This article originally was published in the Harvard Business Review. Here’s an excerpt:
Richard Branson famously said, “Succeeding in business is all about making connections.” Mr. Branson surely has little trouble getting anyone he wants on the phone, but the rest of us could use a little help.
While I was researching my new book, How to Get a Meeting with Anyone, I asked the top 100 sales thought leaders in the world, “When you absolutely must reach someone who is very important but nearly impossible to reach, how do you do it?” What I discovered was a shadow practice that has been extremely effective at breaking through to critical contacts, but no one actually had a name for it.
I dubbed it “contact marketing,” and found it to be a surprisingly effective marketing technique. Based on my interviews, reported response rates averaged from 60% to 80%, with some campaigns actually hitting 100%. What exactly is contact marketing? It’s a fusion of marketing and selling, employing specific campaigns to connect with specific C-level executives and top decision-makers. The idea is that you only need a few dozen of the right high-level relationships to change the scale of your business. Contact marketing can take many forms, but there are five takeaways you can use to make your own high-level connections:
Deliver something of value. Here’s your chance to stand out, to be audacious, and to create a meaningful connection. The objective is not to attempt to bribe someone to meet with you but to deliver something that makes a difference to the recipient. It should express your brand personality but contain absolutely no pitch. Your first mission is simply to create a connection, to establish yourself as someone they’ll want to listen to. While you might use search results and social media postings to try to determine an executive’s specific challenges and desires, there are also some simple assumptions you can use to open doors, based on universal desires shared by most business leaders. We all want more success, recognition, and income, but we also want to do the best job we can and leave a mark. For example, I’m a cartoonist, and I’ve found that my cartoons can touch upon all of these markers in a very personal way. Sending a personalized cartoon, like the one below, has become a can’t-miss way for me to connect with virtually anyone, but anything that recognizes the recipients’ desires, helps them do their job more effectively, or enhances their business in some way can be highly effective.
Offer something of further value. As your request for contact is received, it’s a good idea to include something additional as a reward for taking the proposed meeting or phone call. Some campaigns split a gift in two — a remote-control model sent with a note explaining that the withheld control unit will be delivered during the meeting, for instance. Although this has reportedly worked, it can come off as being too pushy. A far better approach would be to offer relevant research, a white paper, or a free audit of some aspect of the target executive’s business when the meeting takes place, as a way to provide the incentive you may need to actually get the meeting. The point is to continually add value to the connection building between you in a way that helps the executive do their job more effectively.