First off, you must convince yourself that it is doable – whether you have the ‘connections’ or not.
Now, you know that getting a mutual connection to give a referral is the easiest way to be granted access to influential people.
But what if, like me, you don’t have those high-level connections, or there’s zero chance you know somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody? (Think Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Aliko Dangote, for example, and you’d understand).
If you don’t take those influential people off that unattainable pedestal to realise that they’re humans – and not gods, then you would self-sabotage your chances and will be defeated even before you make the effort to contact them.
So first thing’s first: realise that it IS possible to get the nod from people who are beyond your circles of Influence – people you’re unlikely to meet or be introduced to.
The second thing you’d need to do is to become super-intentional in your communication. More on this later.
And the final thing you’d need is patience. Lots of patience, and a thick skin for rejections. Know that even with the best-crafted content that ticks all the boxes, beginning by addressing the WIIFM (what’s-in-it-for-me) angle, you’d receive rejections or worse, no responses at all (which I’ve experienced). And that’s fine. Brace yourself for what’s to come and prod on. Getting a favourable response is also a game of numbers, so expect an 8-10% success rate. Therefore, if you need a ‘yes’ for 10 top business personalities, aim to send 80-100 messages. If you’re unwilling to do the work, then don’t begin the process.
But if you’re willing to give it a go (the worst that could happen is nothing), and if you’re determined to coax the support of influential people, then below are the three steps that work. I’ve used them in the last two years when I sought to interview top-notch business leaders for my book. I also adhered to the process when I needed to contact many of them to provide advance reviews of my communication book, ‘Influence and Thrive’, which was published earlier in February.
Step #1: Do your research
You need to first find out as much information as possible. Start by using the search function on LinkedIn since most professionals have profiles there and are relatively active.
If your recipients are not present on LinkedIn, try Instagram, Twitter or Facebook. Find out their preferred social media platforms (where they’re most active) and then follow them. Engage with them by making thoughtful comments or contributions, and not the usual ‘That’s great!’, ‘Good job!’, ‘Well done!’, etc.
If you have the luxury of time – for example, three to six months, connect with them early.
But if your mission is time-critical (as mine was) and you’d like their support in one-two months, connect with them as soon as you can on social media. Then write a short, compelling message and politely ask for their permission to send some more information. I’ve found LinkedIn to be the most effective social media platform for connecting with business leaders, with the highest response rate.
In your message, always allow powerful business people to decline graciously. This takes some guts but immediately signals that you’re a professional, and many would appreciate your courage, even when declining your request. For me, my request came at an inopportune time: It was during the lockdown, and many leaders were busy leading their companies when the pandemic hit. Realistically, some just didn’t have the time to read my book and write a review. But they were kind to explain why they couldn’t get involved, and virtually all who so declined wished me well and applauded me on the commendable project. A few of those also wanted me to notify them when the book became published.
For those who you believe would most likely be interested in supporting you, do your research early. Find out what topics resonate with them. Watch their videos; read their articles/books, and find out the angle you can use in your pitch to get their attention.
Then proceed to write that first compelling ‘pitch’ – which is what I tackle next.
Step #2: Craft the ‘pitch’
Below’s a true account to inspire you to persevere when you’re writing to powerful people.
I began writing my book in stealth mode in 2018, but before that project, I’d connected with Mark Bowden, a world-renowned expert in body language and human behaviour, and a professional speaker. I had interacted with him on LinkedIn for about a year. I appreciated Mark’s incredible knowledge that he freely shared, and had enjoyed our exchange of ideas. So after interacting for months and exchanging ideas on nonverbal communication, I casually mentioned in a private LinkedIn message that I was writing a business communication book. At that time, I hadn’t told anyone about the book, and save for my immediate family, siblings and parents, no one knew.
What happened next was unexpected.
Mark offered to write the foreword of my book and to endorse it! I was astonished and immediately thanked him for his gracious offer. That offer was spurred by our professional exchanges on LinkedIn. My content and discussions on the platform before that time made Mark’s offer possible.
So, when I was ready to send the advance reader’s copy for review, a year later, Mark upheld his offer, read the book at lightning speed, and wrote an impressive foreword that wowed me and all who read the book. It’s the reason his name is on the front cover, and his foreword takes pride of place at the beginning of the book.
That opportunity wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t ‘invested’ hundreds of hours and effort on the platform engaging with top professionals and contributing my thoughts on effective communication.
That’s the power of consistently displaying your writing skills.
Now that you’re inspired to write that compelling ‘pitch’, how do you become strategic in your messaging?
As mentioned at the beginning, know that influential people are humans, albeit very busy people, so there’re two points to note to stand a chance of being noticed:
a) Get to the point immediately
Remember why you needed to do your research? When writing your ‘pitch’, refer to some important fact your recipient will appreciate. For example, if you read his/her book, listened to him/her speak or watched his/her video, mention one key point that resonated with you and tie that in your request:
I read your insightful book, ‘X’ and appreciated your stress on continuous learning in leadership effectiveness. As a startup founder, I found your lesson on…..
I attended the Y event where you spoke about the future of fintech in the ‘new’ normal…
Watching your TEDx talk, ‘Y’, you opened my eyes to the need to…
Important people like to know that their work makes an impact on others. So, highlight their impact at the very beginning and you will coax them to read your message to the end.
After all, who doesn’t like to be admired for their hard-earned achievements?
b) Address the WIIFM (what’s-in-it-for-me) premise
For whatever support/request/partnership you’re proposing, tie it to the value you would bring to them:
You are one of the most respected leaders in the financial services sector. Therefore, we are honoured to invite you to collaborate with us on Project Y. Your input will ensure that your impact is extended beyond…
It would be an honour to invite you to speak at our annual Y conference. As the keynote speaker, your profile will be promoted across all our platforms with your latest…
The WIIFM hook should be clearly stated. Note that not all benefits need to be financial rewards to be attractive – and for some business people, money is not a chief motivator. Moreover, some influential people might value prestige more, while other benefits that align with their pet projects or movements they’re passionate about might seal the deal.
Above all, prioritise clarity and state that you’d welcome more discussions on the topic.
Step #3: List the call-to-action (CTA)
Don’t be ambiguous in your messaging.
So don’t write: ‘I would be delighted to tell you more about the proposed partnership‘ – when your recipient has no clue of what you want him/her to do.
State the CTA in a short sentence, preferably not exceeding 20 words:
I would be honoured if you would graciously read an advance copy of my book.
(Next, state why).
I believe that your insights as a leader of X, a thriving corporation/organisation, will be invaluable to the book’s audience comprising professionals and business people.
(Then end pleasantly).
If you find this opportunity interesting, I would be happy to email you more information.
If you would rather decline at this moment due to other commitments, I would understand. Whatever your decision, I would appreciate your timely response.
Thank you for your kind consideration.
The beauty about being explicit in the CTA is that you’d get a decisive ‘yes’ or ‘no’ and will thus know how to proceed. The time you’d save sending multiple follow-up messages/emails can best be served by contacting other influential people to support your initiative.
What I discovered when I’ve approached influential people over the years is that being a persuasive writer gets you noticed quickly because superb writing is difficult to pull off.
(Straight out of university, my first role involved a lot of writing to top leaders, diplomats, and executives. And I can categorically state that my writing skills have improved tremendously over the last 20 years through practice and discipline).
Exceptional writing skills notwithstanding, when writing to influential people be ready for inevitable rejections.
But never give up. It doesn’t matter if you need to craft 100 customised messages/pitches/letters/emails to those powerful people to get one ‘yes’.
Sometimes, all you need is the one ‘yes’ to open those doors for you.
Therefore, increase your chances of success by learning from my experiences (and my rejections). Use the three steps highlighted in this article to capture the attention and support of those influential people beyond the confines of your circles.
They’re human after all, with human motivations and emotions.
Go on. You can do it.
Do you know?
I’ve written my first business communication book! It took me two years and four months from the day I began writing impulsively, to the month it was published (February 2021). The book tackles nonverbal communication, public speaking, and business writing for two target audiences: professionals, entrepreneurs, and business leaders in the first group, and corporations and organisations in the second group.
Grab your copy today and read the book. Then email me your thoughts on how to intend to apply the foolproof techniques I recommend in the book to get the results you deserve. I’d also appreciate your reviews on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Waterstones, or whatever retailer you bought the book from.
The book, Influence and Thrive: How Professionals, Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, & Corporations Use Effective Communication To Get Results, is available on Amazon, in Kindle, paperback, and hardback formats, at Barnes & Noble, on Kobo, at Waterstones, and in other international outlets.
Also, check out the Influence and Thrive website for all information about the book, including the trailer, advance reviews and how to contact me.
For Nigerian residents:
You can buy a special colour ebook/PDF directly from the website and pay in naira. (I believe this colour version is better than Amazon’s Kindle format because it retains the original stylistic elements from the book designer). The payment platform is powered by Paystack (now a member of the Stripe family) so your financial transactions are secure.
Soon, I’d be supplying books to selected bookstores in Nigeria who’d ensure nationwide delivery, so you’d be able to receive copies quicker.
Over to you:
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N.B: First image is courtesy of Stuart Miles via freedigitalphotos.net. Second image is courtesy of Stocksnap via Pixabay. Third image is courtesy of 3D Animation Production Company via Pixabay. Last image is courtesy of Gerd Altmann via Pixabay.