As deal season picks back up, you’re probably starting to reach out to the usual suspects on your contacts list. The banker who sent you an interesting deal last March or the private equity group that wasn’t quite the perfect fit last time. Even fellow alumni or friends from the country club. But, by recycling only your primary contacts, you could be missing out on an entire group of invaluable, existing connections.
Reconnecting with dormant contacts, the people you haven’t spoken with in a number of years, is an amazingly useful but untapped resource for most people.
A study published by MIT a few years ago found that executives who reached out to contacts they had lost touch with reported their conversations were more valuable than the discussions they had with their regular contacts. The dormant relationships presented novel ideas, had unique insights and were very happy to help even though the relationship had gone cold. This year, you could find the similar value in your own network of old contacts.
So how do you best take advantage of dormant relationships as we go into the busy season?
1) Reconnect with a close relationship from three years ago or longer
The key to making connections with dormant contacts and not ‘distant contacts’ is considering how you know the person. Dormant relationships tend to be those people you trusted and had a good relationship with, but the years have pulled you apart. Working 50, 80 or 100 hour weeks tends to leave little time for outside contacts, so even those people you intended to stay in contact with often fall away. Distant contacts, in contrast, tend to be people with whom you simply never built a full relationship.
In the study, researchers had executives pick a problem they were struggling with at work and then write down 10 names of people from their distant past who would be valuable to speak with about the problem. Then the executives each got in touch with their #1 choice and the researchers picked a random choice from the remaining nine names. The data showed that the value from the contacts in the past was almost identical no matter if the executive spoke with their first choice, tenth choice or any other choice in between.
This success is easily repeatable. Try writing down a list of old relationships that could be related to a deal, a portfolio company or any other issue plaguing you and then pick a few names to call or reach out to on Linkedin.
2) Ask for advice about who you should connect with or how you should approach a problem
While many people are concerned about reaching out — fearing the other person will view the outreach as a burden or request for a favor — most contacts welcome the reconnection. Often the contacts lost touch because both parties were busy, not because either intended to stop the relationship. The best way to rekindle the relationship is to contact the person for advice or insight into a particular problem.
As a banker, asking for buyer list recommendations or how to structure a particular transaction can help spur other conversations. Similarly, private equity professionals can find value by talking through the operations of a portfolio company, discussing sourcing strategies, or thinking through the close of a particular deal.
As many of the executives in the MIT study found, dormant relationships often had more valuable insights than close friends. Our regular friendships tend to be with people who hold similar beliefs and are influenced by a similar set of ideas. Dormant contacts have often changed over the years, giving them fresh angles and new views of potential courses of action.
3) Balance your outreach between new, current and dormant connections
Reaching out to a few contacts from the distant past could add the little extra that could make the difference this deal season. However, don’t worry if the dormant relationships fade again over time. Executives in the study found that while dormant outreach occasionally resulted in longer term relationships, more often they faded away again because our networks evolve, ebb and flow over time.
Despite their benefits, dormant contacts should not be relied on for new relationships, opportunities, and ideas. As any salesperson knows, you can’t live only off your old relationships. Continue to build new relationships at conferences, on Axial, from referrals, and by occasionally reaching out to new people on social networks. The best networks are continually evolving networks that include a variety of contacts and relationships.