Want to get a meeting with someone who you don’t personally know ? Skip the Dear Sir/Madam email– it’s a long shot in this busy world, so a waste of your time. So, what can you do? It’s simpler than you think: write a compelling and flawless email, and follow up.
There are so many reasons why you might want to meet a stranger. If you’re in sales, you hopefully already know how to do outbound cold calls. If you don’t know, there a is a lot of readily available advice on how to sell something.
But what if what you’re selling is YOU? How do you convince someone to share their valuable time?
You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.
First — you have to try. There are countless inspirational quotes telling you to try, including sports analogies (Wayne Gretzky: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”), nursery rhymes (The Little Engine That Could: “I think I can, I think I can”) and the philosophical (Martin Luther King Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”)
And it’s half the battle that you’re willing to try. Caveat: don’t be overly invested in the outcome. If you receive a response you don’t like, persevere or move on to the next. If you don’t receive a response at all (see below on followup), don’t assume the worst but just try again.
I’ve done a lot of career shifting and cold calling in my life. In my very first career shift, I was not too long out of college and trying to move from industrial manufacturing to the investment banking business (a long shot, I know). I had some sales experience, but very little industry knowledge and my networking skills were non-existent. I blindly sent letters to the prospective employers (NOT recommended). Almost instantly I received a “thanks but no thanks” response. The rejections came in so fast that I didn’t even get a chance to follow up on my apparently inadequate enquiry.
In order to cope with the waves of disheartening rejections, I had my husband open all of the potential rejections. I would assume they were a rejection (to save myself the disappointment) and as he opened responses, I’d ask for any bread crumb of encouragement from the no-longer-prospective employer. It was a successful coping mechanism that enabled me to keep trying.
My point? Expect rejection, cope (however you need to), recover, try again.
My other point? Do your research and network as much as you can. Resources abound for you to learn whom you want to reach, and much about their background and the best way to reach them. Make sure to responsively leverage any personal connections that you have.
Here are the SIX specific steps on writing that self-introductory email:
- Figure out whom you want to meet. Do your research and make a short list of your top 10, then top 3 (when you’ve done 3, do the next 3)
- Find out the best method to reach them and the best email address.
- Make sure you know your audience and your purpose.
- Write a meticulous email.
- Send, then wait (a little while)
- Follow up and reset. Return to step 1.
DECIDING WHOM and HOW
Whom you want to meet really depends on your purpose. Consider whether you are looking at companies, industries, or careers. Your time is valuable (as is the time of the person you want to meet) so do your research and create your short lists. You might also consider going for the “low lying fruit” being someone already connected to you; he or she might might not be the perfect target, but he might be a friendlier person to bounce your ideas off of before you blow it on the person who is really at the top of your list. Peers are great for information gathering meetings.
Here’s a short list of considering whom you want to meet:
- Company? She’s at the company you want to work out
- Career? He’s on the career path you want
- Industry? He works in an industry you’re interested in
- Connections? She can help you get where you want to go
- Mentoring? In addition to connections, he could be a mentor.
ALWAYS KEEP AUDIENCE AND PURPOSE IN MIND
Always remember your audience when you are writing. Does he know you well? If yes, you probably have their attention. If not, keep your email very short and direct, as he is not likely to read a long email. Audience also sets the tone– do not send an email with slang or emoticons to someone who is not your friend.
Always remember your purpose. Why are you contacting them? What are you hoping to gain? You won’t necessarily reveal all of this in your brief email, but it should be top-of-mind.
HOW TO REACH YOUR CONTACT
Find the most direct way to reach someone that you can:
- Email them at work. Here’s one guide on using Gmail and a Chrome extension Name2Email to find a corporate email. There are lots of other guides as well.
- INMAIL them (LinkedIn)
- Email a friend and ask them if they can connect you
- Find a non-work email address (not ideal)
- Other creative ideas? (while never forgetting your audience).
KEEP IT FORMAL
Again, back to audience, using slang, emoticons or any other informal communication will put you at risk of being rejected by anyone who is not a friend. The same goes with spelling and punctuation mistakes. Err on the formal, meticulously written email.
- Dear or Hello, not “hi”
- No spelling mistakes
- Perfect punctuation
- No slang
- No emoticons
- Close with “Sincerely”
There are a lot of exceptions to this rule – and some may think being formal is a bit “old school” but here’s my point: if you don’t know your audience, you might offend them by being too casual. My bias, if you are targeting anyone in the C-Suite, go formal. This is a well thought out email, that you intend to follow up on so don’t needlessly limit your chances.
That said, there are many very successful sales professionals with a casual friendly style. So, if the “formal” approach is really not working for you, go ahead and try being a LITTLE less formal; just don’t over do it. Lloyed Lobo’s casual style gets him a 70% response rate from Silicon Valley Executives. There are multiple approaches so choose one that fits you. But still … make it perfect. I know a lot of executives who won’t answer an enquiry email if it has ONE typo.
EMAIL FORMAT, LINE BY LINE
Here’s one template for your email that has been very successful:
Dear Dr./Ms/Mr. ________ (for women, use Ms, unless they are a doctor, which you should know)
line 1: who you are and what your connection is
line 2: a one line background on you
line 3: a one-line explanation of why you are writing
line 4: your request
line 5: thank you and next steps
Your full name
SAMPLE EMAIL (Informational interview):
Let’s assume you’re a recent graduate and you heard Ms. Jones speak at a developers’ conference. You went up to her after her presentation, spoke to her, and asked her if you could follow up by email. She said yes (conference speakers often do, or they might say “find me on LinkedIN”). Her email is on the program. You wait just one day then send an email like the one below customized for this scenario (and a few others in parentheses):
Dear Ms. Jones,
My name is Susan Smith and we met at a the ABC developers conference (or however you know her…you are alums from the same college, she spoke at your college, you know her son from high school etc). I am a recent XYZ College graduate and am currently at DEF Coding Academy, mastering python (what you are doing…launching a career, starting a business, learning a new trade?). I am very interested becoming an engineer with MNO Co. and (what are your goals) I’m hoping we could meet briefly to speak about your company and a possible career in coding (keep this simple). Are you available over the next two weeks (specific date range)? If so, please let me know some convenient times. I can easily be reached by email or cell (555-555-5555)
Your name & contact info
EMAIL SAMPLE FOR SCENARIO #2:
Or how about a different scenario? You might be a John Doe, a liberal arts grad who is stuck in inside sales but perhaps you have taken the initiative to do some well respected marketing classes and you are now looking for a job in marketing. You are targeting a marketing-centric company and found out that your colleague, Susan Smith, knows Dr. Jones well.
Dear Dr. Jones,←formal greeting
↓ mention referral
My name is John Doe and my colleague, Susan Smith suggested I contact you. I am a recent XYZ College graduate and I am just about to complete my Digital Marketing certificate at GHI Academy. ←adds credibility and backs up your interest I am currently a business development representative at ABC Co. and have seen first hand the positive impact that marketing can have on sales. ←what you are doing and then your goal →I am looking to move to a marketing role and I’m hoping we can speak about opportunities at MNO Co. Ask for the meeting and make yourself available → I will make myself available at any time this month and hope we can find a convenient time for a brief meeting. Please let me know.
Your name and contact info.
Note that the meeting is stipulated as “brief” but it’s vague enough that while not encouraging Dr. Jones to make this a phone meeting, that’s certainly possible. For a top prospect, a face-to-face meeting is always better. And this meeting came with an introduction which is always helpful.
DON’T FORGET AN ENTICING SUBJECT LINE (and spell check this yourself)
Fast Company sent out 1000 cold-call emails and while the data size is relatively small, the author was able to draw some compelling conclusions. About the subject line: Short and curiosity piquing seemed to have a slight edge over long and specific, when both the open and response rate was considered.
FOLLOW UP: NOW WHAT?
So, do you sit around and hope he or she responds? And if she doesn’t, assume that lead is dead and you wasted your time? No, no and no. Samuel Beckett said it most eloquently:
Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter.
Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
If you received no response, don’t assume the worst. Maybe he was planning a thoughtful response, and then forgot about it. Maybe he read it on his phone, then it showed as “read”…and he forgot about it. Wait a respectful amount of time (1-2 weeks), forward your sent email to the recipient again, with an intro and quick summary. Something like “I sent this email last week and I’m hoping for short meeting at your earliest convenience. Please let me know if there’s a good time to connect.”
If that fails to elicit a response, then give it a third try with an out: ask for a time when you can talk by phone (give up on the meeting) or ask for a referral to someone else you could speak (at his company, in his industry etc.). On the plus side, because he hasn’t responded to 2 previous emails, he might feel like he “owes” you that meeting. You never know. But, at a certain point, follow the advice of WC Fields:
If at first you don’t succeed, try again.
Then quit. There’s no point in being a damn fool about it.
Now what to do when you get that elusive meeting or phone call? That’s a different post.
P.S. If you’re interested in reading a little more, check out Fast Company’s “Three Ways to Write Shorter More Effective Emails” by Jocelyn Glei.