Business Networking #Fails to Avoid

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This post by Andrew Ackerman originally appeared on Alley Watch. He graciously updated it to share 5 business networking fails we should all avoid to make networking a little less painful. 

I am not all that easily annoyed but not everyone in the startup and investment worlds aren’t as easy going as I am. So here are a few things that, while they only mildly annoy me, really do bug the heck out of a lot of people:

The “guess what this email is about” subject line

What has 2 thumbs and gets way more email than you?

This guy

Like pretty much every investor I get hundreds of emails each day from startups, other investors vendors, portfolio companies, newsletters, and friends. Yes, even VCs have friends.

Blank subject lines are like random bags at airports; probably just someone’s post-vacation dirty underwear but maybe, just maybe something there’s valuable… or explosive. So I feel like I have to open it just to be safe. No subject is just being lazy.

And no, subject lines like “Hi!” are no better.

Even subjects like “Intro request” or “Follow up” don’t help, although I give you partial credit for trying. Imagine 100 emails that all say “intro” and “follow up”. How do I know what company or project this is about? How do I know what is time-sensitive and what is routine, what requires a reply and what is just FYI? Also, when, weeks later I’m searching for this email, how do I find it quickly?

Try these subjects on for size:
“Andrew (Dreamit) would like to meet KP (Shadow Ventures)”

“CREtech Follow up – Dreamit/ Shadow Ventures” Or substitute “call” or “meeting” instead of CREtech.

Do you see how much more obviously informative these subjects are? You can come back to these emails months or even years later and immediately know what they were about even without opening them.

Yes, I am aware some people claim that misleading subject lines lead to higher open rates and possibly even more actual engagement. Those people are evil and should be beaten with birch switches whenever you see them.

“F*** it, I’ll just call you”

With all the complaining I just did about that email subject lines, you might be tempted simply to pick up the phone and call me.

Please don’t. There’s a special place in hell for people who call without prior scheduling.

Phone calls are a “put everything on hold and make sure it is not an emergency and/or my wife, kids, or mom calling” move. If your call doesn’t fall into one of those categories, I will resent your interrupting my flow and our relationship will be off on the wrong foot before you have even open your mouth.

Here’s a tip: when in doubt text first. “Ok to call about xxx? Somewhat time-sensitive,” is not too much to ask.

There are mitigating circumstances. Some people prefer phone calls. In those cases call away. Or, you may have been trading emails or slack messages with someone and, at some point, you realize you are talking past each other and picking up a phone is faster. In that case, you already have each other’s attention so you are not interrupting another task. Perhaps you have been emailing someone repeatedly who has gone dark on you and, at that point, have nothing to lose. Many enterprise salespeople swear by phone calls when a high-level executive’s personal assistant is not there to screen her calls.

Bottom line: be aware that an unscheduled phone call is often taken as an aggressive move so use it sparingly, if at all.

I’m meeting with… me?

Congratulations! You sent me an email with an informative subject line that got you a call or meeting…and you immediately drop the ball with a bad calendar invite:

“Meeting with Andrew Ackerman”

Looks great on your calendar. Makes perfect sense. On my calendar, it’s meaningless. I already know who I am. Now it’s a week later and my 10-minute alert goes off and I have no idea who I’m going to talk to and what I’m going to talk about.

Here’s what I want to see:
“Andrew (Dreamit) to call KP (Shadow Ventures)”

“Meeting: Andrew (Dreamit) <> KP (Shadow Ventures)”

Bonus points if you paste part of our email or type a quick description into the event notes so I know exactly what the discussion will be about.

I guess you really want to Link to me

I use LinkedIn to get warm introductions to people I need to know. That means the only people I connect to are people  I know, or expect to know, well enough to vouch for me and put their social credit on the line making these introductions and who I’d do the same for.

I realize other people are less discriminating and who they accept requests from virtually anyone. There are pros and cons to both approaches – ah, who am I kidding? Those people are just wrong. But that’s not the battle I want to fight today.

Regardless of how you or the person you want to connect with uses LinkedIn, the absolute worst way to try to connect with someone is to just hit the “Connect” button. No accompanying message or a generic “I’d like to add you to my network” message puts the onus on the recipient to figure out what you want to discuss. I’d have to click into your profile, figure pout what you/your company does, and make an educated guess as to what’s in it for me. I don’t have that much time on my hands and I’m certainly not keen on doing your thinking for you.

So don’t make me think. Take 10 seconds to tell me how we met, r at least how you discovered me, and how you think we can help each other.

If you don’t, the more promiscuous LinkedIn users might still accept your invite but they aren’t going to make the first move so the ball is still in your court to spell out what you want.

And people like me will simply decline without a second thought so there’s just no advantage to being lazy with LinkedIn connections.

“Can we at least pretend this isn’t a mass email” spam

Email automation and programmatic drip email campaigns have made reaching out to large numbers of prospects easy.Please don’t use this as an opportunity to be a moron at scale.

If your email starts with some variation of, “Can you please direct me to the person at your company who…”,  you’re really telling me “I am too lazy to do my homework. Can you do it for me?” News flash: if you don’t care enough about the product you’re trying to sell to put the effort in, I certainly won’t.

If the service you are trying to sell has nothing to do with my business, what you’re telling me is, “I have no idea who is on this prospect list. I really suck at my job.”

Before you hit  “Send”, take the time to go through your list and make sure every company on it is the type of company that could plausibly use your services and that each specific recipient is the right role to possibly be a decision-maker or an influencer of that purchase decision.

Ideally, you take the time to segment your list to the point where you can tweak the wording in each mass email to make it look like you have tailored it specifically to that target company. I sometimes even go so far as to add a sentence – or even a fragment of a sentence – to a field in the mail merge file that is unique to each company I’m reaching out to so the prospect sees I’ve put in at least the bare minimum effort.

You’re not going fool me into thinking this is actually a one-on-one email. The formatting of the page combined with the unsubscribe link at the bottom are dead giveaways. But at least impress me with your execution.

And for the love of God, don’t lie to me. If your email starts with, “I’d like to follow up with you on…” and we’ve never spoken, I hate you already. If you claim to be connected to me through “a mutual friend” or “someone else at Dreamit,” I am going to call you on it. If your email is regular, garden variety spam I will simply delete or hit unsubscribe. People who lie to me will, at best get the spam button. And if I’m particularly pissed off and have 5 seconds to spare, I will call you out on multiple social media channels and possibly even email your boss.

The truth is, not everybody feels as strongly about each of the above issues. Many times, you can get away with sloppiness and laziness without too much ill effect. But none of what I’ve talked about above is hard to fix and it matters to enough people where getting it right will make you look that much better than your competition. So no excuses, get with the program.

And please spread the word. Together we can make the world suck that much less.

Andrew Ackerman is a serial entrepreneur turned venture investor with deep experience helping corporates innovate. He is currently the Managing Director at Dreamit, in charge of the UrbanTech accelerator program.