The most successful people in business often have friends in high places. Yes, it's certainly possible to get ahead purely with financial acumen, a product or service customers can't live without, or knowledge and experience that makes you irreplaceable. But often, it's about who you know--people who like you enough to want to help you, lend advice, or award you their repeat business. Take some tips from a handful of successful executives who have some advice on the subject.
1. Be authentic, add value, and strive to understand the person's perspective.
"I want to work with and connect with people who are genuine and driven.... I take time to learn who they are, their background, and what common experiences we may have. Every relationship also has to be mutually beneficial. You must bring value, whether it be offering time, services, advisement, or just an open ear.... Nine times out of 10 you'll get further if your bring value rather than simply asking for something. Lastly, put yourself in their shoes. Try to understand the challenges they face every day. You'd be surprised the problems that you may be able to solve for each other if you just take a moment and listen."
--Andrew Davis, CEO of Squeegy, an app for on-demand car washes which use only a few ounces of water, unlike a traditional car wash, which uses about 40 gallons of water per vehicle.
2. Show appreciation.
"Take time to recognize how your business partner or their teams have helped you. For example, send a handwritten note when someone goes above and beyond--an email is great, but a note is often unexpected and remembered years after you sent it. A former colleague who I still keep in touch with recently sent me a picture of a note I gave to them six years ago."
--Liz Graham, VP of sales and service at online home store Wayfair.
3. Find a way to break down barriers and connect with the person.
"We tend to forget that we are all just people here together...somehow we get more caught up on titles and egos. I do business to connect with people. If a person, influential or otherwise, is wearing an armor of stress, focused on something else, or just plain shy, I use humor in my meetings to diffuse such awkward situations and to bring down the barriers. Once the barriers are lowered, it becomes easier to connect with people. After the connection is made, the real fun begins. That's very important to me."
--Maxime de Nanclas, co-founder and COO of mobile payment company Mobeewave.
4. Keep your promises.
"Trust is a blue-collar value that doesn't always translate in a white-collar economy. If you speak clearly and deliver what you commit to, influential people will trust and respect you, which is the foundation of admiration."
--Bob Renner, CEO of Liaison, a cloud-integration and data-management platform that buffers the technical complexities of big data.
5. Contribute to the community.
"Write articles, write a great blog, attend and speak at conferences. Help organize meetups or be the person who volunteers to clean up after an event. Put in the time to be a useful, helpful person in the community you are interested in and you will get noticed for your commitment. Successful people work hard, and you can demonstrate that you work hard as well."
--Matthew Goldman, CEO of Wallaby, which offers mobile and Web apps that maximize credit card rewards.
6. Share a common interest.
"To get on the radar of influential people, it can be effective to participate in activities that they also participate in, especially those that are near and dear to their heart. Hopefully, you share their passion so this is an authentic interaction."
--Bonnie Crater, CEO of sales and marketing analytics company Full Circle Insights.
7. Be real.
"Sincerity is a fundamental trait that I look for in any business relationship. Sincerity builds trust and is difficult to fake. An unexpected strategy to show that you're sincere is to send a handwritten note. It's easy to dash off a text or an email [but] a note shows that you put thought and time into your message. If I sense that a person is insincere, I simply don't want to engage with them. If you're real, respectful, and ethical, I'll give you my time."
--Evan Singer, president of small-business lender SmartBiz.
8. Be useful as a resource, but humble with how you handle it.
"Make suggestions, but acknowledge that the person may already have thought of it or parts of it. For example, 'I just thought of something in regard to positioning your new product. Now, you may have already considered or thought of some of this. If you did, fine, but this may possibly add to your ideas.' However, you better not be just talking, but rather have a well thought out idea that you can demonstrate as useful to them. This is definitely not a trick or game to meet them. Instead, it is a bonding after having met or chatted with them. You must be absolutely sincere in your wishes. Remember, you are getting something special from this relationship too--experience, possibly a mentor (without asking), the opportunity to listen to some thoughts or ideas that build your own knowledge, experience, and wisdom through their experience and successes. Now, they must also feel that whatever your discussions are, they will not be repeated."