Email can be a valuable tool in your networking practice. It’s a great way to maintain a light touch with members of your network. It’s asynchronous nature means that they’ll receive your communication whether you sent it at 2pm or 2am. While not a personal as a phone call, a well-crafted email message can still convey a true appreciation of the other person and what they have added to your life.

What I received a few minutes ago is the opposite of that.

There are email messages which I largely ignore. They are the written equivalent of the “wah-wah” noises that the adults make in the old Peanuts cartoons. The message pops up — usually an advertisement of some kind — and I hit “delete”. Heck, I can usually delete them after reading just the header. No need to even bother opening it. The ones that get me, though, are the ones with just enough familiarity to them that I think it might be important enough to read.

This morning I received a message from “Jessie” (names changed to protect the guilty). She apologized for not getting in touch sooner after we had met at the “XYZ” networking event (names changed to protect the innocent). She really wanted to contact with me, though, so we could talk about our businesses and how me might be able to help each other. She thought she had a number of programs in her business which would help me maintain connection with my clients. Would I have any availability on either the 31st or the 1st for us to talk on the telephone?

Before I start with my rant, let me say that I am sure that Jessie is a wonderful person. I don’t think she has to style her hair just right in order to hide the horns on her head nor does she have to be exceptionally fashion conscious to hide her cloven hooves nor the fact that her knees bend in the wrong direction. I think she’s just not clear on the fact that connection — true connection — is exceptionally difficult (impossible?) to do via a form letter.

OK, that said, let’s look at where Jessie’s plan went horribly awry.

  1. No salutation. OK, since she’s already using some sort of mail merge in order to generate her deceptive email solicitation, she should at least go to the trouble of finding out how to make it address me in a salutation by name. The only thing that was specifically targeted toward me in this message was the email address. Yes, it still would have been mendacious, but I might at least have given her credit for the effort.
  2. Stale business card. I haven’t actually attended XYZ since July 14, 2010 — nine months ago as of this writing. It’s not that it’s a bad event, I just have a scheduling conflict that prevents me from showing up. I may very well have met her at that time, but after most a year, the chances are somewhere between slim and none that this is anything other than a cold call for me.
  3. Not walking the talk. Jessie’s business is all about strengthening connections with other people. Now, what she sells is designed to make this as easy and streamlined as possible, but it fundamentally comes down to people making friendly relationships with each other and maintaining them over time. In her message, the pinnacle of our burgeoning friendship would be a phone call where she gets to talk about how great her business is. Not a particularly effective “first date”, right?
  4. Form letter. Yes, this kind of ties in with #1 above, but I thought it deserved its own line. The upside of form letters is that they are quick and easy to fire off to a large group of people. The downside is that they are largely ineffective and in the same amount of time it takes to send it, you can destroy your chances of developing a long-term mutually beneficial relationship with someone. This is because they will see you as a lying manipulator with a bad case of “commission breath”. There is nothing wrong with using a general template for follow-up messages, but you must personalize each message in such a way that your recipient knows that you actually do remember them and that what they had to say was important to you.
  5. Lies in spirit. As someone who teaches people about the value of establishing deep, long-term relationships both in our business and personal lives, I find it particularly offensive when someone like Jessie uses the language of networking in order to lure someone into a sales pitch. I’m fortunate that I’ve been around long enough to recognize the signs of a “bait and switch” networker. The fact that the initial “contact” to which she refers happened almost a year ago is another big tip-off. On the other hand, when the misleading emailer sends this to those who are new to business, new to networking, and/or maybe a little desperate, this kind of language is nothing short of predatory in my opinion and does much to tarnish the good names of networkers everywhere.
OK, I’ll get off my soapbox now. It just kind of rankles me when I see messages like this. I’m sure Jessie is not the evil mastermind behind a plot to turn everyone into zombie sheep, passively accepting everything she doles out as holy writ. Sometimes, though, “sufficiently advanced cluelessness is indistinguishable from malice.”
So, have you received messages like this? Does it get stuck in your craw, too? Or am I just turning into a grouchy, old, curmudgeon?

Image from Wikimedia Commons