25 Tips to Network With Top CEOs
Successful CEOs know their success depends in part on meeting new people who bring value.
15+ min read
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You network with other business leaders to exchange ideas and get advice, like mistakes to avoid or how to manage your time more effectively. Networking is how you meet professionals, clients and investors who can help your business grow. Networking is crucial for your business to thrive.
You can take your business to the next level by connecting with top CEOs. Seems impossible? Not with these 25 tips.
1. Make sure you’re connecting with the right CEOs.
The main goal is to find those CEOs who inspire and motivate you, believe in what you believe in, share similar values and know your industry. It helps if your personalities click.
To meet the CEO in-person start following industry influencers on social media, ask for recommendations from people you trust and join relevant organizations.
If you’ve met several CEOs in the past determine with which you’d to build relationships. Were they approachable and easy to talk to? If so, it’s much easier to build a relationship with that CEO then the one who was guarded and uninterested in the conversation. Focus on building deep and meaningful relationships with a select few CEOs.
2. Do your homework.
Even after you’ve narrowed down your list of CEOs that you would like to connect with, learn what exactly their business does. You need to know what their needs and desires are, along with what they’re passionate about. Follow them on social media, check out the interviews they’ve given and read articles they’ve written to determine if you have a common interest that could lead to something big.
3. Plan out your year.
How much time do you spend planning and researching vacations? There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, planning a vacation leads to greater happiness. Why not apply this concept when networking with CEOs?
You can’t attend just any conference or networking event at the last minute and hope to bump into a top CEO. They announce their attendance to high-profile events well in-advance. Make time in your calendar to research specific events for the upcoming year where you’ll know that the right CEOs will be attending. Book your tickets and plan your trip before the event sells-out.
4. Be proactive.
It’s highly unlikely that a CEO is going to approach you. Instead, you need to be proactive and approach them. It could be engaging with them on social media or sending a quick email. Introducing yourself at an event can be nerve-racking but is necessary to start building a relationship.
Be persistent but not pushy when reaching out to CEOs. Be flexible and respect their time. They may not have the time to meet you face-to-face, but they can squeeze-in a 10-minute phone call.
5. Increase your visibility.
Why would a CEO want to talk or meet with you? It’s become you’re the bomb.The best way to prove this is by building-up your reputation as an industry thought leader. Author articles on your blog, as well as pieces in industry publications. Publish your own ebook or launch an educational course. Speak at industry events, mentor others, and volunteer in your community.
There’s another perk or establishing yourself as an influencer; people will want to connect with you. This means that eventually people will reach out to, instead of you having to constantly reach out to others.
6. Ask for references or information.
Let’s say that you are able to get in touch with a CEO. It’s tempting to make your sales pitch or ask if they’ll schedule a conference call or meeting. That’s asking a lot during your initial contact with a CEO.
These are very busy people. They don’t have time to drop what they’re doing to meet with you, but that doesn’t mean that they’re unapproachable. It just means that because they only have a limited amount of time, they don’t waste it on unproductive calls or meetings.
Most CEOs are friendly and will willingly to lend a hand. Instead of asking for a meeting — ask the CEO for references or information. This doesn’t eat-up too much of their time and they actually enjoy relying this type of knowledge. As an added perk — this breaks the ice and gets your foot in the door so that you can eventually ask for something bigger, like that coveted face-to-face meeting.
7. Connect with them personally and emotionally.
Don’t get enamored by successful CEOs — they are people just like you with emotions, families and hobbies. They are passionate about their favorite football team, band or political party. When you’re able to connect with them on a personal level, you’ll be more interesting to them.
At the same time, you aren’t going to have all of the same interests. Maybe you don’t see eye-to-eye politically or culturally. But, maybe your both parents and have children who play soccer. That’s a pretty solid connection that you can build upon. Be yourself and let the conversation happen organically. You’ll never know where it can lead.
8. Create an unforgettable brand.
CEOs interact with hundreds, if not thousands, of people. If you don’t stand out you’re going to be just another face in the crowd. That’s why establishing an memorable brand is a necessity.
To really stand out you need a unique story and be able to tell the story of your business. What drove you to start your business? Let your personality shine through in your appearance. If you’re a fan of music, then wear your favorite rock tees under a sports coat. Purchase some ties with the logo of your favorite bands (unless you’re networking with the CEO at a black-tie event). It’s these small touches that set you apart from everyone else, which in turn will make you unforgettable.
9. Know your industry inside and out.
CEOs within your industry are up-to-speed on the latest news and emerging trends. To grab and maintain their attention you also need to know the industry inside and out. Subscribe to industry publications. Sign-up for a program like Feedly so that you can follow leading RSS feeds, and set-up Google Alerts so that you’re receive up-to-date news. Read information determined on pre-selected keywords that are relevant to your industry.
10. Audit your existing network.
Take stock of your existing network. This includes friends, family, acquaintances, alumni, mentors and influencers who can refer or introduce you to top CEOs.
If the executive already knows and trusts your contact, they’ll be more receptive to what you have to say. It may not lead to a meeting but they are likelier to read your email, take your phone call or have a five-minute chat at an event.
11. Don’t be annoying.
Don’t take that the wrong way. I vividly remember early in my career a pretty important and well-known marketer at a conference. I just rambled on-and-on that when I walked away — I felt like the biggest goof on the planet.
In retrospect, I don’t think that I was too annoying but I wasted everyone’s time. Instead of making a brief introduction, I kept them from doing more important things — like networking with others or preparing for their presentation. Whether you’re sending a cold email or meeting the CEO for the first time, here’s a couple of pointers to remember so that you aren’t “that” person:
Don’t ask too many questions: This puts the CEO on the spot. In fact, during your first interaction you may not want to ask any questions. Instead, it could just be a friendly greeting or congratulating them on a recent accomplishment.
Keep the interaction short and on track: Remember, CEOs don’t have too much free time on their hands. Keep your emails and introductions short and concise. Try to keep the focus on how you can help the CEO and limit your messages to one sentence.
Don’t give-up, but don’t be pushy: You emailed a CEO and they never responded. It happens. Don’t hesitate in reaching out to them again. Just make sure that you don’t go overboard and email them every day.
12. Respect their time.
As I just alluded to — senior executives value their limited time. If you do manage to grab a minute of their time use it wisely. Get directly to the point and don’t keep them longer then you have to. I suggest practicing your elevator pitch in advance.
You want to quickly spark interest in what you do. Use a scheduling tool like Calendar. This way if you can lead a call or meeting, you eliminate those lengthy email threads trying to set-up a date and time. Share your availability with them and then select when they’re free. Calendar will then add the event to everyone’s calendar.
13. Become besties with their EA.
When I was younger I spent one summer doing maintenance at a school. I quickly learned that the most important employee there as the secretary. If I needed to change my schedule, call out, or schedule a meeting with the principal I had to talk to her first. Suffice to say, I was always polite and respectable to her. The same is true with executive assistants.
Unless you obtain their direct cell phone number or private email address — chances are you’re going to have go through the CEO’s EA. Alas, before you get in touch with the executive, there usually has to be another connection.
Instead of trying to bypass the EA — connect with them like you would the CEO. Be polite, professional and personable so that you can strike up a rapport. You can then pick their brain for tips on how to better interact with the CEO so that you get the most out of the interaction.
14. Reach out later in the day.
Some would suggest that you reach out to the CEO first thing in the morning before they get swamped. This action may be interfering with their morning routine. This means if they’re responsive your email or answering your call you’re distracting them from planning out their day.
Instead, wait to contact them later in the day. Most of us spend this time on soft tasks like organizing our work-space and cleaning out our inboxes. Don’t worry if you think it’s a bad time. If they’re busy, they just won’t respond. Just leave a brief message that piques their interest. Hopefully, that will be enough to have them return your call or email.
15. Offer your help.
Believe it or not, CEOs aren’t experts in everything. If there’s a way that you can help them become more efficient or productive, go ahead and share your expert advice. Besides sharing your expertise — pass along tips that can make their lives easier, like travel hacks or apps that can automate daily repetitive tasks.
16. Harness the power of social media.
Social media is one of the easiest to start connecting with top executives. Whether if it’s through a connection on LinkedIn or joining a social media group related to a specific niche, start networking online. However, don’t be that person who is only there pushing their latest blog post or making a sales pitch. Instead, use social media to — well — socialize with CEOs.
This means asking questions or advice, discussing important industry issues, passing along the latest industry developments, and sharing success and failure stories. Make sure that you start following and interacting with industry leaders. These are the authority figures in your industry — such as CEOs or executives you can introduce you to their CEO.
You can use tools like Buzzsumo, Followerwonk, or just a Google search to find leading influencers in your industry.
17. Join professional organizations.
Networking online is effective. It also takes less time to connect with CEOs. However, nothing beats face-to-face interactions. Face-to-face communication allows you to pick-up nonverbal cures, touch builds trust. Many things about you — personally — will give you a chance to show off your personality.
Put all of that together, and the CEO may like you. That may not sound important, but we do business with people we like. A face-to-face request is 34 time more successful than an email. Joining a professional organization can be one of the best ways to interact face-to-face with executives.
18. Don’t sell during the first meeting.
It’s one thing to sell your product or service to a small business owner. They’re typically a major player in the decision-making process involving their business. It’s another to try to sell to a CEO.
A business owner is often focused on other parts of the business, they’re usually not involved in this process. That means you’re wasting everyone’s time since they’ll refer you to someone else in their company. With that in mind, don’t focus on selling your products or services. Focus more on building a lasting relationship.
19. Create an agenda.
If you’ve landed a meeting with a CEO — then give yourself a well-deserved pat-on-the-back because that’s no easy accomplishment. Now make sure you have a productive meeting that’s not wasting anyone’s time. Create a well-thought-out agenda for your 30-minute meeting. This doesn’t have to be overly complex or lengthy. The agenda should simply define the purpose of the meeting, the items you want to discuss.
Calendar when and where the meeting will take place, and any actions you need to prepare for the meeting — such as brushing-up on the CEO’s business.
20. Be genuine.
Don’t try to pull a quick-one on a CEO. They can smell BS from a mile away. Remember, in order for them to reach this level they had to develop their EI and fine tune their intuition.
Don’t try to trick them or be someone who you’re not. Be genuine and listen to what they have to say. Don’t talke over them. Be yourself. Even if your personalities don’t mesh you’ll get points for being honest.
21. Dress to impress.
Whatevery your budget, invest in a solid wardrobe. Countless studies have confirmed being well-dressed makes a better first impression. You appear smarter and it influences how you feel about yourself.
As stated several times already, — executives time is limited. One way that you show that you’re aware of this is by “bundling” a meeting. Set up a group meeting or conference call with everyone you know who could add value for the CEO.
23. Guard your credibility.
Lea McLeod makes a very good point in an article in The Muse. If they are any flaws in your content, logic or numbers the CEO will point it out.
“When you’re working with numbers — and you will always be working with numbers when executives are involved — know your data and logic inside and out,” recommends McLeod. “Don’t risk destroying your credibility with bad numbers.”
If you don’t have an answer, promise to find out and get back.
24. Learn to read people.
Did you know that words only account fo seven percent of how we communicate? Body language makes-up 55 percent and voice tone (30 percent) represent the rest. That means that you really need to pay attention to body cues to make sure that the CEO is actually interested in what you’re saying.
Pay attention to their posture and movements.Leaning away is a clear indication of disinterest but leaning shows they like what they’re hearing. Listen your instincts about the emotional energy the CEO is giving off. Do you feel comfortable? Are they welcoming? Do their eyes make you feel like they’re caring?
If yes — then you may be connecting with them — or they’re a positive person that would make for a great contact. If you have a bad feeling about a specific CEO, you may not want to pursue that relationship any further.
25. Be thankful and follow-up.
It takes more than just one interaction to make a strong connection. Just like any other networking opportunity, you also have to be thankful and follow-up with the CEO.
After your first encounter email them thanking them for their time. To really want to stand out, send them a handwritten thank you note. If they shared some advice tell them know how it went when you implemented the advice. If they passed along their secret to closing more sales — and you implemented it and increased your sales — let them know how that advice positively impacted your business.
If all goes well and you feel good about this, schedule another call. You can make this easier by sharing you schedule with them via email.