I recently attended a meeting where one of the prizes was a copy of my book. One of the attendees approached me, and seemed very interested in getting one of my business cards. For the purpose of this story, we'll call him Kash. I am always willing to provide feedback or input to anyone who asks. But, I feared my business card would end up in the bowel of spam purgatory. I asked him, "You are not going to add me to a list or anything, are you?" He said "no" with a smile.
Guess what happened next
A few weeks later, I received an email from Kash. I unsubscribed. A week or so later, I received an SMS message to my mobile phone number. I gave him the benefit of the doubt, and sent a message asking him to please remove me from his list. About three weeks later, I received another SMS message from Kash with a link to attend a live webcast.
What's wrong with that approach?
Okay. You already know what's wrong with it. Just because someone hands you a business card, does not mean they have given you permission to add them to your list. You may not add them to your newsletter list, your automated email system, and especially not your SMS engine. Why not? Well, they did not give you permission.
Think of it this way: If someone invaded your privacy and broke into your home, would you invite them to dinner? Of course not. If you violate someone's privacy, what makes you think you are going to ever have an opportunity to engage in business with them? But there is another element that many overlook.
If you believe it is all about numbers, just play the lottery
Here is the real problem with adding people to a list without permission. Beyond building a reputation as an annoying jerk, at some point you need to take the time to weed through all of those people to determine which ones might be worth your effort. When you add people who do not want to be on your list, you are just delaying the inevitable. Most organizations do not lack potential leads. Rather, they lack the resources to properly attend to each opportunity. They waste too much time on leads that never should have made their way into the system.
How do you fix it?
When I called Kash out on this violation of basic etiquette, he left a voicemail message saying he didn't know how "things got messed up like that." If you make a mistake, own it. A better answer might have been "I apologize for adding you to my list and then not removing you on request. We are reviewing our procedures to avoid this type of mistake in the future."
What's the next move?
If you have a newsletter or other mailing list, when you get someone's card just ask, "We also have a newsletter that covers these topics. If you'd like me to add you to that list, we'll just put a "Y" on the card so we don't forget to add you. Otherwise, you will not receive the articles unless you ask for them."
When you meet someone at a networking event, take the time to understand what they do, and try to diagnose whether or not you might be able to help them. If it is a good fit, connect genuinely. In each business interaction, you can either be seen as someone trying to sell something, or someone there to help address specific challenges. Kash came across as a slimy salesperson, and the impression he made was not the one he envisioned. If you let your prospects ask to be put on your list, it will be a good indicator that you have something they might value... and then you'll know you are seen as a valued resource.
How do you feel when you end up on a list without being asked?