Estimated Lesson Time: 7 minutes
Sometimes your most valuable contacts in life can be the least likely ones. In 1995, when I started our first web hosting company, we had this customer who ran a Russian dating service. His web designer eventually came to work with us, and then left to start his own web hosting business. I kept in contact and maintained a good relationship with him. Several years later, that web designer introduced me to the company that would eventually buy my company for 20 million dollars. Years earlier, I never would have suspected that an 18-year-old web designer of a Russian dating service website would ever end up being one of my most valuable contacts.
A key contact is someone who may be able to help you succeed either directly (by his or her own efforts or resources) or indirectly (by one or more of his or her own contacts). On average, each person knows about 100 other people. Having 100 key contacts is like having 10,000 contacts. Do not confuse a key contact with a prospect—they are very different. You do not solicit a key contact; a key contact solicits for you. Salespeople find prospects and millionaires find key contacts.
Besides building a valuable asset by creating a network of people who may be able to help you in your pursuit of success, you also get the benefit of meeting new people and being an interesting conversationalist. When you make a key contact, get as much information as you can about them. Since people like talking about themselves, you will be well received by people you meet.
Success comes as a result of proper building, maintaining, and working your key contacts.
Building. Begin building your key contact list by listing all of the key contacts you currently have. Get out a pen and paper and think of every potential key contact you have. Next, you will want to enter the information in one of the many contact software packages available. Each record should be as detailed as possible. Most important, list the key contact’s assets. I am not referring to their house, cars and stocks, but their assets that can be of possible benefit to you—such as their contacts in a certain industry.
Finding new key contacts is about being as sociable as possible on a professional level and thinking of each key contact as a rung on your ladder of success. Your goal is not to sell a product or even yourself, but to learn about the other person.
The chances are, your information on most of your key contacts will be far from complete. The important information is their name, e-mail, and assets. A phone number, website, and birth date can also be helpful. Show tact when asking key contacts for this information. People generally do not like being “databased” and may react unfavorably to being asked this information. Here are some suggestions for getting this information from both existing and new key contacts:
- Name. This is the easy one. Just about everyone is happy to share his or her name with a new person.
- E-mail, phone, and website. It is best to ask someone for a business card or offer your card first. If they have a business card, their e-mail, phone number, and website will most likely be on it. If they do not have a business card to share, then it is usually easiest and least awkward to get their e-mail address first. You first need to establish a reason for wanting their e-mail address. If you have a website that you would like to share with them, you can send your website URL to their e-mail address. Most people would have no problem with that.
- Assets. You don’t ask someone you have just met, “So, what can you do for me?” You must get this information out of conversation or dialog with the key contact. To do this, make sure the key contact is doing most of the talking, not you. If you are meeting the person while they are working, you can ask, “So tell me a little about what you do.” If you are meeting someone in a non-business environment, ask “So what keeps you busy during the day?” Be sure to enter the details as soon as possible while the information is still fresh in your memory.
Maintaining. Chances are, new people you meet will quickly forget about you unless you keep regular contact with them. After making a new key contact, the first thing you should do is send that person a “nice meeting you” e-mail summarizing your conversation. Not only will this help the other person to remember you better, but it will give the other person your e-mail address.
When possible, send a personal e-mail wishing the contact a happy birthday. A quick, personal e-mail is much more meaningful than an on-line greeting card, which is usually full of ads. At the very least, send your contacts a holiday greeting via a personal e-mail every holiday season. It’s a good idea to keep the holiday wishes general to show your sensitivity to people’s different beliefs and their non-beliefs.
Send your key contacts articles or other information that would be of interest to them, based on what you know about the key contact. Do not spam your key contacts with general information or possibly offensive e-mails that frequently circulate on the Internet. And perhaps most important, avoid mass mailing to your entire list. This can ruin your credibility and result in your key contacts asking to be “removed from your list.”
Working. Eventually, there will come a time when you will need to work your list of key contacts. Working your list refers to approaching one or more of the key contacts on your list with a proposition; it is not about asking favors. Always keep in mind that they are concerned about what is in it for them, not about what they can do for you. If you want something from a key contact, whether it is a sale or a recommendation, be sure you are selling that key contact on the benefits to him or her. The benefits could simply be the good feeling they get by connecting you to one of their contacts to create a win-win situation. Always be sure to show gratitude to those key contacts who help you for these reasons.
Should friends and/or family be considered key contacts? It all depends on how you feel doing business with them. If a family member or friend is not as forgiving or understanding as you may be, or is likely to feel resentment if a business dealing does not go as expected, it is best not to consider that person a key contact.
Key contacts will prove over time to be one of your most valuable assets; they are the doorways to opportunity. Never underestimate the value of a key contact or base their value on their current situation. All people change, and some will find success of their own. Who knows, the 16-year-old cashier at your local grocery store may be the one who leads you to your fortune!
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)