Are your outreach and networking efforts not getting you as many conversations with decision makers as you want to?
Are you not getting as many clients as you want when approaching CEOs?
My clients hire me to help them build and establish relationships with decision makers like CEOs and other executives and to build a network of influencers who can help amplify their business.
After all, that’s what you need to do if you are a consultant, business development executive or entrepreneur of any kind.
It’s what grows your business and constantly opens up new opportunities. It’s what lays the foundation for you and your business to be successful.
In this extensive guide, I will show you step by step how to build and establish relationships with CEOs and other influential people so you can grow your business exponentially.
Important: This is a very extensive and comprehensive guide. To make the most out of it, download the Communication Excellence Workbook, print the workbook and have it in front of you while going through the 8 steps.
Our goal is not to do business with everyone who has money in their bank account. Our goal is to do business with people who believe what we believe, people who share our set of values and people who we love to be around.
Why? Because it makes life a lot more fun and fulfilling.
Have you ever had to work with somebody who you did not really connect with? Maybe it was a co-worker or a potential client you had to reach out to because your boss told you to. How did you feel about talking to that person? Did you feel like your energy got sucked from you?
I had that experience a few times during my corporate career before I started my own business. People were forced upon me and I had to make it work somehow. Sometimes it worked out and other times it did not.
It’s really tough for me to stay focused if somebody bores me to death. Luckily, I now have the freedom to choose who I work with and who I don’t.
How much different do you feel if you reach out to somebody who inspires you? How much easier is it to connect with somebody who you admire? How energizing does it feel to connect with somebody who shares your values?
In order to run people through a filter that shows us if they energize & inspire us, we need to set up a Red Velvet Rope Policy.
So What is This Red Velvet Rope Policy?
It’s basically a filtration system that only lets people into your life who energize & inspire you. Pretty cool, right?
Do you already have one in place? Do you know what values, qualities and characteristics people possess who you want to have in your life?
If you don’t, it’s about time that we get started and set it up.
If you haven’t done so yet, download the Communication Excellence Workbook and create your own Red Velvet Rope Policy.
Did you create your Red Velvet Rope Policy yet? If not, go back to step 1 and do it. You will only get the most out of this whole process if you follow it step by step and actually do the work.
Obviously, before you can reach out to somebody, you need to know who you want to reach out to. This is where you put together your outreach list.
I always recommend that my clients start with looking at their Red Velvet Rope Policy when creating their outreach list. This makes perfect sense so you don’t end up with a lot of Zombies on your list.
Remember, your goal is not to work with everyone who has money in their bank account but to exclusively work with people who energize & inspire you.
Only then will you absolutely love what you do and as a beautiful side effect, charge higher fees, earn more money and live a life on your own terms. Never forget about this.
How I Find Energizing & Inspiring Clients
So what can you find out about your target market based on your RVRP? Let me explain it to you based on my example.
My ideal clients value freedom, family and friends more than anything else. They love to talk to people, spend time with friends and trusted associates and love traveling. My ideal clients are optimistic, energetic, positive, talk about the future and are leaders instead of victims of situations, they take charge of their own life instead of letting life happen to them.
By the way, if this sounds like you and you are serious about growing your business, let’s talk about how I can help you.
Now, how do you create a demographic from this kind of people so you can actually find them? It took me a while to figure this out.
I have decided to work with people who make a difference in the world, change makers, rebels and, how Steve Jobs called them, “The crazy ones”, people who are entrepreneurs, business owners and leaders who make the world a better place.
I find most of my ideal clients through LinkedIn groups that are catering to these change makers. They are usually smaller groups and not that easy to find. I had to ask many people before I found the groups that are not targeting everyone but the ones with the ambitions to make a difference and make change happen.
Join the Business Revolution Network on LinkedIn to meet likeminded entrepreneurs and business leaders in Switzerland.
I also find them by reaching out to people who are serving the same target market as I do and then identify if they are within my Red Velvet Rope Policy. If they are, that usually means that their audience is as well.
This step is absolutely crucial to build your relationship with the CEO. Most people skip this step and that’s why they never hear back from the decision makers. Doing this part properly can mean an increase in response rate of up to 1000%.
The more you know about the CEO you want to reach out to, the easier it is for you to create a compelling message. It’s not just about knowing more but it’s actually about being more certain that she is inside your Red Velvet Rope Policy. Think about it for a moment.
You have listed the name of a CEO of a fast growing clean tech startup in Switzerland. You do your research and find out that she is also on the board of directors from another organization that enables children in Malaysia to have a fair chance for education.
Furthermore, you find out that she has been speaking about new innovative clean technologies at last year’s TEDxZurich.
By watching her talk, you see the sparkle in her eyes when she talks about the topic she is most passionate about and you glance energy, excitement, optimism and hope between the lines.
If you care about the environment, have a social vein, love TED talks and value energetic, optimistic and hopeful people, you most probably got a lot of reassurance from your research that she would be an ideal client and will feel much more comfortable to reach out to her.
It’s no longer a drag to reach out. Instead, you don’t see any other way because you have a burning desire to get to know her.
You don’t want to sell her your service any longer. Instead, you want to help her achieve her mission and get her closer to her vision. The best way to do that just happens to be by working with you.
Do you see the massive difference? Do you now see what the Red Velvet Rope Policy does for this entire process?
2 Things You Must Know About the CEO to Connect Successfully
The two most important things you need to know about the CEO are her needs and desires. You need to know what pain points she has and what drives her.
What keeps her up at night? What is she struggling with? On the other hand, what does she want to achieve? What are her goals? What does she want to move towards?
If you know exactly what these key points are, you know what to talk about. You know exactly what you have to offer to make it easy for the CEO to say “Yes”.
It’s important that you know and not that you guess. If you are just guessing, you may not communicate effectively. Really drill it down to the most pressing pain points she has and the biggest goals she wants to achieve.
4. How to Communicate Most Effectively With the CEO
“So tell me, what do you do?” Have you ever been asked that question? Of course you have, probably every single day.
How do most people respond to that? They say “I’m a consultant” or “I’m a business development executive” or “I’m an entrepreneur”.
I used to be one of these people.
How to Effectively Talk About What You Do
I recently wrote about how to effectively talk about what you do without sounding confusing or bland.
The most simple way to increase the effectiveness of the answer to “What do you do?” is to talk about who you help and what you help them achieve.
Very recently, one of my coaching clients told me a great story how he got an introduction to a decision maker because of this.
My client wants to build a Venture Capital business to fund clean tech startups in Europe, so he is looking for a partner who has been in Venture Capital for a while.
After establishing his Who & Do What Statement, he went out and talked to a few friends, mentioning what he wants to do.
Before we started working together, it used to be a complex assembling of industry jargon that only people within his profession could understand. Then, after we started working with each other his Who & Do What Statement sounded like this. “I help Venture Capitalists select and lead ventures with the highest potential.”
One of his friends is working in a completely different field and they met for coffee. My client explained him who he helps and what he helps them achieve. Because it was so easy to understand, his friend immediately told him that he knows somebody in Venture Capital and put them in contact with each other.
He now has the chance to build trust with the Venture Capitalist over time and then make sales offers that are proportionate to the amount of trust he has earned. More on that later.
3 Reasons Why a CEO Hires You (or Why He Doesn’t)
Once you know how to talk about what you do without sounding confusing or bland, you can move a step further.
How do you think people decide which product to buy or whom to hire as a consultant? Do you think it’s because that product or person has the most features, experience or skills?
I recently wrote about this topic in Why People Hire You (or Why They Don’t).
There are a few factors involved.
1. You Are Relevant
First, you have to be relevant. If the CEO wants a new social media strategy but you offer him process optimization, you are most probably not relevant to him. We already covered this above in how to talk about what you do.
Once you effectively communicate your Who & Do What Statement, the CEO knows if you are relevant or not.
2. You Talk Benefits
The next step is benefits. If you effectively communicate the benefits that the CEO gets and they match with what he truly wants to bring into his life and business, you are a huge step closer to get hired by the CEO. Let me show you how this works.
I help my clients to grow their business by connecting with decision makers and building a network of influencers.
However, what they truly want are the benefits like being more fulfilled, being happier, earn more money, have a more stable income, feel less stressed, have more energy when spending time with their family, do something that makes a difference and connect to their higher cause.
These are all benefits my clients get when they work with me.
The result (growing their business) is what they tell me they want. However, the deep rooted benefits of that result is what my clients really want.
The same goes for your business. The result is what will help the CEO determine if you are relevant to him. However, what will actually drive his decision to hire you or not is if you clearly articulate the benefits he gets in a compelling way.
3. Your Personality
The last of the three factors that play into this equation is your personality. Your personal brand. Simon Sinek said it perfectly. “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I couldn’t agree more.
If you don’t know why you do what you do, how is the CEO supposed to identify with your Why? By the way, making a profit is not a higher cause, it’s a result.
I do what I do because I believe you are meant to do meaningful work you love with people who inspire you. You are meant to only work with ideal clients and not with Zombies. You are meant to do work that makes a difference, work you can be proud of and work you truly love from the bottom of your heart.
This is why my ideal clients hire me if I’m relevant to them and talk to their benefits. Your Why is one of the core reasons why people hire you.
In the Communication Excellence Workbook, you put all these three pieces into action.
5. How to Get Introductions and Referrals to CEOs
The most effective and easiest way to get in front of the CEO is through an introduction or referral from somebody you know.
Have you ever received a referral from somebody? Have you ever been introduced? Then you know what I’m talking about.
When you get the connection through somebody you know already, the trust this person has with the CEO is transferred to you.
This is crucial because it means that it does not necessarily depend on how well you know the referrer but on how well the referrer knows the CEO. This opens up many new opportunities.
How to Find Opportunities for Introductions and Referrals
Is it easier for you to get to know the CEO’s gatekeeper or one of his directs? Probably.
What if you get to know one of her trusted associates and this person makes an introduction? Do you think that will increase the likelihood that you will actually get to talk to the CEO?
There are plenty of ways to find introduction or referral partners. Don’t just give up if none of your LinkedIn contacts is connected to her.
Here is where your research about the CEO, that you have hopefully done before moving on to that step, comes into play again.
First, you obviously want to find out if you share any connections on LinkedIn. What groups is she part of that you also know people in? Do you know any of the alumni who graduated from the same school as she did?
These are all places you can look for people you have in common.
If there are no connections in your network who can make an introduction or referral, you may want to think about how you can get to know the people who surround the CEO.
6. How to Successfully Approach CEOs Without Being Annoying
Do you see how important it is to do the foundational work first, before you start reaching out?
Now we have arrived at the step where we get into executing and actually reaching out to make the connection happen.
If you have found somebody who can introduce or refer you to the CEO, use that strategy. If not, we will now look into how to reach out directly.
Most people make horrible mistakes in their first outreach attempts. I see this every week when I receive a long sales message from people I have never talked to before who want to sell me their stuff.
I also see it when I start working with new clients and they show me the messages they have sent out until then.
There are a few principles you can follow to increase the odds of a response dramatically.
1. Don’t Ask Questions
When you reach out to the CEO for the very first time, don’t ask questions, not even one.
When you ask a question, you put pressure on the recipient to respond to you. However, you want to make the barrier to entry for the first communication as low as possible.
Many of my coaching clients use LinkedIn to reach out to decision makers. Sending a connection request is usually the first step.
If you ask a question during that step, you already make it hard for the CEO to say “Yes” to that. He has to think about what to say and will probably put it on his “unread” or “to do” pile, which we both know, will never actually get done.
Even if you reach out to somebody for the first time by email or with an InMail on LinkedIn, you don’t want to ask any questions.
I have gathered a lot of data and best practices over the past years. It shows that your odds for a response are higher if you don’t ask any questions. This may be counterintuitive but it’s a fact.
2. Keep it Short and on Topic
The longer the message, the lower the odds of a response are when you reach out to the CEO for the first time. Remember that people are busy?
Also, don’t make it all about you. I see this happen over and over again when my clients show me the messages they have sent before we start working together. Most sentences start with “I”.
It’s not about you, it’s about the CEO.
Don’t go on and on about who you are and what you do. You can include your Who & Do What Statement in one, short sentence.
3. Don’t Make This Your Only Chance
Many people think the first outreach attempt is the only one they have. They think it’s their only chance to make a huge impression.
This is true if you are sending a long sales message or ask plenty of questions. However, it’s nonsense if you follow the principles I outline here.
If you send a simple “Thank you” or “Congratulations” message, you can always follow up even if you don’t get a response to that message.
As mentioned before, if you send such a message instead of a sales pitch, you are actually more likely to get a response.
Think of your outreach strategy as a marketing campaign. Before you ever pitch anything, you want to get to know the CEO and build trust over time. You get to know the CEO by providing value while keeping the barrier to entry to respond to you low.
If you lay this out like a marketing campaign over the coming weeks and months and have 20-50 people on your list you constantly follow up with by adding value to their life, you will eventually get to talk to many of them, get hired and even receive introductions to other CEOs and influential people.
7. How to Build Trust With the CEO
Once you have your outreach strategy in place, you want to develop the relationship with the CEO and build trust.
People do business with people they like and trust, so this makes perfect sense.
Before you can ever make sales offers, you need to establish enough trust in the relationship. If you do that, you can make sales offers that are proportionate to the amount of trust you have earned. That’s what will get you hired.
There are three highly effective ways that I use when working with my clients to build trust and credibility.
1. Connect the CEO With People Who Add Value
Your network is one of the biggest assets you have in business and life. If you share your network and introduce people to each other, you increase the equity of this asset exponentially.
Just imagine you introduce an investor to a startup owner and they end up working with each other. You create huge value for both of them and they won’t stop talking about you for years to come. It does not have to be about business exclusively.
Introduce people who you think would get along well with each other because they share the same values or passions. Maybe they both love playing golf or tennis. Maybe they are both hiking or heli-skiing fanatics. Or maybe they live in the same town and are both entrepreneurs who make a difference.
Don’t overthink this. Find people in your network that you could potentially introduce to the CEO and make it happen if both add value to each others lives.
I recently wrote about this in How to Create Massive Value for People in Your Network.
2. Share Highly Valuable Information With the CEO
Another way to build trust and credibility with your network is to share relevant and timely information.
What if you had information that could get the CEO ahead of his competition or help him grow his business? What if you had information that could inspire and energize the CEO?
The great news is that you do have all of these information. You just need to put in the effort to find and organize it.
Read more about the details in 7 Things You Can Share With People in Your Network.
3. Connect With the CEO on an Emotional Level
How many times in the past week have you heard a sincere thank you or congratulations? Probably not as many times as you deserve.
We live in a world where we lack compassion. We have all the stuff we can possibly imagine and it’s all out there for you to buy. However, we don’t need more stuff, we need more humanity.
What has the CEO done that inspired you? What has she done that you could congratulate her on or thank her for?
I wrote about this in How to Make Your Keep in Touch Strategy More Human.
8. How to Effectively Sell Yourself to the CEO
At this stage, you have already built some trust with the CEO. Maybe you have emailed back and forth, maybe you have talked on the phone or even met in person.
Remember, the CEO most probably won’t hire you the first time he finds out about you. He will hire you if you are relevant, speak to his benefits, are inside his Red Velvet Rope Policy and when the timing is right. These factors all need to be aligned to make your offer most effective.
You are relevant to him, otherwise you would not have reached out. You speak to his benefits because you have identified and are able to articulate them. You are also inside his Red Velvet Rope Policy because he is within yours.
You have built trust over time by keeping in touch and sharing who you know, what you know and how you feel. Now, it’s time to test if the timing is right.
You need to identify how much trust you have already built with him to determine what kind of sales offer you can make.
If you have never talked to the CEO by now, he probably won’t be ready to spend thousands of Swiss Francs in order to hire you. You may have to offer something that has a lower barrier to entry.
I always work with my coaching clients on developing a free and at least one low-price offer.
It’s much easier for the decision maker to say “Yes” to this. This could be a free assessment, a 20-minute consulting call or something else that is easier to commit to for the CEO.
One of my clients, who wants to build his Venture Capital business, offers a low-price one hour consulting call to determine if the Venture Capitalist is asking the right questions that will increase the odds of picking the ventures with the highest potential.
Another one of my clients, who helps telecom businesses increase customer retention, offers a low-price assessment where he analyzes the internal processes in the customers service department and provides a report with specific action steps.
Once the CEO has said “Yes” to the low-price offer, it is much easier to move him closer and closer to your higher priced services. Another huge benefit of doing this is that it exponentially builds trust. You can actually show the CEO that you are the best person to hire and over-deliver on his expectations.
How I Build Relationships With Decision Makers
Before I started my own business, I used to work in business development at one of the largest recruitment companies in the world where I was developing the business for two different regions in Switzerland.
When I opened up my second region, there were no existing clients, so I had to start from scratch.
After figuring out which organizations I wanted to have as my clients, I started doing research. I stumbled upon one of the directors and reached out to him. He was one of those guys who you never reach by phone and who receives 300 emails per day.
It took me a while to get through to him but I stayed persistent and patient. It paid off. After several attempts to reach him and after several more to meet with him, we finally met in the cafeteria of his company.
I liked the guy from the beginning. His first words were “Just because you look like a young President with your red tie, I won’t do business with you.”
He said it not in a rude way but in a way that made me smile because I love people who are direct.
We went on discussing what he needed. The most important information I got were the things between the lines. For example, I knew that if he was hiring somebody, that person better had to perform fast and enjoy a direct communication.
I was very direct with him as well when we discussed pricing and I told him that my prices are non-negotiable, take it or leave it. He seemed to like my direct communication style.
We went on to sign a one year contact and he became my most profitable and most favorite client, catapulting my new region into the top ranks.
In order get this director as my client, I followed the exact process that I have outlined in this article. I follow it every day to reach out to decision makers and influencers in my own business as well as coaching my clients in doing this.
Remember that trust is not built in an instant. Like all great things, it takes time. Persistence and patience.
To make the most out of the steps outlined above, download the Communication Excellence Workbook and increase the effectiveness of your communication when reaching out to CEOs.
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