The 10 Secrets of a Master Networker

Here are 10 Networking Tips from Keith Ferrazzi, a man who needs two PalmPilots to keep track of all his contacts, people like Bill Clinton and Michael Milken.

  1. Don’t network just to network.
    “Well, what do you want?” Ferrazzi will ask any would-be networker seeking instruction in the art. What do you want? “If your aspirations lie with the crème de la crème,” he says, “that is, if your aspirations are to be one of the top x people in the world in whatever you do, if you’re so bold as to want to be president of the United States or a respected CEO in the Fortune 500, I would argue that you won’t get there by knowing a lot of middle-level people.” You need to know the right people, for the right reason.
  2. Take names.
    “I’m constantly ripping out lists in magazines. I was one of Crain’s ’40 under 40′ when I was 30. Interestingly enough, I had been ripping out 40-under-40 lists for years and continue to do so. Those are individuals who somebody has spent enough time to identify as an up-and-comer, a mover, an intellectual, and these are the kinds of people I want to surround myself with. I rip out lists of top CEOs, most admired CEOs, regional lists. A recent book by Richard Saul Wurman lists the 1,000 most creative people in the United States. It’s fantastic.”

    Either Ferrazzi or his assistant enters the gathered names into a database. He has call sheets by region, listing the people he knows and those he’d like to know, and when he’s in town, he phones all of them. The numbers are also put into his two PalmPilots, one that has names strictly relating to the particular business he’s involved in at the moment and another that contains his own personal contacts. There are more than 5,000 contacts in all, some of them people Ferrazzi doesn’t know yet. Those are what he calls “aspirational contacts.”

  3. Build it before you need it.
     Long before they knew Ferrazzi, many of the people he speaks with had been on one of his lists. “You build your network before you need it,” says Ferrazzi. “When someone comes to me for advice on how to build a network because they need a job now, I tell them it’s useless. People can tell the difference between desperation and an earnest attempt to create a relationship.”
  4. Never eat alone.
    The dynamics of status in a business network are similar to those in Hollywood: invisibility is a fate worse than failure. Above all, never, ever disappear. “Keep your social and conference and event calendar full,” Ferrazzi tells me. “I give myself one night a week for myself, and the rest is an event or dinner.”
  5. Be interesting.
    To show that he was smart yet unconventional, Ferrazzi used to wear a bow tie to conferences. To emphasize his charitable nature, he is always passionately involved in one philanthropic cause or another. He is keenly aware that perception drives reality and that we are all, in some sense, brands. All his choices—his Prada suits, his conversational style, his hobbies—help him fashion a distinctive identity that is both interesting and attractive. And the cornerstone that supports the design of a person, he instructs, is content. “Being known is one thing, but being known for content is something else entirely—and much better,” he says. “You have to have something to say to be interesting to people.”
  6. Manage the gatekeeper. Artfully.
    Last summer Ferrazzi met Jane Pemberton, a former Disney executive, while flying first-class, as always. “That’s where the decision makers sit,” says Ferrazzi. (See “Where to Meet the Power Elite,” below, for Ferrazzi’s recommendations regarding the most fertile venues for top-shelf networking.) Pemberton suggested that Ferrazzi might like to get to know Michael Johnson, president of Walt Disney International.

    There wasn’t anything obvious that Johnson could do for Ferrazzi or YaYa. There rarely is when Ferrazzi reaches out. But it couldn’t hurt for Ferrazzi to know him, and who could say whether Disney would someday become a potential suitor? The only problem was getting through Johnson’s gatekeepers; that’s often the only problem—but not for Ferrazzi. “When you don’t know someone, the first concept is getting past the secretary,” he says. “So Johnson’s secretary says, ‘I’m sorry, Mr. Johnson is traveling, he’s traveling all month.’ And I say, ‘That’s OK. Why don’t you tell him a friend of Jane Pemberton’s called? Tell him to call me back if he has some time.’ I didn’t push. The first call you don’t push, because the admin doesn’t know you, and you never want to get the admin pissed off at you; they’re the gateway.

    “Second call is almost the same thing: ‘Hi, this is Keith Ferrazzi. I’m just calling back because I haven’t heard from him,’ as if the presumption is that I would have. It’s totally innocuous, no obligation. On the third call, she’s getting a little pissed. ‘Listen,’ she says with a little strike in her voice, ‘Mr. Johnson is very busy. I don’t know who you are….’ I counter: ‘I’m just a personal friend of a friend, I just moved into the city, Jane suggested that I should meet Michael, and I don’t even know why, besides Jane being a good friend of Michael’s. Maybe it’s all wrong, maybe we shouldn’t meet. I apologize.’ That puts her on the defensive. Now she thinks that she’s been a dick to a personal friend of a friend of her boss. She backs off, and I make a proposition: ‘Why don’t I just send Michael an E-mail? What’s his E-mail address?’ And at this point she thinks, ‘I want to be out of the middle of this thing.’ She gives me the E-mail address.

    “The E-mail is simple: ‘Dear Michael, I’m a friend of Jane’s, and she suggested I talk with you. Fifteen minutes and a cup of coffee is fine. Jane thinks we should know each other.’ I get a cordial ‘Of course we can’ response.

    “So now I go back to the secretary with the ‘Of course we can.’ Now it’s not if, but when, we’ll meet. Now it’s ‘Michael would like to set up this meeting, just let me know when.’ And finally it happens.”

  7. Always ask.
    This is the story Keith Ferrazzi tells about his father:

    Pete Ferrazzi, a steelworker whose world was hard hours and low wages, knew he wanted more for his son. He knew his boy’s life would be better if he could find a way out of their working-class Pittsburgh suburb. But the elder Ferrazzi didn’t know the exits. He’d never been to college. He knew nothing of country clubs or private schools. He could picture only one man who might have the sort of pull that could help: his boss. Actually, the boss of his boss’s boss—Alex McKenna, CEO of Kennametal, in whose factory Pete Ferrazzi worked. The two men had never met. But the elder Ferrazzi had an idea about how the world worked. He’d observed that audacity was often the only thing that separated two equally talented men and their job titles. Pete Ferrazzi asked to speak with McKenna, who, upon hearing the request, was so intrigued that he took the meeting. In it, he agreed to meet Pete’s son, Keith, but not to do anything more.

    However, it turned out that McKenna liked the precocious adolescent—especially because of the way young Keith had come to his attention. McKenna was on the board of a local prep school where he sent his own children, by reputation one of the best schools in the country. Strings were indeed pulled, and Keith entered a new world, on scholarship, that set him on an entirely new course, just as his father had hoped. “I got one of the best educations America has to offer,” Ferrazzi says today. “Starting with elementary school, prep school, on to Yale and Harvard—it would never have happened if my father hadn’t believed that it never hurts to ask. The worst anyone can say is no. Not many people believe that. Embarrassment and fear are debilitating.”

    Totally fearless is how Joshua Ramo, an editor at Time Inc., describes Ferrazzi. Ramo remembers a moment at the Davos economic forum, where the two first met, when Ferrazzi walked onto a hotel bus, saw Nike founder Phil Knight, and made a beeline for the seat next to his.

    Boldness, and its particular genius, was the father’s gift to his son.

  8. Don’t keep score.
    Successful networking is never about simply getting what you want. It’s about getting what you want and making sure that people who are important to you get what they want, too. Often, that means fixing up people with one another.

    “It’s about a personal connection that makes you feel a sense of reciprocity,” Ferrazzi says. “Superficiality is not networking. There are people who have lots of superficial connections, and people call that networking. But that’s not successful. You feel dirty when you talk to someone like that. The outcome of good networking is the capacity to have a conversation with anyone you want to have a conversation with and then to leave that conversation with a lasting connection of some sort.”

    The best sort of networking occurs when Ferrazzi can connect two people who don’t know each other. Which drives home a surprising implication: the strength of your network derives as much from the diversity of your relationships as it does from their quality or quantity. Most of us know the people within our own profession and social group, and little more. Ferrazzi makes a point of knowing as many people from as many different worlds as possible. The ability to bridge those worlds is a key attribute in managers who are paid better and promoted faster, according to an influential study conducted by Ron Burt, a professor at the University of Chicago Graduate School of Business.

    The care and feeding of contacts is a relatively new concept for the business networker. In Power! How to Get It, How to Use It, a 1975 self-help screed on the secrets to becoming a corporate chieftain, Michael Korda advised that “masters players … attempt to channel as much information as they can into their own hands, then withhold it from as many people as possible.” That is, 30 years ago old-style connectors attained power through a monopoly of information, whereas today people like Ferrazzi view the system as social arbitrage, a constant and open exchange of favors and intelligence. It’s a sort of career karma, too; how much you give to the network determines how much you’ll receive.

  9. Ping constantly.
    Eighty percent of success, Woody Allen once said, is just showing up. Eighty percent of networking is just staying in touch. Ferrazzi calls it “pinging.” It’s a quick, casual greeting. He makes hundreds of phone calls a day. Most of them are simply quick hellos that he leaves on friends’ voice mail. He sends E-mail constantly. He remembers birthdays and makes a special point of reaching people when they have one. When it comes to relationship maintenance, he is, in the words of more than one friend, “the most relentless, energetic person I know.”
  10. Find anchor tenants. Feed them.
    By now, an invitation for an evening at Ferrazzi’s is a hot ticket. Nearly once a month influence peddlers from different worlds gather to gossip, talk business, and schmooze at his Hollywood Hills home. But in the early days, before his dinner parties had cachet, Ferrazzi had to develop a very deliberate strategy for attracting the right people.

    “You, me, every one of us—we have our peer set, and we can always have dinner parties with our peer set, but if you keep having dinner parties with your peer set, why would somebody two levels above your peer set ever come to your dinner parties?” he asks. “The point is, you don’t randomly invite somebody two levels above your peer set to your dinner and expect them to come, because they won’t. They want to hang around people of their peer set or higher. This is a crass way of talking about it, but this is the formula.”

    So Ferrazzi developed his theory of the anchor tenant. “What you do,” he says, “is find somebody in your peer set who has a friend who is two levels above—the big swinging dick of the group, the anchor tenant. You get them to come and, in all invitations subsequent to that, you use the anchor to pull in people who otherwise wouldn’t attend.”

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