Business card dilemma: Why take them? Why keep them? What to do with them?

I have a notebook binder with a
1000-1500 business cards, most of which are from people that I met once
and wouldn’t recognize again.

Originally, the idea was to gather names for a newsletter database
but my paranoia about being a spammer got the best of me: First, I sent
newsletters to my entire business cards database and got some negative
responses from some recipients. Later, I started asking first before
sending a newsletter but often forgot to ask. Finally, I prefaced each
newsletter with a disclosure advising people to unsubscribe if they
didn’t want to be on my “list”.

No matter how we look at it, business cards remain one of the least
expensive forms of marketing but what kind of contact or impression are
you making? Business cards are ideal for speed networking events, kids
birthday parties, Rotary meetings, Chamber of Commerce events, and
little league soccer games; they are quick and efficient for short brief
encounters.

When I first got into insurance sales our manager would say
everything revolves around the “Law of Large Numbers”, i.e. “You have to
talk to 30 people a day everyday”. Not everyone is prepared to purchase
or needs your services today but the more people you talk to the more
opportunities you have to meet someone who becomes a live prospect. The
“Law of Large Numbers” works but the LoLN is work; the LoLN is fishing,
looking for that sweet spot.

There is a number of networking referral groups whose premise is that
people purchase products from people they know and trust and readily
encourage various forms of card exchanges. These groups, who meet on a
regular basis, encourage people to get to know each other on a “deeper”
level and approach relationships from the “Six degrees of Kevin Bacon”
point of view.

There is always the expectation that group members will provide a
qualified lead shortly. People do business with people they feel they
have some connection with; thus, if I know what you are looking for I’ll
connect you with my “friend”, and if not, some groups will ask you to
leave the group. I never felt that this was very good for developing
trust for true relationships. 

I talked to a friend last week who said she only exchanges business
cards with people she feels are sincere and with whom she might do
business. Are you missing someone? A woman I know who represents an
online greeting card company, sends an acknowledgement card to each
person she meets-not only as a way of reaffirming the contact but also
as a means of exhibiting the use and quality of her product.  People who
accept a trial or purchase her product then become part of her database
which she infrequently sends reminders or birthday notices. I’ve always
been impressed by her diligence.

Thus, I have a large notebook of business cards and from the LoLN
point of view this would be my starting point for any new
product/service I wished to market. In addition, 1000+ cards must mean
that I’m connected to many people. My reality is that I’m not a good
networker, I collected cards with the hope that someone would remember
me and when they had an office networking need they’d call me.

In the reverse, I have at least 50 cards from real estate agents, but
I only know two or three of them (one of them is my wife’s friend). Who
did I call when I sold a commercial building last month; none of them.

I think business cards are as important as you make them. To me the
issue is not collecting cards or developing a follow-up data base but
are you developing relationships?

One of my biggest business mistakes when I changed careers some time
ago was not maintaining my social capital. Different business offerings
meant different contacts, right? Wrong! Our social capital whether
business or personal is our most important asset; no matter what we do
as humans we are no better or worse than the company we keep.

There are no shortcuts to building social capital.
Building a reputation/brand takes time and effort; therefore it is more
than just exchanging business cards at networking events, it is about
developing relationships. Serious relationships last over time not just
at networking events or at the time of the sale or the receipt of the
check.

So my quandary is not how many business cards I’ve collected but how many relationships have I built?

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