By Cindy Alvarez (Head of Products and Customer Development, KISSmetrics)
True or false? If you’re asking a favor of someone, it’s best to give them plenty of freedom in terms of how and when they do it. I mean, it seems awfully presumptuous to not only ask for a favor, but also to ask that it be done in a specific manner in a specific timeframe. Right? Wrong.

Most people are happy to help with feedback or advice. However, we are conditioned to avoid uncertainty. We don’t like putting ourselves in situations where we may look stupid. We’re often multitasking and thus distracted. And the busiest people have limited time and they would prefer to spend that time on helping you with the hardest stuff, in the most efficient possible way. Hammering out where and when to meet, or which format to write up an answer in, or which tool to use is not giving someone flexibility, it’s assigning them busywork.

To be as considerate as possible and maximize your response rate, here’s what you do:
1. Tell me Who and Why

State who you are and why you’re contacting the person. If you have a shared contact or subject matter, this is where to state it:

  • “My name is Cindy Alvarez, and I’m the product manager for KISSmetrics. Hiten Shah suggested I talk with you about ______.”
  • “My name is _________, and I’m a designer who is interested in startups. I’ve been reading your blog and was hoping I could talk to you about ________.”

This may sound ridiculously obvious, but I can point you to a bunch of emails in my inbox that didn’t start this way. Yes, I can read the subject line of the email; I can google someone. Why should I have to? (Remember, people are universally busy and distracted.)

2. I’m hoping to learn…

Give a 1-2 sentence summary of what you are hoping to learn or accomplish from this exchange.

I don’t like committing to meetings or calls where I don’t know what the person wants. I may not be able to help (Which wastes time for both of us. Also makes me feel stupid, and if you’ve been reading this blog for long, you know that “avoidance of feeling stupid” is pretty much the driving force of human motivation.)

  • “I have been trying to do customer development and would like to hear more about how I should do _________ and __________.”
  • “I’d like to get some honest feedback on my ________ document.”

3. Here’s how we can connect…

Give 2-3 options of when, where, and how to meet so the person can easily just pick one.

This involves a little bit of proactive research on your part. Figure out which city the person lives/works in (not always possible, but you can certainly try). If you’re in a metro area, you’ll want to find venues that are convenient for both public transit and cars (i.e. readily available parking). You’ll want to make sure there is enough space that you can get a table. You may need wifi.

Does this sound like a lot of work? It is, and that’s why you should do it instead of implicitly tacking it on to the favor you’re asking.

An example may look like this:

“I’d love to get a half-hour of your time to talk over coffee. Does one of these suggestions work for you?”

  • 9:30am on Tues, May 10 at Greenhouse Cafe in West Portal [yelp link]
  • 3pm on Thurs, May 12 at Farley’s Coffeehouse in Potrero Hill [yelp link]
  • 11:30am on Fri, May 13 at Starbucks near the Metreon [yelp link]
  • Feel free to suggest another time — my limitation is that I don’t have a car, but I can get anywhere within San Francisco between 9am-4pm.

This gives the recipient all of the necessary information they need to make a decision: expected time outlay, times they can check against their calendar, locations (so they don’t schedule back-to-back meetings on opposite ends of town)

Odds are, this will eliminate the need for playing email tag to set up a meeting. But even if they can’t accept one of your suggestions, you’ve laid your limitations so that they can easily propose an alternative that is likely to work.

(Second only to “avoiding feeling stupid”, I think that “avoiding back-and-forth emails” may be another of the main driving forces of human motivation.)

This doesn’t affect your odds of landing an initial meeting, but it certainly increases your odds of getting future ones.

Say Thanks AND Summarize What You Learned

Most people are pretty practiced at sending a thank you note after a meeting.

But what really stands out is when someone takes the extra few moments to summarize what they’ve learned from you. This tells me a couple things — one, that you were actually listening; and two, how I could continue to help you in the future.

An example might look like:

Thank you for your time today! I was particularly grateful for the next steps you laid out in terms of how to interview additional customers and what survey questions we can ask to learn ______ and _______. I’m going to share my notes with my team, and we plan to start on ______ next week.

When we have a draft of _______ ready, may I share it with you? I’d love to get your feedback and ensure that I’m applying what I learned from you correctly.

And yes — someone who has already spent their time talking to you really is interested in continuing to do so. Think of it like investing: having bought a couple shares of you, I certainly want to see your stock price continue to rise.

This post was originally posted at

About the guest blogger: Cindy Alvarez is the head of products and customer developmentfor KISSmetrics, where she is currently building two products (KISSmetrics and KISSinsights) using customer development / lean startup techniques. Cindy is passionate about helping startups succeed through early focus on product management, user experience, and customer outreach. She blogs at The Experience is the Product. Follow her on Twitter at @cindyalvarez.