Hollywood writer/producer Woody Allen is credited with saying that "90% of life is just showing up." That saying has been morphed to apply to many situations, particularly business. And, it's more true than ever in today's current business climate. It's truly amazing what success you can have if you apply this quote to your business life.
- Return a phone call promptly or within a reasonable period of time
- Show up on time for a meeting and call if you are delayed for some reason
- Respond to an email
- Follow up on communication, particularly if you are the one who initiated it
- Keep a committment or fulfill an obligation
As I said, these "show ups" sound so easy, but think about it: how often have you tried to communicate with someone, left message after message, and they never return the call, reply to an email, or respond to a letter? There certainly could be many reasons for why -- they didn't get the message, email ended up in the spam filter, or your letter is in a stack of correspondence. But each of those disconnects is a lost opportunity, and let's be honest, avoiding returning a call -- for whatever reason -- is just plain rude.
Maybe the communication is a business solicitation and you're just not interested. I can understand that -- it happens to me all the time. So, because you didn't ask for it, you just ignore it, hoping the caller will eventually the hint and go away. Ok, that seems reasonable; we all do it. But, may I make a suggestion: if you're not interested, just respond to the person and tell them so. You'll achieve your objective much more quickly, and the person can go on to the next prospect, without having to waste more time on you.
You may be thinking, "Well, why should I bother? This takes up valuable time that I could be spending on my own work?" Here's why: consider if the shoe were on the other foot -- how would YOU want to be treated? Would you prefer to waste phonecall after phonecall (or email...whatever your method), getting increasingly frustrated, and wondering WHY they aren't being courteous and just responding? Or would you prefer to know, one way of the other, and spend your valuable time on something that might yield fruit?
Now, let's look at the last bullet -- "keep a commitment." Again, it's one of those things that sound so simple and so obvious. But, how many times has someone promised you they would connect you to someone, send you a document, help you with an initiative...and they don't do it? It's maddening, isn't it? We have a tendency to throw out promises and commitments like they were popcorn...it's natural because we want people to think we add value. But, what impression does it leave when they don't do the follow up they promised?
I recently had some dialog with a major possible corporate sponsor for SocialSmarts in schools. I didn't go into this communication "cold." I was referred into the contact by someone who had significant influence with the organization. After trying to secure a meeting with the individual for nearly two months, finally I was granted a 20-minute phonecall on drive time between appointments. That's ok...I was happy to get the time. We had a great call; my contact requested I send more information, which I did within minutes after our call. The individual was interested in what we had to offer, said that if their area wasn't right for us, the individual would connect me with others who could help. Well...months went by: I followed up via email, via phone...regularly, but without being pesky (I'm VERY sensitive about seeming pushy). Nothing. I continued my attempts to reconnect...finally months later, I get a quick cryptic email that says "it's not within our funding area. Sorry I couldn't be of more help." Period. I responded saying I understood but reiterated my contact's promise to connect me to others...nothing. To this date, no response, no acknowledgement, no referrals.
Now, I understand...we get busy and my priorities were not the same as my contact's priorities. But when it happens again and again, what impression does that leave? That's easy: they are a flake, they just say things they don't mean...they are unreliable. I have one business leader I have a good relationship with that has made untold promises. He has me send him info, create content, promise to set meetings...and never does it. Or, he takes a first step...then drops off the radar. Again, I know we all get busy, but with technology that allows us to communicate so much more easily, how hard is it to respond to an email, even if it's just to say, "Sorry, can't do it?"
I guess "business commitments" have become like the notorious "I'll call you, Babe!" after a first date. We have good intentions, but we forget or assume the other person will understand if we don't follow through. But I can tell you...the fastest way to make a positive impression is to do as you say. Consistently. If you promise to do something for someone, make a note...put it into your planner or PDA..and make sure you do it. You have no idea how you will stand out next the sea of flakes and well-intentioned that don't fulfill!
Woody Allen may have just been making a cute turn of phrase, but it's wisdom we need to take to heart. If you can't remember his quote (or the variations that have been developed from it), may I offer you one that's even simpler but works just as well? Next time you schedule an appointment, get an email, make a promise..."Just DO it!" and you'll be surprised how much of a difference it will make!