I have too many business cards. As I travel the world to speak at various SharePoint and social technology events, I am constantly collecting and distributing business cards, as I’m sure you’re all doing, as well. While there have been various attempts to popularize different digital solutions to improve on this common networking practice, nothing has stuck to date (but I’m optimistic that we’ll move from paper to digital some day). Regardless of how we collect this professional information from the people we meet, what we need to improve on is taking action on these new contacts.

My habit is to immediately take notes on the interaction, usually on the back of the business cards themselves, to remind me of who the person is, the circumstances around our meeting, and the actions I need to take (send an email, introduce to a peer, follow up with a phone call or a meeting invitation). I try to follow up by email as soon as I get back to the office or back to my hotel room. Last night was a great example – I got back to my hotel room after an event and group dinner, and immediately went online to send out several follow up emails to the people I met, and make introductions to members of my team. This is important to do while the interactions are fresh in my mind, so that I can provide detail and I can provide others with calls to action.
At every IAMCP gathering I try to be just as proactive as I am while out on the road, introducing myself to new members or visitors, exchanging contact information. Whether or not there is immediate business value for my own company, I try to think of anyone within my professional or personal network who may benefit from this new connection.
This is an important distinction to make – it is key to a healthy community. Not every connection you make will benefit you or your company, but you extend your networking options – and improve the IAMCP experience for everyone else – when you think beyond yourself and help others to connect. Some call it "paying it forward" or maybe even "trickle-down networking," but giving back to the partner community will most definitely help you develop good will toward you and your company. And good will is an important ingredient in expanding your partner ecosystem.
So much about business networking is about developing those healthy habits. Proactive management of your new contacts is one of those healthy habits. Helping others to connect is another. But in my experience, both are habits that pay off for your business in the long run.
For some further guidance on how to get the most out of your networking activities, I highly recommend How to be Great at the Stuff You Hate: The Straight-Talking Guide to Networking, Persuading and Selling by Nick Davies.