“Don’t be transactional. Build genuine relationships. Play the long game. Don’t keep score. Give first.”
All good advice when building your professional network. The Start-up of You is full of these sorts of lines. But good advice taken to the extreme becomes bad advice.
Here’s how. Say you want to maintain a relationship with someone busy in your network. Heck, maybe you even have a specific question or favor to ask of that person. But you don’t want to seem transactional. After all, “authentic” relationships in business involve mutuality and back-and-forth and personal rapport. You don’t want to come off as having a transactional agenda. Right? Right.
So you ping this busy person in your network and ask if they want to “catch up” with you sometime for coffee: “It’d be great to see you and catch up on life. Let me know if you are around next week?”
Unless the person is already a pretty good friend of yours, the answer you often get back is… Crickets.
What happened? The random coffee catch-up meeting request is the most common “external” meeting request in the world, largely because so many of us have been trained to not seem overly transactional when we stay in touch with our network. So when we reach out to busy people, we bury our agenda and hide behind “coffee catch up” as the vague purpose of the meeting.
The problem is, busy people are busy. In fact, they get hit up for coffee catch-ups multiple times a week. They can’t take coffee catch-up meetings all day. They actually have to get real work done. So they avoid your request for random coffee.
What will catch their attention instead? A specific transaction or topic.
“I’m considering taking this job opportunity and would love your perspective.”
“I saw you on stage at a conference and had some feedback for you on the virtual reality topic you spoke about.”
“I’m hosting a conference in a month and would love to brainstorm who we should invite as speakers.”
Best case, this transaction intersects with something they’re actually interested in and would fine useful. Medium case, it lends a finite crispness to the interaction — it feels “manageable” — and the person is likely to agree to a quick call or meeting if he knows it can be quickly resolved. Worst case, the topic isn’t of interest to the person at all — in which case, didn’t you both just save time by realizing that on the front end?
Oftentimes, when reaching out to someone busy, you’ll have a specific transaction in mind plus an interest in just general catch up and general relationship building. In these cases, consider leading with a “transactional bluff.” Lead with the transactional item you have in mind, but know that you may spend 90% of the meeting — once you’re actually in the meeting — talking about whatever general catchup topics you want to cover. Maybe you spend the first 10% of the meeting on the transaction and then you switch to “How can I help you?” and the other practices that fuel long term relationships.
Bottom Line: Busy people need a reason to prioritize scheduling your “catch up” meeting. If you don’t know someone well already — this means most people in your professional network — be candid about a specific transaction you have in mind when making the meeting request.