did not develop a formal working relationship. However, I stayed in touch with emails, sending him news from my company, and making a point to say hello to him at events.

A year and a half later, I needed some genuine help. I called on him for another meeting, this time to consult on the coming change in my career path. I knew that with his experience, connections, and unique perspective as a business coach, he would be able to guide me past the rut I was in.

Here’s my favorite suggestion: “Make a list of everything you do for your job. Every. Little. Thing. Then, rank those things in the order you enjoy doing them. You will easily find the top 3-5 things you love doing. Now, go find a job that is ONLY those things. Stop tolerating all the other parts because you think you have to. If you can’t find a job focused on your passion, make one.”

This advice LITERALLY changed my life. A simple one hour meeting full of genuinely wonderful conversation eventually led me to opening my own business. All from a man I had met in passing at a random event. I sent him a handwritten thank you note and got to work building my dream.

Once I was up and running, we had another coffee meeting where I updated him on what I was doing. (I drink a LOT of coffee!) Within four months, he referred me to a client of his. Three months later, I received a second referral. Although we had never worked together directly, we had a strong and longstanding relationship. We had a mutual respect and understood each other’s needs and work styles.

Based on his word and recommendation, I was able to sign two clients with very little effort.

Wait… it’s about to get really good!

Aside from the immense impact this man had on shaping my career path, the numbers of our relationship aren’t too shabby either. Today, approaching the two year mark with both clients, the gross revenue I can attribute to the man I met randomly at a networking event four years ago is over $200,000!

So, who do you have coffee with? The answer is always, everyone.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to drink coffee all day, every day! In reality, we all have too much to do than sit at Starbucks all day hoping to meet the next stellar referral partner.

Here are some quick tips to get—and keep—quality referral partners in your networking pipeline:

After you attend an event, do these three things:

  1. Invite everyone to connect with you on LinkedIn, and CUSTOMIZE your invite message. You can totally steal this: “Hi, It was great meeting you at the (insert event name here). Would love to learn more about what you do and stay connected. Have a great day!”
  2. Add them to your company’s (or your personal) CRM and email list.
  3. Offer a 30 minute coffee meeting to everyone (via email). Most people will not accept. The act of the invitation will leave a positive impression on everyone, but only those who are serious about developing their referral partner pipeline will actually take the time. They will weed themselves out!

    Copy this to get started and add your personal touch:
    “Hello (insert name here),
    I wanted to touch base after meeting you at the (insert event name here) last week. I would welcome the opportunity to meet up for a quick coffee to learn more about what you do, share what our company offers, and find some ways we could help each other. Are you available: (insert 2-3 SPECIFIC dates/times here)?”

To make yourself as efficient at networking follow up as possible, try these things:

  1. Set aside 1-2 time blocks on your calendar each week for networking follow up tasks and coffee meetings. You can send out your template invitation and, with the pre-scheduled time blocks, you don’t have to stress over your schedule week to week. It doesn’t have to be a chore for you. (Pro tip: pick a morning and afternoon block for those who have different schedules.)
  2. Develop a recurring email marketing drip campaign to maximize the value of your networking time. Sending a monthly email with valuable information will keep you top of mind with everyone you’ve met. When they decide they need your services or they refer you, they will know how to find you quickly.

Happy networking! iBi

Anna-Vija McClain is a sales and marketing expert with a backgroundhelping small business owners, to multimillion dollar organizations, reach unprecedented sales results through development of marketing strategy, management of budgets, and efficient execution of projects. For more information, visit www.avmsonline.com.