Printing up business cards is one of those things that has become so common that it is often viewed as a requirement for any aspiring capitalist. Networking book authors stress the importance of getting a business card in every person’s hand, and not having them for an event is seen as the ultimate business sin. But I have some shocking news for those people: I stopped carrying business cards years ago, and it was the best business decision I’ve ever made (even though my last business cards were pretty sweet).
A New Process
The problem with business cards is that you’re putting the burden of following up on the other person. It’s sort of like playing roulette with your business - you put your faith in something you have zero control over. And, unfortunately, most people can’t be relied on to do something as simple as send an email or text message within a reasonable amount of time after meeting you. I can only speculate about the exact reasons, but my best guess is that people are just too busy and/or lazy to go through that kind of effort unless they see immediate and significant benefit to themselves.
My process takes that problem (and several others) out of the picture. Let’s walk through how you can apply it to social situations as well.
Let’s say you’re at some kind of business-related function and you end up having a great conversation with someone. You feel like they’d be a good business contact and maybe even just a decent person to hang out with. They seem to reciprocate the feeling and ask for your business card. Rather than pull out a fancy card case and offer a card with tasteful thickness and off-white coloring, you reply with “I don’t carry business cards, but if you give me your email address I will send you a message within 24 hours.”
The other person now has to make a choice. If their interest in connecting with you is sincere, they won’t skip a beat. You’ll get an email address without an issue. However, if they were just bullshitting you and asking for a business card because they think it’s the polite thing to do, they’re likely going to waffle a bit. This might seem like an overly blunt and confrontational way to deal with this. That is true to a certain degree, but what’s really going on is the most important part of any sales process: validation.
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In other words, you’re figuring out early on whether that person is a decent prospect or not. Good salespeople are validation machines who make a habit of figuring out very early what their ideal customer looks like. If the person they’re talking to ends up not fitting that profile, they don’t try to jam their product down their throats - they just move on and find someone who does. Likewise, this way of exchanging information allows you to validate early so that nobody gets their time wasted.
If this new person decides not to give you information for any reason, you’ve validated them and you can move on. Don’t get hurt feelings if you don’t get what you’re looking for. You should be thanking them, as you don’t have to waste any more time or energy on trying to connect with them.
On the other hand, if they did give you information, then you now need to follow up on what you’ve promised (a message within 24 hours). This part is what determines the winners from the losers when it comes to networking. If you can’t follow up, you’re basically throwing away every connection you come across. Anyone who doesn’t care about your lack of follow up is probably not aware enough to matter, and those who notice won’t like the fact that you didn’t do what you said you would. This does create salience in their memory, but not the kind you want.
The best idea is to just send a message as soon as you get home. This frees you from worrying about it later on, and once you do it you look like a hero. Not only did you follow up (which most people refuse to do), but you demonstrated that you are a person whose word actually means something (another rare quality). Win-win.
Business cards are an outmoded way of connecting with people. You’re putting too much control into the hands of the other person and you aren’t doing any sort of validation. Get rid of the business cards and replace them with a more effective system for connection and I can just about guarantee you will get better networking results.
I do have to qualify everything here by saying that you will never get a 100% response rate. This system increase the response rate, but don’t expect it to ever be perfect.
Even when I do this, I still get people who never reply to my emails or, almost as bad, take a long time to get back to me. It’s unfortunate that people can’t be bothered to perform basic follow up even when the pressure is completely off of them, but you can use the normalcy of that behavior to your advantage. Be the person who stands out by actually doing what you say you’ll do and the benefits will be tremendous.
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