No one ever does anything worthwhile alone. That's why connections matter. And that means you sometimes need to "network up," to connect with someone "above" you -- at least for now -- on the ladder of success.
How can you make a great first impression -- and lasting impression? How can you create a foundation for a long-term professional relationship?
While over time I've gotten fairly good at connecting with people well above me on the success food chain, there are still some that elude me. (Hi, Dave Grohl!)
So I turned to a true expert on the subject: Ivan Misner, the founder of BNI, with over 220,000 members the largest networking and business referral organization in the world, and the author of bestsellers like Avoiding the Networking Disconnect. (And he's a really nice guy.
I asked Ivan how to network up -- which, unsurprisingly, is a lot like connecting with anyone (except for a few small tweaks).
1. Don't be a sycophant.
Successful people appreciate knowing their work makes a difference, but instead of gushing over how brilliant they are, share a specific story about how their work or business has really helped someone.
Occasionally a successful person's ego enters the room before he or she does, but for the most part, successful people are just people. While they're somewhat gun-shy because they are constantly pitched, they still appreciate knowing their work makes a difference.
Take John Gray, the author of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. When I first met him I told him that his book made a world of difference in our marriage and relationship. He certainly appreciated it. Today we're friends.
If you want to be complimentary, share a specific story about how the person's work has helped you, or even better, has helped someone you know -- because now it's not about you.
2. Work within the context.
When I met Jack Canfield (Chicken Soup for the Soul) at a book signing, I shared a story with him about a signing I did at which the only person who showed up was my mother. He laughed so hard that it helped him remember me -- and eventually he invited me to join his leadership council.
If I had told him a funny story about high school football, that would not have worked. Context is extremely important. Otherwise you're just shoehorning yourself in.
Speaking of shoehorning ...
3. Find out what this person is currently interested in.
Find out what the person is currently working on. Then ask them to tell you about it.
(Or if you haven't done the research, ask what their newest project is, or what they're most excited about.)
That's your hook into the future.
That also applies to any networking you do. Find out who will be in the room. Find out what they're interested in. (Google is a gift from God for networking.)
Then you look for ways you can add value.
4. Add value.
The second time I went to Necker Island I really wanted to do a video with Richard Branson for my blog, but I didn't want to be "that" guy. One day I saw him at one of the bars and said, "Tell me about the B Team," the organization that focuses on people and planet first, then profit.
He lit up.
So I used the five most important words in networking: "How can I help you?"
He said, "You run a huge organization. Help me get the word out."
I said, "We can do a video for our blog," and he said, "Yeah, let's do it." And we did.
The key to adding value is to find a way to meet the other person's objectives first; if that intersects with your objectives, great. But don't push. Never push. (More on that in a moment.)
5. Don't assume they remember you.
If you're meeting someone for the second or even third time, always help them out by giving them context on how you know each other or first met.
Extremely successful people tend to meet hundreds, if not thousands, of people every year. Give them context to help jog their memory.
6. Embrace discomfort.
If you're not nervous about trying to connect with someone, you're probably not aiming high enough.
Nervousness is usually a sign that this is the person you definitely should talk to.
7. Don't go negative.
I know it sounds obvious, but it happens all the time, especially when you're nervous. Don't complain about how busy you are, how the barista messed up your coffee order, or how bad the traffic was.
You want to be remembered, but not as the person who was negative.
8. Don't pitch.
People say, "It never hurts to ask," but in this case, they're wrong. It does hurt to ask, especially when you network up with someone for the first time.
Why? Successful people are constantly being sold. Think about the relationship as a bank: If you have no relationship and you're already asking for business or a referral or a sale, you're trying to make a withdrawal before you have a positive balance.
Financial capital and social capital are very similar. You need money in the bank before you write a check, and you need value in the bank before you ask for something.
It's easy to think, "But I will only get this one opportunity, so I have to try."
No you don't. If you want to stand out, don't sell. Add value.
But How Do You Actually Get to Meet That Person?
"That's great," you're saying, "but how do I actually get in front of the person I want to connect with?"
Back to Ivan:
Many successful people have good gatekeepers because they need good gatekeepers.
That means the best approach is to use your network to get your foot in the right door.
Here's a great example. Some years ago I was working on my book, Masters of Success. I landed interviews with people like Buzz Aldrin, Michael Gerber, Erin Brockovich, Lou Holtz, and I really wanted Harvey Mackay (Swim With the Sharks) to contribute to the book.
But I literally could not get past his assistant. I tried every technique I could think of, but no.
So every time I had the opportunity, I told people I wanted to meet Harvey, that I wanted him to contribute to my book.
I did that for a year.
Then one day I was on the way to a BNI event. The BNI member who picked me up at the airport said, "What are you working on?" I told him, and mentioned I was having a really hard time getting through to Harvey.
"I can introduce you," he said. "Whenever Harvey comes here I always volunteer to pick him up. I coordinate that with his assistant. We stay in touch. She's a great person."
"I can't get past her," I said.
"I'll take care of that," he said.
Here's the thing. He felt he was networking up by driving me to the event, but he had connections and contacts to people I didn't.
Constantly seek to add value to the people in your network. When you least expect it, one of them will add value to you.
?That's the power of a great network -- but you build that kind of network only by adding value first. At some people, people who believe in building relationships -- which are exactly the kind of people you want to connect with -- will be happy to help you, because they will feel you have done so many things to help them.