Especially in the end-of-year rush, contacting an already-busy person can be frustrating. It’s important to keep in mind that communication is a process, not an instantaneous event. Now as always, reaching out to an influential individual requires equal parts tact, savvy, and persistence.
1. Lay the Groundwork for Connecting
Check your networks to see if your target busy person (TBP) is a friend-of-a-friend, a boss of a former colleague, or belongs to a professional organization through which you can culture a contact. Asking a mutual acquaintance for an introduction to your TBP can help pave the way for you.
Don’t ever, ever, ever use the phrase “pick your brain”. Not only does it sound like DIY neurosurgery, it telegraphs that you haven’t clearly defined your request for information—and will waste your TPB’s time.
2. Craft the Communication
In a digital variation on the classic KISS acronym, remember SIPS when drafting your email to your TBP: keep it Short, Intriguing, Professional, and Smart.
A study conducted by students at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon University examined how “inbox-level information”—aka, the subject line—impacts how people prioritize their email. Findings suggest that mail with subject lines that provoke a work-oriented curiosity are most likely to be opened. And the simple inclusion of punctuation—particularly a question mark—in the subject line increases the open rate by nine percent.
Don’t ever, ever, ever begin an email with “Hey”. It’s the electronic equivalent of addressing snail-mail to “Occupant.”
3. Be Patient
Today, everyone is overloaded with unsolicited input. On average, a businessperson receives 122 emails each and every day. Then consider the text messages, voice mail, and social media conduits also competing for attention, and it becomes understandable why you didn’t hear back from your TBP right after you hit “send”. You should be expecting to write a follow up note a week or two after your initial inquiry.
Don’t ever, ever, ever send an email without thanking the recipient for their time and assistance.