Follow the person, not the position. “A client of mine was promoted to a very senior position in a large Fortune 100 company,” says Sobel. “She had been the deputy in her area and was now at the top. She told me that the day her promotion was announced in the newspapers, she got dozens of calls from suppliers wanting to do business with her. ‘Do you know what I says to each of them?’ she told me. ‘I asked them, “Where were you five years ago?”’”
Truly important people—those who are at the top of their careers in any field—have often brought their advisors and trusted suppliers along with them over many years. While it is not impossible to break into someone’s inner circle after they have achieved great success, it’s also not an easy task.
Build relationships with smart, motivated, interesting, and ambitious people, even if they’re not in an important job right now. Follow them throughout their careers. Before you know it, you’ll know some very important, powerful individuals who can buy your products and services.
Stretch yourself by building relationships with people quite different from you. Research shows that our natural tendency is to choose others to work with who are very similar to us. But the most creative teams, the teams that solve problems the fastest, are eclectic and combine people with very different backgrounds and personalities.
“Relationships with people who are just like you are easier,” notes Sobel. “You can quickly agree on most everything. We gravitate toward those relationships. But that can be a problem. Those people are less likely to push you and help you develop your fullest self. In contrast, a certain amount of stress and tension is productive. And, people who are different from you often connect you into whole new networks that will complement your own.
Make them curious. When someone is curious, they reach toward you. They want to learn more. They want to take the next step. When you evoke curiosity, you create a gravitational pull that is irresistible. Curiosity helps you get more of everything: more inquiries, more sales, more clients, more dates if you are single, more RSVPs for your party, and more friends.
“When I found myself halfway around the world, with only five minutes to convince a skeptical CEO that his company should hire me, this supernetworking law became my best friend,” says Sobel. “I had a 45-minute meeting scheduled with the CEO, but at the last minute, I was told he had to leave suddenly and could spare only five minutes. Yet, my host told me the sale depended on a firm nod from the top dog. I dropped the traditional sales process everyone is taught (‘ask good questions, uncover their issues’) and instead highlighted several risks his new strategy faced—risks his own people had not surfaced—and an overlooked opportunity I thought they were missing. He leaned across the table and was suddenly engaged, because I had evoked his curiosity. Needless to say, I got the sale, a major contract.
“Tell people what they need to know, not everything you know,” he advises. “Give brief answers to questions. Hint at things. Don’t lecture a prospective customer for 10 minutes when they ask you to describe your firm. Develop contrarian or unusual perspectives. Be seen as someone who has refreshing points of view. Say the unexpected and surprise the other person.”
Know the other person’s agenda and help them accomplish it. Supernetworkers know that the key to connecting with others is an understanding of what’s important to them. When you know what the other person’s priorities, needs, or goals are, you can figure out how to help them. And that’s where the rubber meets the road in building both professional and personal relationships. If you don’t know their agenda, you’re shooting in the dark or relying on some nebulous concept of charisma.
“Think about it,” says Sobel. “Have you tried to get an appointment with an executive who just wouldn’t make room in their schedule for you? The problem is actually very simple: You are not connecting with and showing how you are relevant to the other person’s agenda of critical priorities!
Every act of generosity creates a ripple. A collateral benefit of selfless generosity is that it draws others to you. It creates an attractive aura around you—even though that’s not the reason you do it. It is what characterizes the most influential people in history, individuals like Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Andrew Carnegie, and Martin Luther King, Jr.