As I was going through university, I was lucky enough to work with the very talented and wise Col and Derek at Ergo Consulting. At the time, Col had landed on a new idea that he was looking to take to market and I was helping do some of the business development work for that. It was going to be a leadership development breakfast series.
This was all before the days of the Lean Startup and I was doing much of what you mention here in your post, Andy, so I thought I would try out writing a response on Medium. I was calling and emailing like a fiend, trawling through various lists of ‘innovative’ or ‘fast growing’ companies. I felt about as productive and useful as, well, something not very productive or useful. That was a shame, because I really believed in what we had created. The program we had planned for the breakfasts was truly developmental and would create a small, but focused, community of leaders that could openly discuss very new ideas of the time — things like how to deal with sustainability, diversity in the workplace, the internet (!) and other topics such as that.
I got so fed up with the unreturned calls, I found myself in a very similar situation to you. I decided I was just going to turn up. So, I did. I walked into the offices of a very large global mining company based in Melbourne, Australia and walked right up to the front desk.
“Hi, I’d like to speak to Nicola please.”
“Certainly sir. Is she expecting you?
“No. I’d like to speak to her, though.”
“Oh. Well, I’m afraid I can’t do that”
That, was pretty much that. I waited around in the lobby. It was lunch time, and I had shamefully decided that I might be able to pick her out of the thousands (!) of people streaming through the lobby. Not my finest hour, that’s for sure. I was fairly embarrassed and again feeling not so productive or useful.
After that encounter, I smartened up a little bit. Or so I thought. I was walking back to the office when I walked past a Salvation Army/Opportunity shop. I noticed some nice, small china plates in the window and had an idea. I walked in and bought the four plates or so and then scurried back to the office. “Genius” — I thought. “I’ll send them a plate! That will get their attention”
I wrote a cheesy message on the plate in permanent marker. Sitting here writing this now, I actually can’t remember what it was. Something like “The coffee is on me” was probably it. Awful. I had a list of about four companies that I was sure would benefit from our program, so I went ahead and sent it to their CEO’s office. I then finally sent it to one chap, Peter, that had lectured at one of my classes that week and was from one of the largest companies in Australia. We’d chatted in the break after the lecture and exchanged details.
A week went by and I decided to ring the offices I had sent the plates to. A couple either hadn't received them or didn't care. One that I’d sent to, an innovative and fast growing company at the time, had got it but the EA I was speaking to kindly told me they thought it was a bit cheesy and they wouldn’t be seeing me. Ouch.
Finally, I emailed Peter. He returned my email pretty quickly and offered to meet up for the coffee. Wahoo! We met a week or so later, chatted and then got an introduction to the Learning & Development team internally. Of course, Peter probably would have done so if I’d just emailed him. I’m lucky the plate didn’t actually put him off.
Anyway, this anecdote has gone on for far too long. I’m a little wiser now and a little embarrassed by this whole episode. But I learnt a lot from it. I learnt that cold calling isn't my style and that ‘the numbers game’ doesn't necessarily work when you’re starting out. I also learnt, years later, that one of the most important things in making a somewhat cold business connection was that you must be able to answer the question ‘why you, why you now?’ — some very good sales training I got along the way helped with that. The people you’re calling probably aren't able to answer that question in any valuable sense and so even if you show up at their office the only reason they may connect with you is because ‘you’re there, now.’ I'm not sure that’s the best way to get off to a promising start in a new business relationship. Finally, I learnt that after all of the sales, lead-building, networking tricks have been exhausted often the best way to navigate these kinds of things is through your network of people that you know. Peter was one example of that. You can create ways to amplify that if you need to in a way that’s authentic to yourself and your product.
So what happened? Well, after all of this Col, Derek and I put our heads together and decided to try something different. We connected with people we knew ourselves, mostly in the existing Ergo community, and sought their advice about the new program. Did they know anyone that might be interested? Would their organisation? We got a few great leads from this. Secondly, we hosted a lunch at the office and invited others that were perhaps not quite in our community and walked them through the program, providing them with a taste-test, if you like, of what they or their organisations would learn by being involved. Then we kept working with those people interested to finally launch the first breakfast series. It wasn’t rocket science, but it was eventually successful enough over time, that there were a few series running concurrently at one point.
I'm lucky that Col and Derek gave me the opportunity to try these things out. That period was one where I learnt an awful lot about the way I wanted to go about ‘work’ in the future and how I would operate. Many of the things I do now I can probably trace back to that period of my life.
Andy, it sounds like you’re on the right track. I think the points you outline later in your post are relevant and on the money. I don’t think it’s quite time to bombard the front desk quite yet, but if you do then I wish you the best of luck in doing that. It can’t be all bad, after all ☺