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 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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