I get a lot of requests to meet. Everyday my inbox is filled with pitches and intros and requests to grab a quick coffee (which is never all that quick, mind you). These messages also come fast and furious from LinkedIn and Twitter and anywhere else I may happen to have an online presence.
I encourage this because it helps me find interesting people and potential business opportunities. This all falls underneath my belief in the concept of serendipity. Therefore, I try to respond to most messages, even if I am not interested in the idea or feel a discussion would not be worthwhile. There are plenty of people however that I will never respond to because they just don’t understand the basics of how to reach people.
Below are 8 tips I put together to help you get a better response rate when contacting people that you do not know. Whether you are trying to contact prospects, partners, investors, celebrities, etc., the same core tactics apply.
Have something interesting to discuss – It amazes me how many people fumble the most important point. Why reach out to someone if you have nothing to talk about! If you have something worthy to discuss, make sure you include an elevator pitch and an explanation of why you want to meet that particular person. And do not be vague about it, if you are asking for money, just say it. If you are pitching a solution, get to the point. People do not have time to just meet you for coffee because you are a nice person.
Learn more about your contact – Most requests that I get make it painfully clear that the person reaching out knows nothing about me other than the fact that I am either an investor or an executive in a company. This is laziness to the extreme. It would be like going into a job interview and asking the person interviewing you what the company does. Read up and do some research on the person you want to contact so that you can put more context and situational flattery* into your introductory message.
Get an introduction – See if someone in your network knows the person you wish to speak with. This type of warm introduction has a better chance of succeeding than a cold intro. Note however that just because someone in your network knows a person, does not mean they are necessarily close with said person. This is especially true of LinkedIn connections (I am connected to people I have not spoken with in almost 10 years). Plus, it may not be in the best interests of such an intermediary to make the introduction, so this is not always guaranteed. Make it dead simple and worthwhile for your connection to facilitate the introduction by writing the intro note yourself to pass along.
Have an online life – If I cannot find out more about you on Google, I assume you do not exist. That might be harsh, but if you are an entrepreneur or salesperson, to not have some sort of LinkedIn profile or blog or social media presence is inexcusable. If you do have an online presence, do your own Google investigating and make sure information jives with what you are doing now and reflects your talents in the best possible light.
Engage in online conversation – Find the places where your contact is hanging out online and try to participate in thoughtful discussion. Whether it is through blog comments or Twitter or other community, by engaging with your contact prior to an official introduction, you build a rapport, gain credibility and have a better chance to getting a response when you finally do reach out.
Use the right contact method – While phone might be most effective in contacting a person, it is not the best in terms of actually getting a meaningful conversation or building a fruitful long-term relationship. This is particularly true of mobile phones which are simply too personal for most people. Therefore, email is still generally the best initial outreach method. However, test the waters and see if you can get a direct business line or the number for the contact’s admin.
Be efficient and effective in your message – Most messages are way too long or devoid of any personality and details. In order to make the email stand out in what is probably a crowded inbox, follow these seven tips on cold emails that was discussed in a previous post about outbound emailing tactics.
If you fail the first time, try again – Your first attempt might go unnoticed, so it pays to try a few more times to reach the person. Most people give up after not receiving a response, but this is a huge mistake! Often times emails get lost in the email deluge and people’s busy calendars. Some experts have even recommended reaching out across various channels eight times in order to maximize your chance to make a connection. Make sure not to get spammy though in your follow up; use different approaches to elicit a positive response.
Even if you follow these tips, there is no guarantee that you will get a reply. However, you will greatly increase your chances of getting noticed in a way that does not annoy the people you wish to reach. Your goal should be to make it easy for them to say yes to your request for a conversation.
* Situational flattery is providing positive and substantial comments to a person within the context of a conversation or message.