Taking meetings with smart people is extremely valuable. There’s no faster way (that I’ve found) to learn and build a relationship.
This comes with a catch. Busy people are, well, busy. Meetings with the busiest of people tend to last 10-30 minutes – this doesn’t give you a lot of time to ask about whatever it is you want to know.
While at lunch with the awesome Scott Britton, I talked through the basic question framework I use when meeting a busy person. I like to learn as much as I can in a short period of time, then spend the rest of a meeting building a relationship. In general, I’ve found the less you talk about business and the more you talk about stuff you both care about (women, careers, ideas, interests, whatever), the better relationship you have.
Let’s see this in action. If I wanted to learn about running a sales team, here’s what I’d ask:
1. What’s the 80/20 I should know about sales? What if you had to boil it down to 2-3 things?
2. What do you wish you knew when you started running a sales team? Why those things specifically?
3. If you were in my position now, what would you focus on for the first week? First month? First 6 month?
4. At what point would you re-evaluate how things are working? What metrics would you look for in doing such an evaluation?
Asking these few questions will take you right to the heart of whatever you want to know, and have the added benefit of nearly always sounding intelligent. If you can follow these basic questions with more specific ones based on their answers, boom. You’re suddenly impressive!1