Last week four of us were wondering why networking our new consulting business was so difficult? Why do we struggle to pick up the phone or write that email? How do we validate the business model? Why the silence in return?
Between us we probably have 6,000 LinkedIn-type contacts. We have teams we have worked with for years, professional acquaintances, and mentors. We are likable, trusted, reliable and not aggressive…and we were asking for general advice and feedback on our endeavors.
I think I have an answer and simple advice. Please share your thoughts.
Does the person on the other end knows why we contacted them, and what we want from them specifically, in the few moments when they decide what to do? Do they respond? Do they delete/ignore the contact? Do they file the contact until they have free time to try and figure it out?
We need to be very clear on how we see that contact in this situation and what we want from them. We need to make a clear ask. It needs to make sense for that person.
So, how do we do that? Know the roles and make a clear ask. In a consulting start-up like ours, each contact can play a role:
- Client (able to consume our services or influence others to do so)
- Investor (put money or sweat equity behind our venture)
- Associate or Employee (wants to work for us to earn money)
- Partner (wants to work together in sales, delivery, R&D, etc.)
- Seller (can represent us to clients)
- Networker (introduces us to people we would like to know)
- Advisor (we want them to advise us, or validate our efforts)
- Provider (we want to buy something from them)
An example is an old friend I met today for coffee. I intended to be his ‘networker’ and thought he would be our ‘seller.’ I said that yesterday on the phone as we set the meeting.
After catching up personally I was his Networker and he discussed being our Seller. We had a great 90 minute discussion and will meet again. No surprises.
After we had the discussion we both expected to have, we were free to look for even better roles to play. He is considering whether to be a Seller, but would prefer to be an Investor and run part of the business. It is on the table. This is great news for both of us.
Another opportunity is to clarify expectations. Last week I called a Client and he let me know immediately that he was thinking Partner. We lost ~two minutes, gained alignment, and are actively exploring a partner relationship.
Before you pick up the phone or write the message, know the role you want your contact to play and be clear and direct with your ask.
This enables them to decide quickly on whether and how to respond.
If our ask makes sense to our contact, we will interact. If not, our contact can clarify right away, disregard the contact, or say no thank you.
If we are vague then nobody is sure why we are meeting. Our contact, if they know us well, may try to divine our intentions. However, we may be on the road to Abilene (Abilene Paradox Wikipedia).
Jeffrey is the President of US Advanced Computing Infrastructure, Inc.