How to Re-Activate a Business Contact

By Geoffrey James-

Yesterday, I explained why your neglected business contacts aren’t answering your “long time no see” emails.  I also provided the essence of the solution to this problem. This column provides a detailed step-by-step program.

1. Get over yourself

This is by far the most important step and it’s responsible for most of the failed attempts to get back in contact.

Here’s the secret: to reestablish a relationship that you’ve neglected, you must make the initial conversation entirely about the other person and not about you.

You must temporarily put aside your goals and business interests and find the mental state where you care more about the other person than about your own stuff.

Decide that you want to re-establish the relationship for its own sake and not just because it’s convenient for you.  Otherwise don’t bother.

If like you’re very goal directed, this advice may seem odd, but here’s the thing: in business, you achieve your own goals by helping others achieve theirs.

It’s really a matter of focus.  If you focus on yourself, you’ll come off as self-serving.  If you focus on the other person, though, you’ll come off as helpful and interesting.

2. Research the contact

Before getting in touch with any old contact, do some quick research to discover what the contact has been doing recently.  I use the following sites:

  1. LinkedIn. Search on the name and the last-known employer. Note the geographic location of the current employer, if available. If you’re not yet connected on LinkedIn, hold off on sending the invite; I’ll explain why later.
  2. Facebook. Search on the name and the last known location. (That’s why I had you note the location from the LinkedIn profile). Look for new hobbies, life changes, etc. If you’re not yet “friended” send a friend request. It can’t hurt.
  3. Google News. Search on the contact’s name and current employer in quotes. (Example: SEARCH: “John Q. Doe” “Acme Widgets”).  Look for anything newsworthy, like a conference appearance or promotion.

Don’t go overboard. You’re not creating a dossier; you’re just getting up to speed on the person with whom you want to reestablish a relationship.

3. Review your prior correspondence

Unless you have a photographic memory, you probably have only a vague memory of exactly what you and the contact did in the past, other than the highlights.

Go through your emails to jog your memory. Look for anything that might be a pretext to get back in contact, like personal interests, stated goals, mutual friends, etc.

As you’re reviewing the correspondence, note any emails have a subject line and corresponding thread that illustrates the potential value of the relationship to the other person.

For example, perhaps during your prior relationship you did the other person a favor, like connecting them with one of your business contacts. If there’s an email thread about that, keep it on screen.  We’ll be using it later.

4. Get into the contact’s head.

Based on what you’ve learned in Steps 2 and 3, imagine the other person’s life as it is today. What interests him? What bothers her? What are his goals? Where is her career headed?

Now imagine how your contact remembers you. While “inside your contact’s head” imagine what subject matter or question, from you or somebody like you, would most likely make the contact feel like responding.

For example, I had a client I worked with at Wired who moved over to Apple and then ended up at General Motors. According to my research that she’d relocated from Silicon Valley to Detroit.

I figured that anybody who made that move would be dying to tell people about the experience. And so it proved.  My “re-connect” email asked her about living in Detroit and how it was different from Silicon Valley.  She got back to me within an hour.

What’s important here is that I truly was interested in what she had to say about Detroit, regardless of my own agenda.  That curiosity expressed itself naturally in my email.

5. Craft an email with a relevant question.

Now that you’ve done all your homework and creative imagining, craft a short email asking a question about the other’s person’s life or career.  Here’s the template:

Hi [first name],

[Quick reminder of who you are]

I just ran across the news that [something that happened to the contact].

[Question about relevant subject.]

[your name]

That’s it. Nothing more.  Some quick, very important rules:

  1. Don’t mention your current job.
  2. Don’t mention your agenda for getting in contact.
  3. Don’t provide contact information under your signature.
  4. Don’t include URLs or links or attach any information.

Here’s an example:

Hi Jane,

I don’t know if you remember me but we worked together on the XYZ account at ABC.

I just found out that you relocated to Detroit! Wow, that must be a big change.

What’s it like living and working there after so many years in the valley?

John

6. Forward an old email with the new email on top.

In Step 3, you looked for emails that best encapsulate the positives of your prior relationships.  Forward that old email to your contact, with the new email (which you wrote in Step 5) as the content for the “new” part of the forward.

Important: Do not change the Subject line from the old email.  You want that to remain the same (or with a “RE:”) because that establishes that you’re a real business contact. It also helps remind the contact who you are.

If you’ve followed the previous steps religiously, you will almost undoubtedly get a response. I have close to a 100% success using this method. The result will be an online conversation through email.

7. Wait until the other person asks.

Now that you’re in the conversation, don’t blow it now by suddenly going all “sales pitch.” Instead, enjoy the online conversation for what it is: an opportunity to learn more about a unique human being.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, your contact will eventually ask “So, what’s up with you?”  That’s when you provide a brief description of what you’re doing and then ask the contact for what you want.

What if the other person doesn’t ask? Well, in that case, you email something like: “Hey, I was wondering if you might be interested in…”  This is OK at this point because you’ve reestablished the relationship.