Thursday, March 24, 2011

Caren Explains... Four Mistakes that Sabotage a Cold Call

Whether you're looking for a deal, a job or a date, it can be very daunting to make your pitch, especially if you have to make a cold call to do so.

I receive 5-10 cold calls each day at Songkick and I find that the problem with most of them is not in what the person is asking for, but rather that the pitches are carelessly constructed. Sure, you may have an amazing resume, product or proposal, but if you don't pay attention to the little things you may be sabotaging yourself before you ask for anything.

Here are four things to avoid when making a cold call inquiry.

1) Don't be lazy. If you really want to do business with a company, take the time to figure out which person you should be speaking to. It immediately undermines your pitch if you write "To Whom It May Concern, I'd like to speak to your head of marketing about a great opportunity..."

There are plenty of places to find this kind of personnel information, including:

  • Company website (check for links on the company, often titled "About" or "Team")
  • LinkedIn (do a company search and see what employees are listed)
  • CrunchBase (which lists founders, executives and investors of tech companies)
  • News articles on the company (which often quote executives)
  • Press releases (which also quote executives or else provide other contact information)

2) Look for a warm introduction. Your pitch will go much further if you are able to get an introduction to the team or person you want to speak to. The person on the receiving end of the inquiry will feel an obligation to reply -- not because of you, but because someone they know has put themselves behind the introduction.

If you know someone who used to work at the company or else someone who has done business with them, that's a great place to start. Otherwise, take a peak on LinkedIn and see what common connections you have to the company.

3) Get the company name right. I can't tell you the number of times I've received an email from someone who wants to work with Songkick where the company name is misspelled (Song Kick) or improperly capitalized (SongKick). This immediately shows sloppiness or indicates that you have not engaged with the product. Worse yet is when both mistakes are made within the same email.

I know I've personally made this mistake when I'm in a rush or typing from my phone, and let me tell you: it is incredibly embarrassing if you care about the person you are contacting. Before you send a pitch, take an extra minute to make sure you've dotted the 'i's and crossed all the 't's.

4) Personalize the inquiry. Too often I receive emails that say "We think we can do big things for your company." What kinds of things? How do I know you didn't just copy-and-paste that?

Show that you have real intent by referencing a recent accomplishment of the company or else citing ways you can really help them.

Did the company just win an award? Congratulate them.

Did the CEO tell stockholders what he or she wants to accomplish this year? Mention what you can do to help.

Don't let this part get buried in your email or run on too long. Instead, keep it short and position it in the opening sentences of your pitch to immediately standout from the crowd.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Get Smart at SXSW: Five tips for surviving the week

Last year I gave you three pieces of advice on SXSX Music before embarking on my first Platinum SXSW experience (Music, Film and Interactive conferences all). With that behind me and nine days of SXSW ahead of me, I give you five more pieces of advice on how to survive SXSW 2011.

1) Bring a phone charger or spare battery with you wherever you go. All of those tweets, check-ins, emails and texts are going to drain your phone so fast you will be running around looking for an electrical outlet before lunchtime. The Convention Center usually has cellphone charging lockers you can use on the upper levels, but also consider bringing a spare battery pack (sorry, iPhone users, that doesn't apply to you) or else carry an extra AC adapter in your bag.

2) Be diligent about your health. Not to sound too much like a mom, but take care of yourself, okay? Go for a run on the awesome Town Lake trails and take some vitamins. With all the beer-swiggin' and hand-shakin' that happens during the week, you are gonna pick up as many unwanted germs as unwanted tchotchkes. So instead of reaching for that mimosa, put some Emergen-C in your water and toast to your health.

3) Get to peddling. Austin is really not a very big town, so this year my friend Monica and I (who are staying a mile outside of downtown) are getting bikes. Cheap, quick and no need to fight for cabs. Plus there are added health benefits (see above) Uber, the private car service I love in SF, is also going to be down in Austin with pedicabs, so put them to work for charity.

4) Create your own parties on the fly. About 20% of your time at SXSW is spent waiting in line for something -- to catch a band, to get some food, to use the bathroom... but when the only reason you're queued up is to get in to a party hosted by a tech company, why not just grab some folks and spill in to the bar next door? Let's be honest, guys: will you really get to meet the founder if you don't know them already? Probably not. It seemed ridiculous last year that people were waiting to get in to a bar for a party when the bar next door was completely empty. Try using Hurricane Party's app to make your own on-the-fly party, or else to tell friends where you're relocating to. And if the Foursquare or Gowalla check-in matters that much to you, guess what? You'll be in close enough proximity to fool the app in to thinking you're there.

5) Create a mobile group to keep in touch. Before you get to Austin, decide which few people you really want to keep up with -- perhaps coworkers so you don't miss networking opportunities, or friends so you can use all the +1s you asked for in your RSVPs. Try Kik (great app which just rolled out group messaging) or GroupMe (uses SMS messages) and hit lots of people at once when issuing only one message.

Wanna meet up in Austin? Find me on Twitter at