Monday, April 30, 2007

Honor Your Business Networking Appointments

Your actions do speak louder that your words, and people are listening. Most professionals know that they need to keep their major commitments in business, (hitting delivery deadlines, customer service response times, quality work, etc....), however this rings true for all things, not just the big things. So do not forget that your networking efforts are major commitments. You never know who can help advance your career.

An attorney that I coach on "business development planning" has a bad habit of not following through with those in his network. When it comes clients he is dedicated and focused, but has a two tier system for how he ranks people: 1. those he can bill by the hour. 2. everyone else....and he has a bad habit of letting those in the second category know it!

The other day he told me he had to cancel coffee with the partner of a local accounting firm, with whom I have been encouraging him to build a stronger relationship. They have the potential to help each other develop business, and already know each other fairly well. They are not close "friends", but there is certainly the opportunity to forge a mutually beneficial referral situation (and become real "friends").

When I ran into the accountant and the lawyers name came up, his immediate response was strong and to the point, "Oh, I am done with him!".

Upon some investigation I discovered that this was the fifth time the lawyer had canceled a meeting within 24 hours of their scheduled coffee. FIVE IN A ROW, each time explaining that he has been so busy working deals for his legal clients that he needed to take the next day to "play catch up". The message was loud and clear, "I am a busy, busy, important guy with a JD, and you come somewhere below all the other things on my list...including mundane tasks and paperwork."

He did offer to reschedule, but the accountant heard, "let's try to set this up again for a time when I have NOTHING else to do....or when it is really convenient for me. But even then it will be a suggested meeting, not a commitment."

The accountant went on to point out that he too is a busy man (ahhh, tax season!), and that he is very judicious about spots on his calendar. By making time to meet with this lawyer, he voided the opportunity to meet with clients, prospects or other people in his network at that time.

I felt the pain of the accountant. I too have had situations like this happen to me. I had one friend cancel for lunch by telling me "I have decided to take a 'personal day' off today, just to relax". WHAT? I rank below sitting on the couch and watching The Oprah Winfrey Show?

On the flip side, stuff happens and there are legitimate reasons you have to reschedule meetings. Being in sales, sometimes prospect meetings pop up with short notice and I cannot control the timing. Last Friday I had to reschedule lunch with someone. I had no choice, as a co-worker had set a meeting with one of my major prospects and I needed to be out of town. I felt bad, but the difference was that it was something that could not be helped or the time manipulated. I physically had to be in another city. Additionally, I had not rescheduled four other times on this person.

I also had a person cancel coffee with me last week. This person is very attentive to building networking relationships, and I know he would never "better deal" his time with me. He had a pressing conflict, and does not make it a habit to move meetings. His reputation trumps his moving the appointment.

Treat your schedule like gold. Do not set up networking meetings that you do not intend to keep. Setting an appointment is not filling a spot until something better comes along. Once it is on the books (or in Outlook), make sure you honor the other person's time. That means you show up AND show up on time! (The being on-time thing is a whole other post for a different day!).

If you do need to reschedule, make a note in your calendar along with the new time that you had canceled last time. This way you will know that you had moved the appointment in the past, which should make you less likely to cancel again (unless you really do not care about the relationship, in which case, just do not agree to meet with the person in the first place). While you might not keep track of how often you cancel on a specific person, I promise you that they remember. It is on these types of events that your reputation is built.

You are not obligated to network with everyone! You wont like all the people you encounter in the business world, and they will not all love you, either (yes, it is true. My mother would hate to hear this, but not everyone likes me. So what?). But if you do not value someone, do not put them on your calendar. Regularly canceling on people when you get better offers for your time shows much about your character.

***Special four final notes of clarification for the readers who love to nit pick - 1. YES, there are reasons that warrant rescheduling. Just don't make it a habit. 2. YES, I am sure that I have made this mistake myself (although not often, as I do guard my appointments as serious business), but calendar appointments are important to the other person. 3. YES, the accountant was being very hard on the lawyer by eliminating him from his network....but he gets does get to pick with whom he associates. 4. YES, like it or not, people do tell others in town about these types of things. Constant canceling can ruin your be careful.

Have A Great Day.


1 comment:

Brian Tannebaum said...

Hey Thom - this is a topic near and dear to my heart. I wrote about it ( a while back, and still have people talk to me about it. Some can't understand my harsh policy, but it works for me. Your clarifications were important, as people do have legitimate reasons for cancelling, but more often it's just because "something came up."

Great post!