Five fresh ideas to get a meeting with a big shot
  • sales
  • Blog post

Five fresh ideas to get a meeting with a big shot

Chances are, you’ve heard of some over-the-top gimmicks to get a meeting with a highly important prospect. For example, you might send a valuable gift with something missing — a display case for three autographed baseballs with only two baseballs, or a remote-controlled something or other without the remote. If the bigwig takes a meeting with you, you bring the missing element.

Less-exalted varieties of the I’ll-pay-to-meet-you scheme include the free-vacation/timeshare pitch and the free-steak-dinner/financial planning pitch. Similarly, I used to get offered some swell swag back when I was a big-shot newsletter editor. Journalistic ethics, of course, prevented me from accepting. Now that I’m a blogger, the ethical rules are more relaxed (hint, hint) — but the gravy train seems to have dried up, except for an awesome pair of boxing gloves I got a while back from Dan Waldschmidt. (Of course, I would never plug someone in my blog, or link to him, just because he sent me an awesome gift.)

Only problem is…

The problem with many door openers, of course, is that you get what you pay for — and not much more. (Don’t worry, Waldschmidt; I’m not talking about you. You’re awesome. Send more stuff!)

Your prospect may be willing to listen to your pitch in exchange for a Mickey Mantle baseball, but the message you’re sending is, “My value proposition is so lousy that I need to bribe you to pay attention.” And I think it makes prospects feel a little creepy about doing business with you, even if they take you up on your offer. “This salesperson thinks she can win my business with a baseball? And even if I wanted to buy from her, how would I explain the baseball to my boss?”

Stu Heinecke has a new and better twist on the door-opener idea: deliver something that has high personal value to a prospect, but little or no commercial value. Stu, a cartoonist for the Wall Street Journal, hit on the simple-but-effective idea of using his stock in trade: cartoons. He sent prospects an 18 x 24 inch print of a cartoon, printed on heavy stock and nicely framed, with a caption that had been personalized with the prospect’s name.

It worked great. It got him a meeting with Rolling Stone, and he turned it into a campaign for Rolling Stone’s media salespeople. Then he did the same for other publishers, including Bon Appetit, Forbes and Harvard Business Review. Stu sent a personalized cartoon to two sitting presidents, and got a response from both. Stu claims he used the technique to meet his wife, but I think he might be pulling my leg.


Cartoons are great fun. But the power of Stu’s approach, I think, lies in the personal touch. The cartoons aren’t too expensive to produce — they’re prints, not originals — so nobody feels bribed or creeped out. But they’re created just for the prospect, and nobody else. That’s pretty irresistible.

Since then, Stu has been exploring other ideas in the same vein, and has compiled them into a new book: How to Get a Meeting with Anyone. Here are five great ones. They’re all relatively low cost, and you can execute them on your own, even if you don’t know how to draw:

1. More cartoons

You don’t have to be a cartoonist to steal a page from Stu’s book. He notes that sales author Orvel Ray Wilson uses cartoons licensed from the New Yorker’s Cartoon Bank. It’s a rich archive, so you can probably find something that’s spot on with your prospect’s interests and outlook. One caveat, however: In your accompanying message, resist the temptation to connect the cartoon and/or caption to your product or service. It’s kind of a buzz kill, and comes across as self-serving. Keep the focus on your prospect, not you.

2. Books

If you’ve written a book, send prospects a copy. If you haven’t, consider sending prospects a well-chosen book for their library, with a personal note explaining why you chose it. Blogger Dave Brock, for example, sometimes sends prospects a copy of Green Eggs and Ham. He says it’s a great book for selling, because in the end Sam-I-Am closes the deal.

3. Art

I’ve blogged before on the power of visuals. A well-chosen image can break through skepticism far more effectively than words. As with all of these techniques, the secret is in the personal touch. Did you get your picture taken at an industry event with your prospect or customer? Was the prospect recently featured in an industry publication? Get it framed and send it along with a request for a meeting. The Wall Street Journal once ran a campaign in which prospects received a portrait of themselves done in the classic WSJ engraving style. That’s probably too pricey, but you could spend a lot less to have a graphic artist create a similar rendering, using a prospect’s LinkedIn profile picture and a four-dollar Photoshop plug in. Surround it with a dummy story that looks like a Journal article and it can have even more impact.

4. Gifts for the office

Gifts for the prospect may feel like a cheap bribe. Gifts for their people, on the other hand, send a message of respect. Give gifts that can be shared with others on the team. One salesperson, for example, used to send a set of coffee mugs with the words “Top Producer” on them. To make it even more effective, consider adding the prospect company’s logo.

5. Carrier pigeon

You read it right. Stu once sent a live carrier pigeon to the CEO of American Express, along with a request for a meeting. All the CEO had to do was jot a brief note agreeing to meet, attach it to the pigeon, and release the bird. The result: a $250,000 contract. The cost, according to Stu: chicken feed.

Come on, what did you expect? He’s a cartoonist.

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