I had someone recently ask me the following question:
“Let’s say that you, Ivan, go back 30 years and think about where you were early in your career. If you didn’t know someone personally and you really admired them and wanted to take a shot at reaching them, how would you do that?”
The short answer to that question is – “I wouldn’t reach out to them directly. I would find someone that knows them and I would get an introduction.” That’s exactly how I met Harvey Mackay, author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, back in the 1990’s.
Getting an introduction from a trusted third party smooths the path to meeting someone, especially if that “someone” is well-known or very successful. In the 90’s my business was still small and I hadn’t written any best selling books so very few people knew anything about BNI or who I was. Still, I wanted to meet Harvey Mackay and ask if he would contribute a piece to a book I was working on at the time. He had written about networking and I thought he would make a good contributor to my book. The problem was that with no name recognition, I couldn’t get past the assistant no matter how many times I tried.
So, I started asking colleagues if they knew Harvey or if they knew anyone that might possibly know Harvey. I asked everyone I knew. I asked, and I asked, and I asked. I generally didn’t ask strangers (or people I just met) because they didn’t know me and would most likely be unwilling to introduce someone they didn’t know to Harvey – a good contact that they did know.
It took the better part of a year. But one day, I went to another state in the U.S. as part of a book tour that I was doing for one of my first books. A BNI member in that city asked the local Director if he could pick me up at the airport and take me to my hotel. I told the Director that I’d love to meet the member personally. We spent some time on the drive and he asked me many questions about my book and about the BNI organization as a whole. He came to the event I did that week and asked if I’d like a ride back to the airport the next day. I happily agreed.
On the ride, we continued our previous conversation. As we got closer to the airport, he thanked me for all the suggestions I had given on how to build a powerful personal network and he then asked, “is there anything I can do for you?” Well, as I said above, I had “asked, and asked, and asked, if people knew Harvey” and so I felt that I got to know this individual well enough to throw that out there. So, I said to him, “I’ve been trying to connect with Harvey Mackay and I haven’t had any luck. I just can’t get past his assistant. You wouldn’t happen to know someone that knows Harvey, would you?” He said, “Sure, I know his assistant pretty well. In fact, I have her mobile number!”
All I can say is that I sat their absolutely dumbfounded. I said, “You have her number! How do you know her?” He then went on to explain that he always volunteers to drive visiting authors from the airport because it is a great way to get them in a car for an hour and learn from them. That’s why he volunteered to drive me. He told me that he talked to her many times when he agreed to drive Harvey from the airport the previous year. He asked me why I wanted to connect with Harvey (in other words, he wanted to qualify me before he passed it on to his trusted contact). I told him that I wanted to ask Harvey if he would be willing to contribute to a book I was writing called “Masters of Networking.” I said Harvey had written a book on the topic of networking and he’d be such a great contributor I really wanted him in my book. The driver said he’d be happy to reach out to Harvey’s assistant and explain what I’m doing and ask her to contact me.
Guess who called me the next week? No, not the assistant. . . Harvey Mackay. What a great conversation that was! Harvey is an icon in the business world and I was so honored to talk to him. It was a fantastic conversation. I learned that he absolutely “walks the talk” when it comes to networking. He was masterful in getting to learn about me and about the book I was doing. In fact, he agreed to provide a contribution to the book. I got to know Harvey better over the years. He spoke at one of our BNI conventions and I had a chance to talk to him on many other occasions.
Some people may think that it all happened just because “I asked.” But I would say that is only part of the story. Yes, I asked. But I asked people who I knew and who I believe trusted me. More importantly, they knew I wouldn’t betray that trust by doing something other than what I said my intended purpose was. People don’t want to give a referral to someone that just wants to sell something to an important contact they have (unless that contact is asking for that kind of connection).
So, if I were to go back 30 years and think about where I was early on in my career and I wanted to meet someone I really admired, how would I do that? That’s easy. I’d ask people who trust me for the referral. It worked for me then and it still works for me today.
About Dr. Ivan Misner
Called the “father of modern networking” by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is also the Founder & Chief Visionary Officer of BNI (www.bni.com), the world’s largest business networking organization. His latest book, Who’s in Your Room, The Secret to Creating Your Best Life, is available at bookstores and at Amazon.com.