So... we're all in sales. You know that. We sell our ideas, we sell our products, we sell our companies. It's a daily ritual.
But you may have noticed that in the past year something has changed. And if it feels that way to you, you're not alone. In fact, the number of ways we reach out and respond has grown dramatically, and that makes business interactions far more complex.
But fear not, it's not personal - or unfixable. In fact, very much the opposite. You may just be calling the wrong number, or leaving the wrong message. Let me explain.
It used to be that you called and if someone didn't answer you left a message. Mostly, if they liked you or wanted to talk about the business you represented, they called you back.
Today, choices have multiplied and people's preferences are hard to gauge. You've got a whole tool chest of outreach options. Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Email, SMS and of course Voicemail / Phone.
While there's no hard and fast set of rules, there are some things worth thinking about as you consider how to connect with potential customers and business contacts. Here are some thoughts on Communication in the year 2010.
Facebook began as a friend-to-friend service. Now, many people use Facebook for both friends and a wider network of business friends.
The Good News: Facebook makes personal, warm, friendly interactions between you and your circle of associates and friends easy, powerful and personable.
The right way to use Facebook: If you're trying to reach someone and find them on Facebook, my recommendation is to look and see if you have friends in common. If so, reach out to a mutual relationship and ask for an introduction. A Facebook request to someone who doesn't know you may get ignored, or worse, may be seen as an intrusion. Even if it is someone who's in your network (a 'friend') you may want to consider not using this avenue for a business question or offering. It's worth checking their postings to see how recently they've updated their profile, or if they just use FB for family news and info. If so, then steer clear.
For every person I know who wants to communicate via Facebook, there's another who hates getting, and wont respond to, Facebook messages. Facebook chat - well, that's another whole level of privacy and interaction.
LinkedIn is clearly a business network, but it's noisy. I can't tell you why, but for me LinkedIn requests often seem to feel like spam. Too much unsolicited outreach from folks looking to get a business offer in front of a stranger.
The Good News: People's business contacts, networks, contact information, and personal openness to outreach is now available and searchable online.
The right way to use LinkedIn: It's a directory, and like any open source of data it can be used with discretion, or used without concern for the recipient. Linked-In spam is a bad idea, and it won't make you any friends.
Twitter DM's require mutual approval. So you have to be following someone and have them follow you back to be able to Direct Message them. Here too I'm often surprised when someone uses this channel for anything other then a private question or comment. This is a private, personal channel, so use it for communications that are appropriate for the tone of this channel.
The Good News: Twitter is a rapidly growing broadcast channel that can give you unique insight into the interests, ideas and thinking of your partners, competitors and industry leaders.
The right way to use Twitter: Don't fall into the trap of buying followers, or spamming the Twitterstream. Rather, develop a unique voice and work to provide your followers with a consistent stream of information, ideas and insight. If you do this, you'll build credibility and then followers will welcome your outreach if you use this channel with care.
Email Here's a surprise. Email is now TIME SENSITIVE. That means that you need to be aware of when someone is getting your email, and even their time zone. Don't expect folks to clean their mailbox, or dig through weekend correspondence on Monday morning. Some folks do, but most people are overwhelmed with junk mail. And so if your email hits while they're on vacation, or after work, or during a day off-site, then odds are it's going to be missed. Also, it seems more and more mail is going to Junk Mail folders these days. I'm always stunned when someone who've I've had a number of emails back and forth with ends up in SPAM. Between the volume of email, the issues of responding to emails in real time, and Junk Mail folders, don't assume that someone who isn't responding is making a choice.
The Good News: Email still works, but it's different. A lack of response doesn't mean someone is ignoring you, or avoiding a decision. The volume simply means that your message wasn't received or was too complex to be answered in the limited window most people have to respond.
The right way to use Email: Send email during prime time. Be clear and concise. Don't over-CC, and don't be shy about re-sending a message if it seems like it was lost. Beware of the Junk mail box (attachments often hasten the message's delivery to the junk pile).
This is critical. People are not seeing your email the first time you send it. Or, they're not responding and forgetting. Resend a 'did you see this' copy in 24 hours, and NEVER send critical emails overnight or over the weekend or during a holiday. If you do, it's going to be ignored and you'll feel bad.
Also, make them short, clear, and answerable. "Let's do X next, agreed?" Here too, long complex emails with multiple parties get ignored. So use your CC for clarity. If there's an owner of the issue or question, and some other folks who you need to keep in the loop, make sure they're in the CC. Be clear about who owns the response to every given email.
Next, there is a new emerging form of business communication - SMS (text messages). You may be surprised, but if someone has your cell phone, increasingly they're going to use SMS to send you what used to be an email. Yes, it seems weird, but ask the kids. It's the future of person to person messaging. It's messy, there's no thread, and it's hard to back up. But SMS is part of the 'always-on' communication world we live in.
The Good News: For urgent, time-sensitive messages to contacts you know well, and who expect to hear from you in this way, SMS can be a powerful and direct form of communication.
The right way to use SMS: Carefully, respectfully, and only when required.
Finally, there's the phone. Yes, I know it seems old fashioned, but I'm finding that a brief phone call is often better than 5 emails. You can hear tone, and you can 'cut to the chase,' but often a call is scheduled via email now. So an email that says, "Can we have a 10 min call to sort this out?" with some suggested times is often the best way to move the ball down the court.
Voicemail I'm not a fan - I think folks don't respond to VM that they don't expect.
The Good News: After years of phones being less used, they're back. They're effective, and people are getting fewer calls so you can often get calls answered.
The right way to use The Phone: During proper business hours, without voice mail if you can help it, and scheduled when possible.
To summarize - yes, there are more channels of communication. And yes, you probably have to use them all. If this means that you're going to need to spend more time thinking about how you use various methods to communicate, well then it's time to get cracking. If you're one of the folks that says you 'don't do Facebook' - well, that's crazy talk. But there's also whole new ways to engage, share and build strong powerful relationships with your customers and partners.
So, for those of you who are reaching out more, and hearing back less - don't sweat it. Just start thinking about who you're trying to reach, and spend a minute getting inside their heads about how they like to communicate. Talking to people with their tools, and on their level is key to successful communications in this multi-channel world.
Steven Rosenbaum is the CEO and Co-Founder of Magnify.net - a fast-growing video publishing platform that powers more than 50,000 web sites, media companies, and content entrepreneurs to aggregate and curate web video from a wide variety of web sources. Currently Magnify.net publishes over 50,000 channels of Curated-Consumer Video, and is working closely with a wide variety of media makers, communities, and publishers in evolving their content offerings to include content created by, sorted and reviewed by community members. Rosenbaum is a serial entrepreneur, Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker, and well known innovator in the field of user-generated media production. Rosenbaum Directed and Executive Produced the critically acclaimed 7 Days In September, and his MTV Series Unfiltered is widely regarded as the first commercial use of Consumer Generated Video in US mass media. Steve can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org Follow Steve Rosenbaum on Twitter: www.twitter.com/magnify
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