We’ve all heard it said that it’s “who you know, not what you know.” In many ways, I have found that statement to be fairly accurate.
While a relationship may not help you overcome a fatal flaw, it will absolutely differentiate you from your competition. Whether it’s a new job, a new client, or just a meeting, there’s no doubt that having a relationship with a key influencer or decision-maker can only help.
As a young entrepreneur, I was scared to death of reaching out to senior executives. Somehow, “successful” people seemed so distant. Even as 3Pillar grew, I found that reaching out to other CEOs and senior executives was something that I wasn’t altogether comfortable with. As it turns out, I was afraid of Mickey Mouse.
I’ll never forget the first time I reached out to Bobby for help. Bobby was a serial entrepreneur, a senior executive at a $300M company, and had the reputation of turning everything he had ever touched to gold. I had built a fledgling company, had eight employees, and was looking to pick his brain on what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur.
I was scared to death, focusing on the differences between the two of us. After several false starts on the phone, I ended up shooting him an email request to meet. I asked for 20 minutes. He asked his EA to schedule an hour-and-a-half.
It turns out that most people in this world are more than willing to help. They are genuinely good people who want to lend a hand. In fact, I have found that, much like Bobby, most “successful” individuals are eager to lend a hand. They are often about as threatening as Mickey Mouse, which is to say not at all. They are more than willing to meet, give advice, or make an intro. Yes, they are busy, but they are also helpful.
Here are a few recommendations when reaching out to senior executives:
Be genuine and honest about your intent.
I recently had someone reach out to me under the guise of picking my brain about building and growing a small entrepreneurial company. I was more than happy to lend 30 minutes to this young lady.
When she arrived it became clear within the first two minutes that her only intent was to sell me on the services her company provided, services that wouldn’t even make sense for a business like mine. The intro turned out to be a scam. I gave her a polite 10 minutes, walked her out the door, and will never do business with her again. She wasted my time.
Be clear and concise.
The senior executive you’re trying to meet may be the nicest person in the world, but that doesn’t mean that she has all the time in the world. When you initiate the conversation be clear about why.
Why are they of interest to you? Have they done something that you admire and want to learn from? Are they in an industry that you’re targeting? Are you seeking a job in an area that they are familiar with?
Do your homework.
Before you meet you should know a little bit about the executive. Take time to study who they are, their career path, and mutual connections. What are their passions? Talking about mutual acquaintances, similar upbringings, or your favorite hobby is a great way to break the ice. This also helps to build a connection and communicates that you have prepared for the conversation.
Seek to add value.
It’s easy to think that an executive has nothing to gain from a relationship with you. That’s far from the truth. Approach the conversation with confidence and look for ways to add value.
Is there another executive that you’ve met that this individual may be interested in meeting? Is there knowledge about a new product that they may find compelling? Is there an all-star employee that you know that may help fill his greatest need?
Relax and be yourself.
There’s nothing worse than someone who is not genuine. Don’t pretend to be someone that you’re not. Don’t try to impress anyone. Just be yourself.
Remember Bobby? Today he’s one of my best friends. He’s been a board member, an employee, and a business partner since that first fear-filled meeting.
The reality is that most executives, like Bobby, enjoy investing their time in young, up-and-coming professionals. They enjoy helping others.
They are just like Mickey Mouse: busy as all get out, but make you feel like a million bucks when you finally get their time. Don’t be afraid of Mickey Mouse.