Heading out to a conference? A chamber breakfast? A meetup? This is your networking time. I know – you’d rather be at home watching SportsCenter or Ellen. But like it or not, networking is a necessary part of your business, so you’d better get out there. And when you do make it off the couch, here’s some good news for you: because it’s 2016, there are lots of good technologies that will help you network more powerfully and most importantly, more quickly.

That means you get more bang for your networking time.

Here are three key technologies you need to use this year to network better.

1. A CRM system

Every business needs a customer relationship management system. Networking begins and ends with managing your relationships. If you’re going to spend the time networking, then you want to make sure you’re taking full advantage of the  relationships you’re forming. And the way to do this is with a CRM (Customer Relationship Management) system.

Today’s CRMs are mature and powerful. But, simply put, they’re nothing more than a database.

So here’s your mission: you must get every person you meet into that database. And you want to have a process for making sure you’re following up with them…forever. Maybe it’s a thank you email, or you add them (with their permission) to a mailing or email list. Or a reminder to check in with them once or twice a year. Your CRM will keep notes about that person and connect that person to others in your database that you know. A person who you meet at the chamber breakfast may not be a direct prospect now…but they may be later. Or maybe she knows someone who will be.

Your job is to use your CRM system to stay in touch with that person so that when she (or a friend) needs a product or service that you sell, she thinks of you first!

Related: Learn more ways to make networking less stressful via our Small Biz Ahead Podcast

2. A business card scanner

One thing that still amazes me is the business card. It’s 2016. You would think it would all be electronic or we would be communicating our contact information via telepathy or something like that. But no, we’re still exchanging cards like our parents did back in their day. We’re still coming back with a stack of them in our pockets too. And many of us toss them aside or forget about them. Shame on us because each card is potential business.

Like I mentioned above, just because someone you meet isn’t a direct prospect for you, her relationships may be. You went to the effort to meet and talk to her. Continue the relationship for goodness sake! Get that business card into your CRM database! It’s a pain though, isn’t it? What, you’re going to sit there and type each one in? Who has the time for that? Instead, invest in a good card scanner app. There are lots of these – here’s a good piece from Computer World that lists several. They all pretty much work the same: you take a photo of the card with your smartphone, the app reads the card and offers a view for you to approve or edit (in case it goofed – because even technology isn’t perfect all the time, as you know) and then you can upload the card into your CRM system for continuous reach-out.

Card scanners are a critical technology for saving time after you put in the effort to network.

3. LinkedIn

If you’re not active on LinkedIn then you’re hurting your prospects. LinkedIn is, at its core, just a humongous database of resumes. It’s a professional stalking service. It’s a great source for gossip mongering, and it’s an essential networking technology.

When you come back from a networking event, take the extra step to connect with the people you personally met on LinkedIn. Overwrite their standard message and instead, personalize it with how much you enjoyed speaking with them. People are cool with this nowadays and 99% of the time they’ll accept your invite.

That does two things for you:

  1. It opens the door for future communications that in many respects is better than sending an email (LinkedIn messages seem to stand out and are a way around automated spam filters).
  2. You can peruse your contact’s profile and connections to see if you have anything (or anyone) more in common. “Oh, you went to state college too? Did you know Professor Blutarsky?” or “Oh, you know Bob James from Acme Corp? Bob and I play golf together.” Or “Oh, you served time in Sing-Sing for money laundering? Why, me too! Let’s have lunch!”

See? Networking can open up all sorts of opportunities that you never knew existed. And technology can help you do your networking faster and more productively than ever before.

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