You may know that through our work at Comprendia or the San Diego Biotechnology Network that we often need to get in touch with people we don’t know well or at all, whether it’s finding a speaker for the SDBN, or doing business development for a client. We like to think we get pretty good results by following a few simple rules, which are listed below:
- Do your homework. We all get irritating emails every day, from all-out spam to people who clearly don’t understand our business or needs. These people didn’t do their homework, and whether they’re guessing that I need to spice up my love life or to optimize my website, it doesn’t matter, we ignore and are sometimes even offended by these messages. When it comes to ‘cold’ emailing, less is more: better to spend an hour researching a prospect and emailing them a thoughtful and personalized message than to blindly email 10 at a time, something we’ve warned about earlier.
- What’s in it for them? This is where many fail, and it’s funny because it’s so obvious when you’re on the other side. You need to give the person a benefit to the action you are asking them to take. Otherwise, why act? Everyone is busy. Tell them in simple terms how working with you will make their life easier. Not their company, them personally, as our instincts kick in when benefits are expressed in this way. You may need to be creative if what you’re asking has no immediate benefit to them (e.g., obtaining information). Perhaps if they help you now, you can promise to help them later. I sometimes leverage the SDBN or my large network in these situations. I’ve also found that the offer of a free lunch is often irresistible to Ph.D.’s at any age (grad school turns on those genes).
- Don’t be a stranger. Sure, this post is about contacting people you don’t know well…or do you? Any way you can put yourself in context for the person will help, whether it be common LinkedIn connections, interests, or even geography. Of course, the chance of having connections in common is made greater with a larger network, so be sure to grow it as well, both virtually and ‘in real life’ by attending networking events. If you’re lucky enough to get someone to introduce you, that’s even better, just remember the whole karma thing and return the favor (or pay it forward).
- Flattery will get you everywhere. This year I struggled to get a speaker for an SDBN event from a certain company. I sent no less than five emails to people trying to get someone from the senior management to speak. What worked in the end? I contacted a VP myself and indicated how much we wanted them as a speaker. Presumably, the person was flattered that I asked, and even though they were at a high level, they acted on my email when people who were lower on the totem pole were ‘too busy’ for my request.
- Put the ball in YOUR court. One common mistake is to setting yourself up for failure by asking the email recipient to ‘respond if they are interested.’ This works sometimes, but a more foolproof way is to indicate that you will follow up with a phone call. Don’t have their number? Here’s a secret: you can call most companies’ main line and use their directory get to the person you’re interested in. This way, you’re not at a dead end if the person doesn’t reply. Of course, always keep the phone call polite and short if they didn’t reply, as you still may be ‘off the mark’ as to their needs or interests.
We hope these guidelines will help you next time you need to contact someone you don’t know well with a request. As with much of our advice here, rely on feedback to what you’re doing, and if you’re still not getting good results, consider that your product needs improvement (even if that product is you!).
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