How to turn a chance encounter into a business contact

It can be tempting to bombard a leader in your industry with information about your business, but approach the situation more carefully and a chance encounter could prove productive.

The fact that you travel so much for work really ups the chances of bumping into people who could be useful for your career. After all, you’re not stuck in the office, but in busy places frequented by other business travellers and sometimes even in confined spaces, such as a lift, plane or train.

So, what do you do when someone big in your industry just happens to be sat next to you on that flight to an all-important conference or steps into the lift just before the doors close? It’s true that this opportunity may never arise again, so think carefully about how to approach it. Here are a few tips:

  1. Respect the other person’s time and priorities

This may be a big moment for you, but the chances are that the other person has their own agenda and things to be getting on with. Say hello and acknowledge that you know who they are, perhaps with a comment about their work or a project, but be prepared to leave it at that. If they do not engage with you, then don’t force the issue as this can do more harm than good.

  1. Have an elevator pitch ready

An elevator pitch is great for many situations, not just when you bump into a leading figure in a lift, although this is a good place to start. It should be succinct and get across the key points, meaning those few moments between levels are put to good use.

Don’t be afraid to use your elevator pitch in other scenarios too. If you are on a long-haul flight with a prominent industry figure, that does not mean you have a captive audience. In fact, it’s all the more important to be brief. Start with your elevator pitch and you never know, it may lead to a longer conversation, but if you just end up swapping business cards, that’s also a win. You don’t want to be remembered as the person who chewed a contact’s ear off all the way from London to Dubai.

  1. Always have a business card to hand

Business cards are an absolute essential when you travel for work, so make sure you always have a few in an easily accessible place. They should look professional and perhaps stand out in some way, although don’t go overboard, as there is a reason why the tried and tested size and shape of business cards have stood the test of time. Writing on the back where you met can be a good idea and try to get a card in return so you can send a polite non-pushy follow-up email.

  1. Listen and ask questions

While the temptation is to sell yourself, be sure to listen to what the other person has to say. Not only are they an expert in their field and may offer some very useful insight, but they will respect you more for your attention. Show your interest and move things along by asking relevant questions. The chances are they will extend the courtesy and you’ll end up having a mutually productive conversation.

  1. Craft a careful follow-up email

Be sure to follow up with your new contact in a timely manner and stick to the rules of building a relationship, as opposed to pushing your agenda. Even just a message saying how nice it was to meet them and interesting to hear their view on a certain topic will be enough to remind them of your personal encounter. Later down the line you can introduce the possibility of working together if the opportunity arises.

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