Christina Comaford Talks about Access through Generosity

Bill Gates calls her “super high bandwidth.” Bill Clinton has thanked her for “fostering American entrepreneurship.” On her own website, Christine Comaford’s poses the following question: “Why have 2 American Presidents, 4 billionaires, 700 Fortune 1000 executives, and more than 300 entrepreneurs sought coaching from Christine Comaford Associates?”

She is simply brilliant and I just had to share her answers to the following two questions.

1. To get into that, talk about how you first got yourself into the White House.

CHRISTINE: The number one thing is networking palm up. What most people do is palm-down networking. “What can I get?” They go to a cocktail party, they’re trying to grab stuff. That’s palm down. Palm-up networking is finding out what somebody needs and helping them get it. You’re going to get yours later, the universe has a perfect accounting system. So if people simply change their networking approach to be palm up, you walk around at a cocktail party, you ask what business they’re in: “Wow, that’s cool, how did you get into that business?” Everybody has a great story as to how they’ve gotten into their business. “Wow, what’s your ideal client?” “Oh, I might know some of those guys. I’ll follow up with you next Tuesday.”

And now we did two things. We did palm-up networking and we showed that we want to build relationships. We know that we’re going to get later, we’re going to give first. And the second thing is that we started to forge in that person’s mind that we follow through. We make our brand equal to results and we use palm-up networking. Those two things alone will endear you to so many people and really propel your career.

So me: I got into the white house by helping a group called Technet in Silicon Valley to sketch out some technology initiatives that we could explain to the U.S. government that would then enable the US government to get on board with the Internet. This is back in the day.

So then I was invited to the Department of Defense to give a speech on moving our information systems to intranet – you know, distributed computing – so we could serve the American public better, make government cost less and work better. I gave the speech, I flew back home, and by the time I arrived back in San Francisco, I already had a call from Al Gore’s office saying, “Can you get back on a plane and come back to DC and help us figure out the government’s technology strategy?”

So it all started by donating tons and tons of hours to Technet to help – palm up – to The Social Capitalist: Christine Comaford on Getting in the Door 3

help make a difference. Which then got me to the DOD, which then got me to the White House.

2. You’ve courted and gained credibility with many powerful people. You’ve got a blog cordially entitled “I Stalked Steve Jobs and How to Get a Meeting with Any VIP.” Tell us about that. 

CHRISTINE: It’s not that hard to get a meeting with any VIP. The quick recipe is to ask for five minutes of their time in exchange for you giving five hours to their favorite nonprofit.

So you’ve got to do some homework. When you first connect with them, send a letter. I prefer a letter that’s typed and sent via FedEx. One of my clients, a huge high-level executive at Deloitte just used this approach. He finally got through to someone he’s been trying to reach for three months.

You figure out what it is that you want: I want five minutes of advice from Joe Blow. So then you send a letter, one page or less. Don’t ramble on. Just say, “Wow, I really admire the accomplishments that you’ve made, Joe Blow, in your life. I want to do that too. I would love to ask you for five minutes of advice.”

Don’t ask for anything else, ask for advice. It triggers their ego and their emotional state. “I would like five minutes of advice from you and in exchange I’ll give five hours to your favorite nonprofit. I’ve noticed you’ve done great things with American Cancer Society,” blah blah blah. Short and sweet.

The letter has to be heartfelt and genuine, OK? Really heartfelt. You have to genuinely care. Make this letter a work of art.

Send it via FedEx and then start calling their assistant. The FedExes and the phone calls to the assistant continue until you get the meeting. You call the assistant at the beginning of the day or the end of the day when they’re more likely for you to take the call.

Great, so you get the meeting. Bring a timer to show that you’re respectful. Set the timer for five minutes so that they’ll really get that you’ve got prepared questions that you want to ask them. After five minutes, you’re going to leave.

Timer goes off, you start to leave – they always keep you there longer. And generally what happens is that you’ve forged an alliance with someone because you really came to them for advice. They got to be big, you were small. They got to be big and up on the mountain in giving you advice, and now they’re going to follow up to make sure that you took that advice.

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