Getting someone to call, click or come in is very important, but if there’s not a plan beyond this, you may actually do more harm than good. After all, most new contacts will only investigate you once, and if you aren’t ready, they may be lost forever. So what happens when they respond to your message, attend an event, or call because your blog has caught their attention and they want to do more? While there’s no silver-bullet procedure for turning interested people into partners in action, there are a few things to keep in mind during this critical first interaction:
You know what I hate? When I meet someone that learns that I am a musician, and they immediately tell me what band they just know I would like. It turns me off to the relationship, yet we (myself included) are so excited to get to what we want to say that we do this to people even when the conversation starts on common ground. Even we’re right, the fact that we fill in the blanks without asking questions might close off the relationship before it gets going. Try to not assume a level of interest or knowledge in what your work and your vision. Ask what brought them, if they’ve ever tried anything like this before, and if the answer is no, do everything that you can to make it a stress-free learning process. These answers can also tell you a lot about their overall commitment level and whether or not they find value in what you do. This information will be invaluable in the next steps.
Work from their responses
Rather than have a script or a path that people are guided through, just know your organization and the others that you serve. Through conversation and observation, work with what you’re given to best assess how you can help (or not help) new contacts. Assess whether or not they are even a fit to work with before you rush to ask for their help. It’s often appropriate to highlight something that they didn’t even know about so long as it is affected by their primary interest. Have reference information available so they can do more research, and make sure that it’s clear, not some slapped together photocopy or outdated web content that must be explained. Above all, keep the conversation relevant to the person you’re speaking with; don’t drone on about what’s interesting to you right now if it doesn’t have to do with why they contacted you in the first place. It’s fine to tell a story, just make sure that it is something with which they can identify.
Communicate for the long term
The odds are that this conversation is not resulting in new work/volunteering/projects today. In fact, if it does, you may have a sprinter on your hands, so watch out for quick burnout. Today is about making someone comfortable, because they may be considering something that feels like a big commitment. They need to trust you first. Is there a way to break this into chunks, start small, and create a situation where they have an out if they feel they need it? If a person feels in control of a gradual process during which they have options, you have the chance to build a longer, trusting relationship. That’s what ultimately helps.