First impressions count for a lot.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. Don’t blow it. In this day and age, where everyone is selling something, most of all themselves, mastering the art of introductions across multiple channels and media surely has to be one of the great, unsaid business skills. Whatever your style, background, personality, profession or purpose, I remain convinced that a little thought and practice can yield incredible results.
If one looks at the various media typically employed for creating introductions, the telephone and, regrettably, emails probably outrank others in terms of market size. First the telephone. We’ve all had hundreds of tedious and almost insulting messages where irritating salesperson leaves name and number with request to call back, and no reason at all to do so. I ignore them. Best is a personalised, thoughtful message, which actually motivates the target to call back. Research and preparation is clearly the order of the day here – so don’t rely on what your mother tells you is your natural charm. If you have trouble getting through, I’d recommend speaking with your suspect’s PA to schedule a mutually convenient time for a conversation. (If you get through, skip to penultimate paragraph).
Emails are increasingly used for that initial introduction, especially by the lazy. I believe these will be ignored unless you have been given a personal introduction (“Matthew said we should talk because…”). In any event, emails are better for follow-up after an initial telephone conversation to establish contact and broad qualifying applicability. Waiting for return emails is about as rewarding as expecting quality conversation with a pebble. The email works as an information follow-up only when you know it’s going to be read.
By the way, I don’t recommend text messages. They’re better suited - I’m reliably informed – to courting teenagers than to strategic B2B transactions, although I do believe that at least one £100m acquisition in 2000 was initiated and closed with great text.
Other bricks and mortar opportunities to introduce yourself occur at industry events (whether conferences, gala dinners or trade shows). There is always a premium on focussed, clear approaches where the relevance of the contact must be qualified by incisive questioning – you don’t want to waste valuable business time (your’s and their’s) on fluff – unless, of course, you’re only there for the beer (not). Your objective should be to qualify initial interest only and gain commitment to some kind of follow-up later on: you’re not going to sign a contract then and there for your detailed and revolutionary engineering nano-algorithms for that new irrigation plant. Besides, at least 50% of people in black tie don’t carry pens (speaking of which, make sure you have one: a few notes on the back of the card come in handy when you file that mass of cards you collected in the past three months).
But what do you say? Keep it simple, clear and use the same thing over and over again. Fill in the blanks: “Hello, my name is blank blank, I’m the blank at blank. My company blanks (no more than 10 words – which should be on your website and in all your promotional materials). My reason for calling you is blank (concise statement of what your intent and desired outcome is).” Then, I’m afraid, you’re on you own, needing to motivate your suspect to answer your questions and share valuable business information with you.
Your introduction made and you’ve secured that all important first meeting with the person who’s about (you hope) to become your biggest benefactor. The great temptation is to go gung-ho on all that rapport stuff, per Tony Robbins. You could mistakenly translate this into “make them laugh”, and tell them the worst possible golfing jokes (you know, the one about Moses and Jesus and Arnold Palmer), never suspecting that they hate the game with all the venom of a one wood from Tiger. Jokes don’t actually create rapport. Yes, some social banter can work in the lift on the way up is necessary, but once you’re in their office it’s got to be business. I was taught – yes, taught – to keep the first five minutes identical.
Here’s what you do – and this may be close to the optimal meeting opener. Always carry a briefcase (that transmits you’re “in business” and “professional”, even if just contains your sarnies). Present your business card with seriousness (don’t flip it across the table like a spinning top). Less usual, and very Japanese, but still effective would be the formal two-handed exchange accompanied by a studied acknowledgement of the card’s content. Make sure you check their naming convention (“should I call you Arthur or Art?”). Follow the exchange with a polite request about how much time has been allocated; clarify the purpose and rough shape of the meeting, as well as explaining the background to how it came about. A nice touch is to ask courteously if you may take notes (how else will you remember what was said?). When you finally get down to business, if you haven’t met before, best practice dictates that instead of launching into your sales pitch, you tell them a sufficiency about yourself and your company, suggesting that it would help you to understand a little more about their issues or requirements before launching into how you can solve them (how could possibly sell them if you don’t know what they want?). Learn this routine and stick to it – that way you won’t bog it up. Remember that a focussed, well-managed meeting has a natural life expectancy of about one hour, and that attention levels start at about 90% and tail off rapidly as time passes.
When introducing yourself, as in all things, the more you practice, the luckier you get. Oh, remember to dress smart and smile.