I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard the question – “Can I take you out for breakfast/coffee/lunch and pick your brain?” It is usually delivered by someone who wants much more than to pick my brain, but they feel uncomfortable revealing their true agenda.
Asking if you can pick someone’s brain feels safer than saying -“While searching LinkedIn I noticed that your friend Bob/Jeff/Sally is the head electronics buyer at Walmart. Will you introduce me?” or “Your company sells to the same market that we are targeting. Would you be willing to share sales leads or run a cross promotion?”
“Can I pick your brain?” is a ruse.
I know this to be true because I’ve been guilty of using it to get a foot in the door with people who intimidated me. I would lure the person into a Starbucks and dump my problem on them, hoping they would spontaneously offer up exactly the type of help I was seeking.
No one likes to feel played.
My advice – avoid this phrase. Savvy business people will see it for what it is and dodge the meeting. The less-savvy or kindhearted will be irritated that you weren’t up front about your agenda. In both cases you lose. No one likes feeling manipulated.
Before you request a meeting with someone, think about what you want to accomplish. Write it down on a piece of paper and keep drilling down into the details until you know exactly what to ask for.
Example: I want sales leads. I want sales leads in Houston. I want warm introductions to five Houston customers that are doing at least two million per year in sales. I want to go with your account manager to visit five customers in Houston that are doing at least two million per year in sales.
Tell the person exactly why you want to talk to them – to discuss sharing sales leads in Houston – be willing to swallow the rejection if they decide not to meet you. Trust me, it’s better than springing it on them mid-conversation and dealing with their discomfort when you’re trapped in a Starbucks.
Here are some examples of what I could have substituted for “Can I pick your brain?” early in my entrepreneurial career.
- You invested in Company X. We have a similar value proposition. Would you be interested in evaluating an investment in my company?
- I heard you sometimes help entrepreneurs get into X incubator. Would you be willing to hear my pitch and give me advice on how to get in?
- I’ve been trying to get an appointment with Dr. Smith but have been unsuccessful. I heard you repair his equipment; can you introduce me?
- You are a successful entrepreneur. I’m just getting started. Would you be willing to tell me about your experience in scaling your business and maybe put me in touch with the IT outsourcing firm you used?
Everyone appreciates honesty.
Ask for what you need.
Avoid picking brains.