I got an email recently – similar to others I have received. It is from someone I don’t know, have never heard of, and did not invite to contact me. That part is OK – how else might we learn about opportunities if we limit our correspondence to only people we know?
The issue is with the approach and the tone. Starting out an email like it’s a follow-up when there has been no previous contact is a big mistake. It destroys all credibility. Apparently, we are supposed to think that they have been talking with us and we simply don’t remember or recall the conversation. The fact is there was no previous contact. This is it.
People think they can catch us unaware or more willing to talk with them when they present themselves as already making unsuccessful attempts to contact us. Then we feel bad and are more inclined to reach out to them – what they were after all along.
Let’s remember this if we send unsolicited emails or notes to potential clients or strategic partners. There’s nothing wrong in this practice. We just need to be up-front. Let the person know that we haven’t met and why we are contacting them. If there is a mutual friend or acquaintance, mention that. Then explain why we are contacting them and what we want to achieve – an online connection, permission to call them, adding them to our email list, scheduling a meeting for coffee, or other action.
Let’s skip the hyperbole. It has no place is business correspondence. The recent email I cite begins with a mild scolding for not responding to their previous emails – nonexistent emails. This is strictly used to make us feel guilty – like we have been impolite in not responding to them. Wrong. It’s simply an aggressive reach on their part. This is a misguided attempt at proactive contact when they act as if we have dropped the ball rather than an initial attempt – and final one based on their tactics – to engage us.
The email continues with a warning that this will be their last email to me – great! I never requested the contact anyway. Then they soften their approach and invite me to contact them if I change my mind and want to learn what they can do – I don’t.
When we contact people that we have not engaged previously, let’s make no assumptions on how receptive they might be about wanting to hear from us. In fact, let’s err on the side that they may not want to hear from us – until they hear what we have to offer. Let’s be professional and gentle. Let’s explain ourselves, why we reached out to them, and what we think we can achieve for them. All in a very professional, non-aggressive way.
Remember that follow-up is just that – contact that we have with someone after some type of initial conversation or engagement. It cannot – by definition – be used to troll or invite a conversation. That is the invitation. Follow-up happens after that, not before.
When we reach out to someone in writing, by phone, or with email, they should not get the impression that we have been waiting to hear from them. They don’t know how we are. We must introduce ourselves, explain briefly why we have chosen to contact them (connect on social media, add them to our email list, send them a brochure, have them visit our website, or schedule a phone conversation, for instance), and offer a benefit for them honoring our request.
Being aggressive or assertive with someone on the initial contact certainly is not the way to get a positive response or permission for a second contact.