By Bob Salvas
 
As businesspeople we have probably already learned:
 
         • The necessity of following up with those who express an interest in our products or services (prospects).
         • The importance of keeping our strong relationships going (existing customers/good friends and allies).
         • The need for us to get out there and meet new people.
 
But there is a fourth category that we do not always think about. This is the group of people you may have already met (either online or offline) or they might even be former customers. You may have a pile of random business cards somewhere that represent this group. These are the people that you are not in touch with and in many cases, you do not really ‘know’ very well at all. Some might consider these folks to be your ‘cool market’ or as author and professor David Burkus refers to them, they are a “friend of a friend”…
 
“It’s about knowing who is a “friend of a friend.” It’s about getting a full picture of the network you already have access to and learning how to improve it.”
– David Burkus, Friend of a Friend . . .: Understanding the Hidden Networks That Can Transform Your Life and Your Career
 
According to the author, this ‘hidden network’ is an untapped market that is often best suited to help us and the one we tend to ignore the most. As you might imagine, reaching out directly to this market to ask for business (selling) is NOT a good idea. But getting in touch and keeping in touch with them is.
 
In a recent article by author Karen Wickre (An Introvert’s Advice for Networking), Karen recommends the ‘loose-touch’ method as a way to connect with your ‘hidden network’:
 
“The effect of loose touch is to put you into someone’s consciousness for a few minutes, and vice versa. These moments serve as connective tissue (“we have this in common”) and a marker of your ongoing relationship. In cultivating loose-touch connections, know that your network won’t appear all at once; it takes steady, continuous work. It’s how I stay in touch with dozens of people. I’ll share tidbits seen on Twitter or other news of mutual interest. By “share,” I send a brief greeting and a link to something to read or watch. If you’re a regular on LinkedIn, you can keep in loose touch with contacts via private messages on that platform. Or you can use Facebook direct messages or private messaging on Instagram — it just depends on which services you use and which ones your contacts use.”
 
While I agree with Karen’s ideas, I think these other things that can also add value to your ‘loose-touch’ efforts:
 
         • Hard copy mail is still a great way to communicate. Sending someone a holiday greeting or birthday or congratulations card will certainly
            get noticed, especially in this world of ‘digital clutter’.
         • Email communication is another way to keep in touch- though if you are sending your newsletter to a mass audience, it may be less
            personal. The important thing to remember is to keep your email messages short, interesting and as relevant to the receiver as possible.
            Don’t stray too far into the arena of self-promotion, especially with this group of people. The idea here is to build a better relationship.
         • Regardless of what communication method you choose, make sure you are LISTENING. As you reach out to people, they may start
            a conversation. Nothing is worse than continuing to communicate without pausing to listen and respond to what is being said. There
            are many automated communications systems out there which can be helpful, but they can also be harmful if you are not paying attention
            to what the other person is actually saying.
 
“Many relationship problems are rooted in a communication breakdown. These can be as simple as not really hearing what the other person is saying, because we get caught up in our own fixed perspectives.”– Sumesh Nair