People are impossibly busy these days, and it is getting more and more difficult to get anyone's attention. There just aren't enough hours in the day.
At Springboard, I have spent the last five years expanding our network of experts to help early-stage technology startups grow. I thrive on the challenge of recruiting A-list investors, advisers, and influencers.
Sometimes, our name and mission is enough and I score a quick win. More often, it takes not just time but unwavering persistence to get them to engage. Here are three ways I use polite persistence to capture the attention of these difficult to reach people:
1. Track people in your network and send kudos when you get alerts about them.
Use an app like Newsle to start tracking news alerts about the people you've emailed. Pay attention to those LinkedIn emails that tell you when someone has a new position. When something pops up about someone you are courting, send them a one-line email with the link. Do it and don't ask for anything in return. Do it because you want to show you care about building a relationship with them. They don't need to reply, but you become top of mind and you are adding value to them in the meantime and building up your credibility points.
Automation can also help you keep track of when you need to email contacts. You can do it manually by adding a reminder to your calendar, or invest in something like Contactually and get reminded automatically. When you get your reminder, find an interesting article and ping your contact about reconnecting.
A few weeks ago we were finalizing our speakers for a Bootcamp to induct Springboard’s newest entrepreneur cohort, and I snagged a speaker after I sent the program with a link to a mainstream news article about her science that she hadn’t seen.
2. Send follow-up emails, not spam.
It's an art to gauge how often it is appropriate to reach out to someone with an "ask". If you're not getting a reply, chances are they've seen your email but they are too busy to respond (unless they are on vacation, if someone doesn't respond with 48 they probably won't). Don't keep forwarding the same email. You'll lose those credibility points and annoy them. Acknowledge the reality they are too busy in your email follow-up and the next time you reach out kick off your message with a timely alert (about them or a topic they care about).
3. Understand the difference between no and no, not now.
I greatly admire people who can say no. I am terrible at it. I like to say yes, and it's a fault of mine. People who excel at getting things done own their schedule. They say no often, and sometimes they'll say no to you. Respect their decision and make a judgment call as to whether it is a "no, never" or a "no, not now". If it is the latter, start a no-contact period.
Begin the no-contact period with a final email saying you understand they had to say no and include a secondary ask. Robert Cialdini's seminal book Influence on the psychology of persuasion talks about this concept of framing. The key is that the secondary ask must be less demanding than the first. If you were asking them if they'd take a call with you, ask if they can forward your email or refer a name to you. Be sure to give them specific direction on the kind of person you're looking for. And do it all in 3 sentences or less. Do it right and you'll get a new lead. Do it wrong and you've lost credibility points.
Remember to consider your contact’s time and reputation when making a request. Asking them for 30 minutes of their time to discuss corporate partnering strategies might be just as demanding of a request as asking them to forward your email to the CEO of the Fortune 500 company you're targeting.
Do these things and you'll be cashing in your credibility points for that meeting or call you want. But that's when your job of maintaining a healthy business relationship begins.
Joshua Henderson is the Vice President of Springboard Enterprises, where he helps women-led technology and life science companies access human and financial capital to scale. He oversees Springboard's programs and leads their strategic initiatives, which are designed to create new business opportunities, partnerships, and paid engagements for the women entrepreneurs, investors, and industry experts in the global Springboard expert network. Follow his blog at joshuahenderson.com or find him on Twitter at @joshuahenderson or @SpringboardEnt.