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The words we choose are so important.

I met her at a networking event. I mean I intentionally (and quickly!) sought her out after the program ended, because she’d told us she offered a service that very much interested me. I wanted to talk with this woman!

Of course, I assumed she’d want to talk with me too. That’s what we’re there for, after all. And I made it abundantly clear that I was eager to know more about what she offers.

So, you can imagine my surprise when she said, “What I do with my prospects is set up a Zoom meeting, so if you’ll give me your email address …” as she turned away.


Who wants to be a “prospect”? I certainly don’t.

Yes, organizations use that word internally to describe people who might, maybe, someday become clients or customers. Sales professionals often keep lists of prospects. Some might talk about prospecting, meaning they’re searching for likely clients or customers.

But … maybe it’s just me? I didn’t like being labeled a prospect.

I mean, can you imagine an ad using that language?

  • “Are you a prospect for our exciting new _______?”
  • “We need five prospects right now to try our _________.”
  • “Prospects who want ____________ choose us.”

I’m guessing you can’t imagine that. Because although we might use that language with our colleagues, we don’t call people “prospects” to their faces any more than we invite them to waltz right into our “sales funnel.”

It’s like putting a bullseye on their forehead.

My forehead’s just fine without a bullseye, thanks. I am not a target. Nor a prospect.

I did receive the young woman’s email. I did not pursue the relationship. And yes, I told her why. You know me—I’m nothing if not direct. Also, although I usually resist drive-by coaching, I genuinely felt she could benefit from hearing how her chilly response had landed with me.

It all made me think about another networking event, it must have been nine, ten years ago.

A woman introduced herself at that meeting and I made a beeline for her when the program ended. I could not wait to learn more about her work.

She was warm, welcoming, and as I recall we set a time to get together later that afternoon, or maybe it was the next day. The details are a little fuzzy at this point, to tell you the truth.

What’s not fuzzy is this.

She made it clear she would be delighted to help me, and she was confident she could. She was eager to spend time with me. And a decade on, give or take, she has thousands of my dollars in her pocket as a result of that encounter at the Skokie Chamber of Commerce.

How to make sure we get the dollars in the pocket instead of the polite no-thanks?

Tone and language matter.

In my recent experience, I felt the brush-off from the way the woman looked around the room and sounded distracted as we had our very brief exchange. She couldn’t have sounded less interested in me, although I’m smack in the demographic she’d said she serves.

You know I didn’t like being labeled a prospect. It wasn’t just a word choice, though. Her tone of voice was also off-putting. She seemed rushed. And I felt dismissed.

That goes double for body language.

If you’re not comfortable standing still and facing another human being to make what I call full frontal eye contact, it would be worth cultivating that ability.

That means not gazing over the person’s shoulder, as if you hope to find someone you’d rather talk to. Not looking at the ceiling, or the floor, or anything else except your conversational partner’s eyes.

That is how we connect, as I tell my clients. Eyes to eyes, heart to heart.

We network to make connections.

If we’re going to spend our time in a restaurant party room, a library’s meeting room, or on a Zoom screen, we’d best be ready to make the most of it. Yes, we may wind up having some conversations that aren’t productive. Maybe some that are boring. Or even irritating.

We need to buck up and deal with those gracefully so we can also have the conversations that create relationships. Because those relationships are the way we build our business.

Got a networking story of your own to share? I’m all ears.