Cold contacts are the ultimate skill

Over the past couple of months, with my book, The Advisory Board being published, I’ve been heavily invested in ensuring that the book reaches the right people. For books, ‘word-of-mouth’ is the ultimate way to spread a word about the book. But until a book starts to spread itself, it is the author’s and publisher’s responsibility to ensure that the book reaches the target audience.

My book is a collection of short stories with taxi drivers. It’s a story based in Mumbai, where the protagonist meets with taxi drivers whose advice revolutionizes his company. A few taxi rides take him from the lowest point in his life to a rising graph, where he is content with what he is doing. The premise of the story and the setting have helped me arrive at a few types of people who I think are the primary audience for the book. Looking them up is easier than ever, thanks to Instagram, Twitter and social media in general.

As a result, I have been contacting a lot of people who I don’t know. Through Instagram, Twitter, E-mail and WhatsApp, I am reaching out to book clubs, colleges, libraries, YouTubers, Bloggers, Book reviewers, etc. The goal is to maximize the visibility of the book so that people can start referring the book to their friends and family. Once this starts to happen, I will say that people are liking the book. In the traditional terms of marketing, once organic sales start to happen, I will know that people are appreciating the story.

Last month, on a random whim, I contacted the Entrepreneurship Cell of IIT Kharagpur to see if they would be interested in having a few copies of the book. I got a response from one of their student members, who then suggested that I give a book talk at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit happening on January 31st and February 1st. Though I will be in the US, the team agreed to let me talk to the crowd through a video call.

This was probably the best cold contact I’ve ever had in my life. There have been several others so far, but none of them has materialized so quickly and to such an amazing result. This has raised my hopes from cold calls, even though most of them are not replied to. For example, a couple of months ago, I had contacted the marketing teams of Ola and Uber to partner with me on marketing the book, since the book is a natural fit in taxis. None of them heeded my request. As a result, I went ahead and contacted ten other cab companies.

But none of them have responded yet.

After sending over two hundred cold emails over the last two months and contacting several more people on social media, I’ve learned a few things. These are my learnings on cold contacting –

1.       Get to the point. While messaging on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, it is even more important to keep your message short. People usually are tolerant of slightly longer e-mails, but while messaging, get to the point.

2.       If you can find the person on social media, prefer to message them there vs. writing an e-mail. There’s a high chance that e-mails end up in their junk folder, but not a message sent directly on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

3.       To get over anxiety, be prolific in contacting people. Instead of contacting one person and waiting for fifteen days to get a response, contact several people. That way, you don’t wait for the anxiety. As long as you keep contacting people, you will find someone who responds to you.

4.       Don’t contact for the sake of contacting. Build relationships. Try to learn more about their life, their work and appreciate the good things. But be careful, don’t adulate people. This is very well explained in the book, How to Make Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

5.       Have your personal website up to date. People look you up if they read your message – so you better have your online presence sorted out. It doesn’t necessarily have to be through a website, but websites are like your online home. They allow you to make things personal to suit your taste.

6.       Do not hesitate in asking for help. Over the past couple of years, it has become more and more clear to me that asking for help is not as bad as it sounds. In the case of cold contacts, don’t say “Do you want to work for me…”, but rather, “It would be great if you could help me do…”

7.       Add value. I’ve developed this habit of asking people to let me know how I can help. So far, I haven’t seen people ask for a lot, but it feels like a good first step to build long-term connections rather than mere transactional ones.

Talking to strangers can be awkward.

In the world of social media, if we post a tweet, it feels like we’ve done everything we can to reach an audience of millions. It isn’t. Reaching out to one person at a time is much harder, but it is a sure-shot way of finding like-minded people in the world.

Giving things a personal touch is the future of content creation. In writing, there is a rule to be specific. If you try to write for too many people at the same time, it obfuscates your writing and it shows on your writing (I admit that I’ve failed this rule on a number of occasions, though).

If you find a few like-minded people, it is much better than finding none.

Talking to strangers

That brings me to something that we’ve started to forget with time. The art of talking to strangers. When was the last time you spoke to a stranger while riding the bus or the train? The last time you spoke to the cashier at the grocery store? The last time you spoke to your Uber driver?

Our previous generations used to do this without thinking twice. Today, it feels awkward to talk to someone standing next to you at the bus stop. If you talk to someone, you don’t know if they’ll be receptive to you.

I’ve always struggled to bring up new topics to speak about with people I don’t know. But I noticed a sea of change in my life after I started speaking with taxi drivers and hearing their stories. In fact, this was the inspiration behind writing The Advisory Board.

Don’t be afraid of contacting people upfront. Ask specific questions and see how they respond to you.

If they don’t, what’s the harm? Move on, contact someone else.

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