Worst Networking Call Ever

Social MediaI just got off the phone with someone who wanted my help getting networked into the Santa Barbara business community. Little did I know when the call began, that it would end up being the worst networking call in which I have ever partaken.

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A Little Research Goes a Long Way

Fortunately, the call was brief. However, in the fifteen minutes that we chatted, the caller made the following mistakes:

Why? – During our email exchange before our call, I had to ask him what he wanted to talk about. Ideally, he would have made this clear without requiring me to inquire. It turned out that he was looking for companies he could work with as a consultant. If he had spent any time reading my blog, he would have understood that I am not a fan of consultants, especially at startups.

Research? – I do not expect everyone I speak with to be a fan of my humble blog. Thus, not knowing my position regarding consultants is understandable. However, I do expect someone who is looking for a favor to do at least three minutes of research on my professional background.

In addition to the inclusion of my bio on my blog, there is also an easily accessible description of my professional career on LinkedIn. Despite the ease at which someone can determine my investments and past operating roles, the caller asked me if I knew the CEO of RightScale. “Yes”, I replied, “I was a seed investor and an Advisor to the company.” I should have completed the sentence with, “as is clearly noted in my bio.” He then asked me if I knew the Co-Founder of Expertcity (creator of GoToMyPC and GoToMeeting, acquired by Citrix). “Yes”, I replied, “I worked with him for five years as a senior executive.”

The caller had apparently met both gentlemen recently, but had not connected the dots between them and me. An important aspect of effective networking is to understand how the person you are speaking with relates to other members of your network. Significant affinity can be created by drawing lines between yourself and friends of the person with whom you are networking. However, in order to draw such lines, you must first do a bit of homework.

Connection? – Salespeople understand that establishing affinity at the outset of a conversation is extremely important. However, rather than ask me how I knew the person who connected us, the caller launched into his consulting pitch. If he had asked, he would have learned that I had not spoken with our mutual acquaintance in over 10-years and I frankly was hoping the caller could shed some light as to why my long-lost acquaintance connected us.

Before contacting me, the consultant should have explored how well the referring party knew me. Once he realized that our relationship was tenuous, he might have considered leveraging the CEO of RightScale or the Co-Founder of Expertcity for an introduction to me. However, to do that, he would have had to know that I was already connected with these two gentlemen.

Self-aware? – At the end of the call, the consultant still went for the close, asking me if there were any companies whom I thought might be able to use his services. I think I surprised him by saying, “No, I don’t think so.”

The call might have ended differently if the caller had started our conversation by explaining how we were connected and demonstrating that he had an understanding of my background. A more effective approach would have been:

“John, I really appreciate your time. I was checking out your YouTube channel and I enjoyed your recent talk with Brad Feld. I have been a fan of TechStars from afar and it was fun to hear his thoughts firsthand.

I also noticed that you are an investor in RightScale and that you were a member of the senior team at Expertcity. I recently met the Founders of these startups and I was impressed with their entrepreneurial spirit and drive. They both insisted that I reach out to you as they felt my consulting skills might be well suited to some of your startup investments.”

One might think the caller was a young person who is still learning the networking game. If that were the case, I would not be writing this entry, as I realize young people are learning “on the job.” Sadly, the caller has been a consultant for over twenty years and should have known better.

Paraphrasing the modern-day philosopher Jack Black, “Those who can’t do, consult. Those who can’t consult, teach. Those who can’t teach, teach gym.” This consultant would make an awesome gym teacher.

John Greathouse

John Greathouse is a Partner at Rincon Venture Partners, a venture capital firm investing in early stage, web-based businesses. Previously, John co-founded RevUpNet, a performance-based online marketing agency sold to Coull. During the prior twenty years, he held senior executive positions with several successful startups, spearheading transactions that generated more than $350 million of shareholder value, including an IPO and a multi-hundred-million-dollar acquisition.

John is a CPA and holds an M.B.A. from the Wharton School. He is a member of the University of California at Santa Barbara’s Faculty where he teaches several entrepreneurial courses.

Note: All of my advice in this blog is that of a layman. I am not a lawyer and I never played one on TV. You should always assess the veracity of any third-party advice that might have far-reaching implications (be it legal, accounting, personnel, tax or otherwise) with your trusted professional of choice.

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  • Sorry John, but consultants are awful gym teachers 🙂

  • John Greathouse

    LOL 😉

  • Sally

    Ha! Hilarious! Great advice 🙂

  • I enjoyed this read.  Even as a young person myself just starting out in the networking game, I try my hardest to find out everything about the person I am meeting with;  I look for their blog, LinkedIn, any any other connection or similarity between us that I can leverage.  There are so many tools out there that it seems “lazy” or “uninterested” not to snoop around on the person you want to persuade during an interview or meeting.  This is something I learned in your sales class that has served me well: similarity+connections lead to liking which leads to persuasion. 

  • Jason Dorfman

    Great post. Without understanding the people and the relationships between them, you have nothing! It is amazing how many folks never get a good grasp on this concept…

    Check out my blog http://www.siliconbeach.tv if you want to see what some of your old students are up to!

  • I share your frustration, John. 

    My pet peeve isn’t the lazy, insincere, and clueless networker, although I get calls from them regularly. By the way, I love your answer, “No, I don’t think so.”

    What makes me crazy are the people who contact me “just to pick my brain.”  I’m in the knowledge and market intelligence business. I get two emails a week that say something like, “I need to learn a bit about your market, who the players are, your opinions on where it’s headed, the winners and losers, and ask your advice about this, that, and the other thing.  I’d like to schedule 30 minutes sometime later this week, so I can PICK YOUR BRAIN.”  They literally use that phrase.

    What’s worse are people who just cold call me asking the same questions. They try to catch me at my desk between calls (from paying clients!).

    Now understand.  I do a fair amount of mentoring and pro bono work, especially with people or companies down on their luck or just getting started. But this is rude, insulting, and most of all, paints a very clear picture for me of the questionable characters of those brain pickers.

    Would these people corner a doctor, lawyer, architect, or accountant other than theirs and aggressively push for their opinion, for free, about subjects for which those professionals earn a living?  Maybe they would. Might they worry at all how they are perceived? Maybe they wouldn’t.

    How do we handle it at my firm?  I reply to the email, copying our front office, asking the person what their preferred credit card is for billing before the appointment is confirmed.  End of query.  End of story.

  • Jason Spievak

    Good post, John.  It really comes down to a lack of appreciation for another person’s time.  And that’s not someone you can feel good making quality introductions for.

  • Steve Anderson

    Great post John — also goes for new candidate interviews who take the same lazy approach at getting to know our company, our product, what we stand for. 

    Candidate:  “Tell me a little about yourself, Steve.”

    Me:  “Read the website bio.”

    Thanks for sharing.

  • John Greathouse

    Jason – nice job with SiliconBeachTV. Josh is awesome and I am a big fan of LifeCube. Nice work. 

  • John Greathouse

    Yes, the pregnant pause after my “No” was epic. Uncomfortable for both of us, but I would be doing a disservice to my contacts if I passed this guy along…sometimes its OK to be a bit uncomfortable.

  • John Greathouse

    No doubt. This is especially true when you are seeking help or advice from someone. Always have on your self-deprecating hat of humbleness and know a lot about the person you are chatting with. If it is not worth your time to do some research, it is probably not worth either party’s time to have a conversation.

  • John Greathouse

    Thanks Sally

  • John Greathouse

    Dave – sorry. My reply below was intended for Jason’s comment. 

    I love the phrase “brain pickers.” Yikes. This is just the opposite approach I encourage my students to take. As Kawasaki and others promote, first find something of value you can give, THEN ask for something. These brain pickers should start by sending you something of value (one of their reports – assuming there is value in them, an industry article, whatever…). 

    Love your request for a credit card up-front. No better way to stop a value-less conversation in its tracks! 

    All the best.


  • John Greathouse

    Yes, the pregnant pause after my “No” was epic. Uncomfortable for both of us, but I would be doing a disservice to my contacts if I passed this guy along…sometimes its OK to be a bit uncomfortable.

  • John Greathouse

    Worse – “Tell me a bit about your company….” The lack of research NOT done by job candidates is all too often pitiful. You’d think in a down market, everyone who makes it to an in-person discussion would be experts on your business.

  • Dan

    A gentleman came by to visit with me at my Santa Barbara office yesterday. He had been CEO of a sizable architecture firm, among various other ventures since the 80’s. He was
    coming to get my advice on some topics I’m expert in that would help him launch an idea he has. I asked him if he knew what my company does and he said he knew nothing about it, could I please tell him. I’m considering forwarding your blog post to him. 

  • John Greathouse

    Dan – you should send it to him via an anonymous email address. However, it is doubtful he would ‘get it.’ Clueless people are generally not very self-aware.

  • Thank you, John. I make it a goal not to reach out to a network prospect until I feel I have something to offer in return. Sometimes it is as simple as a relevant article. Thank you for the advice. 

  • Neil Roessler

    Hello John,

    As a young networking professional, I am slowly applying the principles that you have shared above and want to thank you for sharing some of your expertise in the matter. 

    As I read your post, I began to feel sorry for the guy that you mentioned above. With someone of your experience and who has contributed to the growth of the business community that has shaped Santa Barbara over the past 15+ years, this guy lost a valuable asset, as evidence by your post above. 

    Best Regards,

    Neil Roessler

  • Thanks for your kind words Neil. Not sure how much I could have helped this guy, but in any event, his lack of preparation was inexcusable. 

  • As a public speaking coach, one of my favorite blogging topics is networking. After reading your piece, I feel a new post coming on in which I reference your article as a perfect example of what happens when a speaker doesn’t research their audience (aka their “prospect” or “client”). 

    As for the “brain pickers,” I came up with the following solution: I wrote a blog post answering the most frequently asked questions I get from people wanting to learn about my business or industry. It’s titled, “Yes, you can pick my brain.” I posted the link prominently at the top of my blog. Now, when someone e-mails me to pick my brain, I direct them to the post. http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/p/yes-you-can-pick-my-brain.html

  • John Greathouse

    Lisa – this is a brilliant approach. I may eventually create a similar web page. 

    Please let me know once you post your entry regarding speakers who do not take the time to properly research their audiences.  I would love to share it with my readers.

  • Hey John,

    Here’s the new post: http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2012/04/if-you-dont-want-relationship-dont-ask.html – more about relationship-building than research, it turned out!

    Here’s one specifically about researching the audience: http://coachlisab.blogspot.com/2008/09/whos-in-audience-and-why-should-i-care.html

    Thanks for sharing!


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