I continue to be astounded at how many people simply don’t understand what it takes to build solid thriving business relationships that stand the test of time. This was emphasized to me, yet again, because of something that happened a few weeks ago.
Now that we have opened our new west coast office, I find myself attending a lot more business networking events in Victoria and Vancouver than I have in the past. At one of these well-attended events, I was walking back to my vehicle at the end of the evening, when I happened to find myself next to a woman who was also leaving the same event. I had not had an opportunity to meet her earlier in the evening, so as we made the three-minute walk to the parking lot, we shook hands and introduced ourselves to each other. As we parted ways beneath a street light, she asked for my business card, suggesting that we should meet again over a cup of coffee to get to know one another. I readily agreed, always open to building relationships in my professional circles. I took her business card as well, intending to connect with her the next time I was in town.
Our next contact was not what I expected
One week later, I received an email from her. But it didn’t contain the expected invitation to coffee. Instead, it was a solicitation for a charitable event she was involved in. Here is a portion of the email (with some minor changes to maintain privacy):
I think I mentioned this at the event, but I wanted to share with you the sponsorship package for the organization I volunteer with…. Would you be willing to help out as a cash sponsor, or provide an in-kind donation or any other support? Also, is there anyone else you know that would be able to help out? We would really appreciate it. And would you like to buy a couple of tickets for the event? You can use them or we can give them away on your behalf. Thanks again for your help! Every little bit helps And if there is any way our businesses can work together, let me know….
She also attached an in-depth document explaining the admirable work done by this local charitable organization.
Her intentions were honourable …
Now there is no doubt in my mind that this person’s email was well-intentioned. And certainly the organization she was supporting was more than worthy. But there is a fundamental essential law of building relationships that she missed – that you must invest in order to withdraw, that you must give in order to take. She had made no investment in a relationship with me … our entire conversation had been for less than three minutes! Yet here she was, asking for something, and not just something small, but she went for the big enchilada – financial support. True, she wasn’t asking for herself, it was for a good cause in which she likely had no direct benefit. But in order for a business relationship to thrive (and survive in the long-term), I believe that you must first make an investment in the relationship. And then much like financial investments, you have to wait for the initial outlay to increase in value before you should think about making a withdrawal. It’s pretty difficult to get a return on investment if there was no investment in the first place.
You’ve probably heard the phrase that if you throw enough mud on a wall, some of it will stick. It’s a phrase that means if you try the same thing (or similar things) often enough, sometimes one will be successful. And it was likely the approach this woman was using to solicit support for this charitable event – why not spread the net wide and see what comes in the catch? But it is not a great approach to building solid business relationships. Good business relationships require investment and time to nurture and grow, before they will finally begin to bear fruit.
But the outcome was a fail
In case you’re wondering about how I handled this, I must admit that my response wasn’t ideal. I was at a loss as to how to graciously reply to her email so I did nothing. About two weeks later, I received a second email.
I’m resending my email from before as I haven’t heard back from you. Also, we are still in need of cash sponsors and in-kind donations for [organization name] if you can help us out. You can also purchase tickets to use for yourself of give away on behalf of your company for some extra promotion.
Needless to say, I still didn’t know how to reply tactfully, so I once again did nothing.
Well, I’ve told you my reaction but I’d love to hear yours. Is my (lack of) response out of line? Am I being unnecessarily harsh in my assessment of this situation? Should I have replied to her email(s) and if so, what should I have said? I’d love to know what you think.