Q: Any advice on productive networking with the C-level?
Depending on what you mean by productive networking, I’d answer that several ways. Generally, I define networking as making human connections with no agenda other than mutual exploration of what’s possible. So in that context, productive networking with the C-level means be nice, be genuine, and be curious about them, their commitments, and what’s possible in getting to know them without any agenda for sales.
If the advice you are asking about is “where should we be focusing our networking time and how do we meet folks at the C-level?”, that’s a different question. You could get involved in the same activities that they are involved in (board positions, golf, executive roundtables, etc.) or you could use the six-degrees of separation method.
The six degrees of separation method utilizes the concept that we are all within six other people of anyone we might want to meet. Once you find out who you know and who they know, you can request introductions. Not unlike LinkedIn or some of the other technology-based networking sites. Here’s how it works. Let’s say one of the companies on your target list is Monster.com and you want to get to know Sal Iannuzzi, their CEO and Chairman. You might start with people you know and ask either who they know at Monster, or who they know who might know Sal. If you are systematic and methodological in your pursuit of leads within the six degrees concept, you will find that you can probably get to Sal in six or fewer steps. Meaning, someone you know likely knows someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows Sal. So go take inventory of your someones! Nowadays, with the advances in social media, I’d assert that we are within 2 degrees of separation from anyone we want to meet.
In the absence of a specific target individual, you can simply start taking stock of who you know and where they are connected. You can explore in conversation with those in your network to discover whom they know and where they are actively involved. You can also be very specific about the ideal profile of the referrals you seek. That way, people in your network can provide you with better leads.
Another networking vehicle I strongly recommend is the Informational Interview. You can reach out to any C-level executive you have access to and ask them informational questions to learn about where they meet people, what they do to network, what might be their philosophy of networking, and who do they know that you might also talk to? Informational interviews are great because they allow you to ask anyone for small doses of mentorship without a huge time commitment or other obligation, and you are not trying to sell them anything or get a job from them, you are simply asking them to talk about their favorite subject…themselves and their career path!
Additionally, there are nine basic mindsets of networking that I discuss in the book, Seal the Deal, so if you want more on networking you can find it there in chapter 8!