How my “rookie mistake” at networking landed me a new sale

At a conference a few months ago, a potential customer that I was chatting to asked me for my card.

We’d been having a good conversation about hosting for several minutes and I could tell we could help them and I was keen to follow up.

When they asked for my card, I told them I hadn’t got any.

Now if you were an onlooker, you might call this out as a “rookie mistake”!

It was in fact, a cunning plan, worthy of Baldrick himself.

For years, I collected business cards at events. Each time, I’d return to my desk, sort them alphabetically and diligently add them to my already bulging binder of cards “just in case”, I needed to talk to them again.

In the end, that binder turned out to be less-up-to-date version of LinkedIn, except more faff to flip through and gathering dust faster than Dyson vacuum cleaner!

The reason I don’t carry business cards is because they’re irrelevant to what I want to achieve when I’m networking at an event.

Often, it feels like business cards are exchanged as a show of theatre, or to end a pointless conversation.

Consider this:

  1. Someone talks to you and has some questions about something you do and says they want to talk more about it.
  2. You give them your card and wait for them to get in touch.
  3. They’re not ready so nothing happens and you never hear from them again.

And the alternative:

  1. Someone talks to you and has some questions about something you do and says wants to talk more about it.
  2. You take note of their details and contact them later with the information they – whilst also adding them on LinkedIn/Twitter/Snapchat etc.
  3. They tell you they’re not ready right now! But this time, you stay in touch.

I know this isn’t that new an idea – diligent networkers have known this for years. The difference is that I’m able to connect with someone far more quickly through social media today than ever before.

It’s also more honest. Why swap business cards with someone if you know you’ll never speak to them again? Either make the effort or move on.

Not having a card meant I asked for – and got –  the potential customer’s email and their Twitter handle, allowing me to immediately start following them. I even tweeted them the stuff they asked for later that day.

My “rookie mistake” was the start of a relationship that led to me winning a new sale for Bytemark. Had I given him my card and waited for him to get in touch, I’m not sure much more would have happened.

Handing out business cards can often be an excuse to wait for an inbound contact. Taking down the details of a prospect, adding them on a social media and sharing something useful with them is a far more effective way to build a long-term business relationship.

Do you give out cards at events? How does it work for you? Tell me about it in the comments!