You Only Call Me When You Want Something

At the risk of sounding redundant, I’d like to propose that we have a dialogue about communication. You see, I am undecided and I could use your advice. Here is my question: Is it appropriate to call a referral source, client, or prospective client just to say “hi”?

“Absolutely not!” goes one argument. Don’t ever call a business contact unless you have a specific agenda. It wastes their time and accomplishes nothing. It also lowers your status. You come across as having too much free time on your hands or, even worse, desperate for business.

On the other hand, a social call can help to improve rapport. “You were on my mind today so I thought I’d check in and see how things are going.” Perhaps that leads to a productive dialogue, or perhaps it ends after a few minutes of chit-chat. But isn’t it better to be in touch than not?

It is fashionable these days to think of business networking as relationship selling—as a process through which we get to know, like, and eventually trust each other buy sildenafil online. We are not merely transactional associates. We are business friends. And we make this investment because we see that doing business with friends is more emotionally rewarding and more likely to lead to referral business.

But where is the line?

I call my personal friends just to say “hi.” My agenda: to let them know that I care about them; to be of service to them; to keep our connection intact.

These are good qualities to foster in business friendships as well. But generally speaking, I don’t make that investment with my professional contacts. I only call them when I want something. Sometimes I want to get together for lunch so we can discuss cross-referral opportunities. Sometimes I want an introduction to one of their contacts or to discuss new services. But I almost never call or email without an agenda. Am I missing an opportunity?

I turn to you for your input. How would you react if one of your business friends called you, just to say “hi”? Would it confuse you? Would it irritate you to have your workday interrupted by a friendly gesture? Share your opinion below. And be honest. I could use the advice.

 

9 thoughts on “You Only Call Me When You Want Something

  • Thank you all for your insights. Your wide variety of responses on this topic speak to the many ways we can “touch base” with our contacts. One unifying theme seems to be that it’s important to have a clear intention behind the communication so that the client doesn’t feel like there was a bait-and-switch in agenda.

  • Good discussion. I have a list of people that I want to reach out to, but often wait till a ‘trigger’ that is really personalized to them – someone we know if common, an interest that I know they have. The recipient responds well, though my volume is less than Jan’s discipline in reaching out once a day.

  • You’re getting a lot of nuanced answers to your question, David, which tells me that your readers’ gears are turning. I too fall somewhere in the middle, leaning toward social or professional depending on the relationship. I especially appreciate Peter’s comment – even the social interactions have some level of agenda to them.

  • This seems to me to be a bit of a circular discussion. Even if you call a client “just to check in” that actually IS still having an agenda. I mean, presumably you are calling them to check in so that it furthers your status or social capital with them, that they know you “care” about them and they in turn will “care” about you more (and send you more work, more referrals, etc.).

    The other thing that I think about this topic is that there is no one-size fits all. I have some clients that I am also friends (or at least “friendly” with) who I would be more apt to call to chat or discuss a game or something, and some others who I wouldn’t do so with and who my relationship with is much more professional.

    I think the answer (like any good lawyer would say) is “it depends” (i.e. on the person, the situation, etc.)

  • I don’t have a hard and fast rule. My level of contact with a client or referral source, and the nature and substance of that contact, depends upon the client or reerral source. I anticipate that some enjoy hearing from me with a personal check-in, and some would be annoyed. But I do think that being more intentional about this issue is important.

  • I say absolutely do it, for a few different reasons:
    It builds rapport, as you said.
    It maintains front of mind awareness, which leads to more referrals.
    And most importantly, it keeps you in the position of trusted adviser, rather than sales guy.

    I’d say at least half way through your sales cycle is a good amount of time, but probably not more than once a month but not less than every six.
    If it so happens you have an especially grumpy customer who doesn’t like it, you just switch them to emails instead of phone calls, or skip them completely.

    Ultimately, there are only 3 ways to grow a business: Get more customers (the hardest), get existing customers to spend more money, or buy more often; clear
    lines of communication make those second two much easier and more likely to happen.

    I also do this in my personal life, dropping little notes and giving frequent compliments without expecting anything in return. It’s normal to encounter some resistance as people are waiting to find out what the ‘catch’ is, but they’ll get used to it.

  • How about something in between? There are times when I feel that I’ve been out of contact with a client for a while and want to get back in touch. I don’t have a specific matter to talk to them about. But I will call, or more likely set up a meeting, so we can “get an update” or “check in on things.” I don’t have a specific agenda, but will come up with a business topic or two we can discuss. I come to their office so that it isn’t an imposition. Mostly the visit ends up being a social call. But inevitably, I either leave with more work or get more work from them shortly afterwards. But more importantly, I’ve helped to build the relationship both by letting them know I’m not just passively waiting for them to come to me and by spending time with them and building our personal relationship. Even if the meeting results in no work, I generally get to know someone I like better and build on the trust we’ve established.

  • Hi David,
    I struggle with this conundrum as well. It’s easier nowadays to “touch” someone by “liking” a post of theirs on facebook, or congratulating them when LinkedIn informs you that they have a work anniversary or have written something.

    What works for me is if something crosses my desk that I think will be of value to the person – that’s my trigger to contact them and share that bit, whatever it is. This kills two birds with one stone, because I also wonder what to do with this flood of information crossing my path that seems so wonderfully useful, but not to me, directly. So I find myself doing my part to weave a stronger web, shuttling things off to the relevant parties, and in the process being remembered as someone useful.

    I think doing this is worthwhile in itself. We are all part of this web and the better we get at consciously transmitting the bits of information that cross our filter (and ignoring the irrelevancies) the more effective the whole system gets. In other words, sometimes it’s better to think about yourself as an individual and keep track of what you are getting and giving, and sometimes it’s best to think of the whole system and the habits that the individuals all have within it that would make it most constructive for all.

    The purpose of networking is to move along the process that will “exhaust all gains from trade,” getting us closer to some ideal match up of people, goods, services, deals.

    Your question is really about this – how to maximize it, for the individual unit as well as the whole system.

  • David: I am eager to hear the responses of your readers. I am in the habit of reaching out to at least one business client per day via email without agenda. Usually, it’s a little follow up to a prior contact–just to keep my name in their “inbox”. I find that about 1-2 times per month, that little reminder triggers a new engagement, but I often wonder how annoyed the other 15 contacts are with it!

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