FireworksThe event you just hosted, sponsored or participated in represents a good beginning. Introductions. Conversations. A chance to build a bridge or two…or shore one up.

This is what the event driven activities in your business development and marketing plan are about. Connections. Face time. One piece in a strategic plan of action.

If you’re doing your fair share of this kind of activity (throw in meals and happy hours), but not seeing the business development needle move in the right direction, you may be relying on the event itself to accomplish too much for you.

What you do after the party is over will, in large part, determine the return on your investment. If your plan doesn’t include meaningful follow up, you’re leaving opportunities on the table.

Sure, once in a while you might be part of an event that differentiates you from your competitors. But let’s face it: the object of your business development and marketing efforts will attend another five-star dinner next week. Another concert, ballgame or field trip with a competitor is likely already on the calendar.

Go silent for six months at the risk of missing opportunities.

A Bridge To On-Going Dialogue

Follow up differentiates. Partially because so few pay much attention to it. The right kind of follow up determines whether the big dinner, ballgame, seminar or field trip will actually lead to work, or was just another in a string of one-offs.

Your events should serve as a bridge to on-going dialogue with your best clients and targets.

To that end, here are four thoughts on how to create events that are catalysts to better business development conversations:

  1. Give your follow up a personal touch. An email is better than nothing, but move up the hierarchy of personal as much as circumstances and schedules allow. All other things being equal, a phone call is preferable to an email. And hand written notes (almost a thing of the past) differentiate instantly.
  2. Make it timely. While there is no cookie-cutter for timing, there are two principles to keep in mind. First, don’t let too much time pass. You’re working on a relationship; and relationships need attention. Second, think in terms of a communication process, not a single occurrence. Start by planning quarterly touches with your primary targets.
  3. Deliver value. A serious business development plan incorporates multiple ways to deliver real value to a target. In most cases this will include a combination of personal and professional value — and might range from an anniversary card, to an introduction to a valued connector, to a complimentary workshop on your target’s business driver.
  4. Ask strategic questions. While you likely won’t be asking for work each time you connect with your target, you should always be asking strategic questions. A couple of examples? What will determine your personal professional success over the next 12 to 24 months? And, what can I do to assist? And, of course, when it is time to ask for the work, don’t hesitate. If you need a bridge to this question, try what can I do to make it easy for you to put me to work on your issue?

Events are great tools. View them as catalysts (and plan appropriately), and your marketing events can have a long tail — and lead to actual business development.