This post is part of our Weekly Tips series.

Last week’s tip came from a marketing story with embedded lessons about deepening existing client relationships. This week’s story holds an important lesson about what not to do when you’re trying to build trust with new stakeholders.

It goes back to a time when I got one of those broadcast email solicitations from a very reputable organization that hosts executive roundtables. Brian (a stranger to me) wanted to interest me in membership by having me attend an informational meeting. To his credit, he had me at “hello” with the very first lines of his email: “Andrea, let me first say I LOVE the name of your company and the genesis of it… Outstanding!”

“Wow,” I thought, “He’s taken the time to find out about my company. He gets me! He likes me! I like this guy!”

What followed was a directive to “Read on” with a photo of a jubilant baseball team and the assertion that “There are lessons you learn in Baseball that can apply to business leaders like YOU once you understand their importance and their impact” (with a bulleted list). His call to action at the end of the email was aggressive and impersonal.

Brian had me right off the bat and lost me soon after. Brian’s very personal appeal followed by his very impersonal form letter was a particularly lethal combo. (Misaligned, too, since I’m not a sports enthusiast.) Not only was I a “no” for the information session I was invited to, but I had an attitude about both Brian and his organization. Simply put, I didn’t trust him.

Three strikes, you’re out.

For me, the takeaway is this: if you’re going to make it personal, then make it personal. Engage your audience in a consistently genuine way. Don’t stop with your opening lines—in your emails, your presentations, or your real-time conversations.

Make It Real

This week, make an effort to personalize your communications. Focus on new relationships. List three you’d like to focus on, and brainstorm (perhaps with your buddy?) how you might you reach out in a compelling way. What personal risks might you take in the process?

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Andrea Howe

As the founder of The Get Real Project, I am the steward of our vision and our service offerings, as well as a workshop leader and keynote speaker. Above all else, I am an entrepreneur on a mission: to kick conventional business wisdom to the curb and transform how people work together as a result. I am also the co-author, with Charles H. Green, of The Trusted Advisor Fieldbook (Wiley, 2012).