I have recently had several engaging conversations with friends and clients of my consulting firm, Serviam Partners, about strategies for connecting with new business professionals, how to appropriately follow up and how to handle meetings being rescheduled. I would like to offer a sampling of “best & worst practices” for your consideration regarding these questions and how to be more effective with our efforts in expanding professional networks.
WORST Practices for Connecting with New Professionals
- Fail to offer an interesting, even compelling, reason why a new contact should be willing to meet with you. Don’t assume that an invitation is enough.
- Don’t offer at least three dates/times as options for meeting.
- Don’t offer convenient (for them) restaurant or other meeting place suggestions in your communication.
- Think that meeting with you is the most important thing on their plate.
- Become angry or irritated in your follow-up communication if they don’t respond immediately (see above bullet point). Also, don’t assume the worst. They could be sick, traveling, etc.
- Fail to give appropriate context for why we are reaching out to someone we don’t know. For example: “Mike, we are both friends with Bill Smith who encouraged me to meet you regarding a new project I am working on. Your insight would be invaluable and I would be grateful if we could meet to discuss the work. I would also like to see if there is anything I can do to help you. Can you meet for coffee near your office any days over the next few weeks around 7:00 am?” VS “Hey there Mike. I work for ABC Company and would love to grab lunch. When are you available?”
- Fail to be courteous. Forget to be grateful. You have one shot at a first impression-don’t blow it!
BEST Practices for Connecting with New Professionals
- Try to make a “warm” connection. Can someone who knows both of you make a warm introduction? This can help overcome obstacles and get you inside the door.
- If reaching out to a new “cold” connection, it might be better to suggest a brief introductory phone call before pursuing a meeting.
- The best way to meet a new contact is over early morning coffee/breakfast. Meeting a new contact before they go to work at a restaurant/coffee shop near their office or a place on their way to work ensures convenience for them and makes getting rescheduled much less likely.
- Do your homework. Check LinkedIn and Google for information about them on what you have in common. For example: “Jim, I looked at your LinkedIn profile and learned that we both went to UGA and worked at Home Depot, although in different divisions. I am interested in meeting people from your organization and sharing some of the ideas my company is exploring in supply chain. Do you have time next week on Monday, Tuesday or Friday for coffee near your office at 7:00 am? Isn’t there a Panera Bread down the street from you? I would be grateful for your time and I would love to see if there is anything I can do to help you in return. I look forward to hearing from you. Thanks.”
- Understand that connecting cannot be exclusively by email. Make a phone call first or follow up your email with a call. The power of personal connections is important in making this work well.
- Try to view all of this through the filter of “doing business with friends”. If you see connecting and business development from this perspective, you are much more likely to build a solid relationship with a new contact first, before doing business together.
- Be flexible without sounding desperate or like you have nothing to do. Here is a correct example: “Susan, I am open most mornings for coffee except Tuesdays and Fridays, the earlier the better. I am also available for lunch the next three Fridays from 11:30 to 1:00 pm. Meeting near your office is very easy for me.” Notice with this approach that we showed flexibility and offered several options, but they are our options?
- Think long and hard about what value you are bringing to this potential new relationship. Instead of focusing on only what you want, make sure you are considering what might be interesting and helpful for them.
- Always be courteous. Always be grateful. Acknowledge to the other person that you know they are investing valuable time in meeting you and it is appreciated. The basics always work and this is as basic as it gets!
- Be authentic. To quote Oscar Wilde, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”
This is certainly not the definitive list, but I am hopeful these tips will help address some of the concerns I have been hearing on the topic of connecting with new people. Building authentic business relationships with new contacts takes time and effort, but this is by far the most productive approach to growing your network the right way. There is an important lesson I have learned in my 25 year career: New business people you wish to meet are NEVER racing towards you at the same speed you are pursuing them. Recognize this, be patient, be thoughtful, be creative, pay it forward…and be authentic.