In this article, I’m going to talk about how you can become a “person of interest” to senior executives, drawing them towards you based on what you know, who you know, and who you are. I’m sharing this series to inaugurate the release of my popular eLearning program, Building Your Clients for Life, to individual users (see more below). A single, trusted relationship with an ambitious top executive can supercharge your business growth. However, these are hard connections to build. C-suite leaders are besieged daily by people who want to sell them something, influence them, or obtain a favor. What if, however, the situation were reversed, and senior executives were drawn to you? What if, instead of you waiting in the long line outside their office, they were waiting in a line to meet you? Sound crazy? OK, maybe a little. But, some of my high-performing clients are in that fortunate situation. And, I’ve been able to attract many, many C-suite leaders to engage with my firm.
It can be done. Plus, this is all relative: These strategies will help move you from wherever you are today to being just a bit closer to the C-suite.PS If you missed either Part I, II, or III of the series, I’ve provided the links to them at the end. What you know The first factor that attracts top executives is what you know. They look for individuals who are credentialed—who have a reputation. But, they also want something broader than just subject matter expertise, especially for a long-term relationship rather than simply a one-off transaction. We can call this elusive but powerful quality “business acumen.” Business acumen integrates five important characteristics: Who you know Senior executives are often eclectic individuals who like to cultivate relationships with other interesting people. They have very varied networks. You become more interesting to them if you also are seen as also having relationships with diverse and noteworthy individuals. I personally enjoy and benefit from knowing a wide variety of people, both within and outside of my profession. Often, I will introduce a client to a relevant contact who can help them with an issue or be a useful connection for them. I call this adding “network value.” Who you are I have consistently found that senior executives care about the kind of person you are. Your character really matters to them. By who you are I mean the ensemble of your behaviors, values, and beliefs—and even your general outlook on life. The first step is to exemplify C-suite behaviors. These include confidence, a willingness to challenge, and an action orientation. The latter means focusing on what will actually work versus a clever theory. You must have a peer attitude when you enter the room. Independence is also essential. Can you set aside your own financial or emotional interests and always do what you believe is best for the client—including walking away if warranted? Second, clients need to respect and feel comfortable with your values and beliefs. This doesn’t mean you have to share the exact same ones, however. There’s no fixed prescription for what these are—it varies by individual. Some of the following might get included on any executive’s list:
- Positive outlook
- Risk awareness
- Action bias
- Relationship orientation
- Commitment to a cause or a transcendent purpose
Strategies to become a person of interestYou can develop what you know, who you know, and who you are through six strategies.
- Sharpen your expertise while expanding your knowledge breadth. A “deep generalist” has a core expertise that is complemented by a broad understanding of the business environment (or government or nonprofit world) that clients live in. And don’t forget to employ “deliberate practice” techniques to sharpen your skill and technique: Isolation, Repetition, and Objective Feedback.
- Develop your thought leadership—your points of view, insights, and ideas. If a top executive is going to choose an expert, they want a professional who has a strong reputation in their field.
- Be seen as someone who is at the crossroads of the marketplace. You achieve this by getting out and talking to lots of people in your field and reading widely around your specialty. If clients see you as being in the flow of their market, they will always make time to see you.
- Become a person with interests. Most C-suite executives are passionate about every aspect of their lives—both at work and at home. Over dinner with a senior client, you’re more likely to spend time talking about life outside the office than life in it.
- Build an eclectic network. The diversity and strength of your personal network helps shape the impression you give your clients. Do you know people your C-suite clients would also appreciate knowing?
- Develop, manifest, and communicate your core beliefs and values. Have you ever sat down and tried to define what’s really important to you? Both in your professional life and personal life? The first step is to articulate these values to yourself. Then, you can exemplify them in your day-to-day client work. If you don’t know what you stand for, then clients won’t either.