Making Top Level Connections
Building a professional network is no small task. And I'm not talking about jumping on LinkedIn and blindly requesting connections to improve your profile appearance. That's casting a wide net without focus or intention. I'm talking about building meaningful connections with mutual benefits.

Famous American writer Robert Ingersoll once said, "We rise by lifting others." He may have lived a hundred years ago, but his sentiment still applies today. We do rise by lifting others. And when it comes to honest, professional networking - we would do well to start by remembering his words.

What do you have to offer others? As an executive or top-level manager, you have skills, experience, and connections. You can make introductions, publish online referrals, and offer links to new or interesting knowledge. You need to share. We all need to share. And we will lift each other up.

In addition to paying it forward, there are a few serious steps you can take to make more meaningful top-level connections. The following are three ways to achieve successful and professional digital networking with top managers, executives, investors, and anyone else you may set your networking sites on.

1. Be the Hunter

I don't mean this in a devour-the-innocent kind of way. I mean for you to be a confident lion or lioness, surveying your territory and making wise decisions about your next move. Don't be a frightened mouse looking for handouts. Know what you want. Be focused, dedicated, and hungry for it.

When it comes to professional networking, you might be on the prowl for a new partner, investor, or team member. But you can't stalk an entire herd. You need to focus. You need to narrow it down. But how? The answer is definitely not jumping on social media and blindly sending connection requests. First, you need logic and planning.

  • Create a List of Criteria
You need to articulate exactly what you are looking for in your networking connection. I make up scorecards. I use the criteria on the scorecard to rate between 20 and 50 possible matches. Then, when I'm done scoring each candidate, I can see who the top matches are most likely to be.This saves everyone time and energy and allows me to focus more intently on the best candidates.

What role are you focused on filling: a CFO, a sponsor, an investor? What is important to you when it comes to this position? Experience? Referrals? A sense of humor? Each different role will require a different list of criteria. For example, you can't judge a potential investor by the same criteria as a potential sponsor. Sit down and articulate what is important to you, and also how important each trait is compared to the other things on your list. Focus on no more than ten key characteristics and assign each characteristic a score based on its importance.

An example scorecard for a potential investor might look something like this, but you can adapt this idea to fit your needs:
1. Tech Experience: 10
2. Industry Knowledge: 9
3. History of Similar Investments: 8
4. Ready to Invest: 7
5. Regional Market Familiarity: 6
6. Doesn't Micro-Manage: 5
7. Great References/Referrals: 4
8. Level of Investment: 3
9. Quick-decision Maker: 2
10. Can Help With Networking: 1
Total Points Possible: 55

A successful candidate should score at least 65 percent on your list of criteria. Anyone who scores less than 65 percent should be crossed off of your list. Once you've narrowed down your herd of potential candidates, you can begin the next step.

2. Overprepare

Digital networking is not a situation where a little bit of research goes a long way. When it comes to professional networking, it is absolutely necessary to put in the time and effort to learn about your contact, their company, and what part they could play in helping you reach your goals.

  • Research Your Connection
You might feel a little bit like you're cyber-stalking, but quality research is essential. And the reality is that top professionals create websites and LinkedIn profiles for a reason. They want you to read them. They want to paint a clear picture of who they are and what they are all about. You need to make a serious effort to find what they have put out into the world, take notes, and use that information to build a plan for your communication.

  • Know Exactly What You Want
The scorecards can help you figure out who you want. The next important step is figuring out exactly what you want from them. How much time, commitment, or money are you looking for?

As a top executive with a couple of decades of experience, I never want to hear the words, "How can you help me?". I can honestly say that nothing vexes me more than when I agree to a meeting, introduction, or mentorship session and the person on my schedule is not familiar enough with me or what I do to even know what to ask for. It is your job to articulate exactly what you want and why. It is not the connection's job to puzzle this out foryou.

  • Practice Everything
Write yourself a few scripts. You already know the basics here, I'm sure. Have your 2-minute "elevator pitch", and your 15-minute version, and preferably an even longer one for opportunities that allow more depth. But the important thing about practicing the way in which you present yourself is to prepare yourself for blunt questions. Prepare yourself for a "no" answer. Prepare yourself for disapproving questions or skepticism. When you are scripting and practicing the questions and answers that you envision for your meeting, play the devil's advocate. This is the best way to be prepared, feel confident, and truly shine when the time comes to make your connection.

3. Don't Waste Time

You're a focused hunter. You know your moves. You've practiced so much that you could answer every question in your sleep. You know what you want. So, don't waste their time, your time, or anyone else's.

  • Always Be On Time
This may sound obvious, but I cannot tell you how many times I have arranged introductions only to have the person or team asking for the introduction show up late (or worse, not at all!). Don't be that person. Show respect. Be on time. If you don't, you are not only embarrassing yourself, but also anyone who helped get you the time slot. That's not the first impression you want to make. There is no "fashionably late". There is no cultural wiggle room. There is a scheduled time, and that is when you should appear. Period.

  • State Your Goal ASAP
Don't wait until the fourth paragraph in your email to finally spit out what it is you're asking for. You need to do it in paragraph ONE. The same goes for zoom calls or in-person meetings; state what you're asking for in your introduction.

  • Keep Things Short and Focused
The sharper and more concise you can be, the better chance you will have. It's that simple. Top-level executives don't usually care about your process, backstory, or methodology. We want to hear about outcomes. We want to hear about where you are going, not where you have been. And we want you to paint a clear picture of our role in achieving that vision.

If you've narrowed down your playing field with a list of criteria, you've researched and articulated exactly what you want, and you've practiced every angle - it is much easier to keep things short and focused. When it comes to top-level networking, your plan should never be to simply "improvise." You can think you know what you'll say, but that's not good enough. In order to keep interactions positive and productive, you have to know what you're going to say and deliver it in a clear and focused way. Successful improvisation should be more like sprinkles on a cake of hard work and preparation.

I hope sharing my insight and experience helps you to sharpen your digital networking skills. Do you have any time-tested advice of your own to share? Leave a comment and help us all make better top-level connections.