When you identify the organization you want to work with, you want to cultivate a relationship with the head honcho who calls the shots, right?

Not so fast.

Logic says that you want to make a connection with whoever has the most seniority, but sometimes kingmakers don’t sit on the throne. In every organization, there are trusted advisers who have the ears and the hearts of the people in charge. Forging a symbiotic, mutually beneficial bond with these people could hand you the keys to the kingdom—and these relationships are often the ones you don’t realize you’ve made until after you make them.

What A Reciprocal Business Relationship Looks Like in the Real World

Let’s say you’re a sales manager who represents a company that manufactures steel rebar, which builders use to reinforce concrete. You’ve finally landed a meeting with the senior buyer at a construction supplies company that provides steel rebar to builders throughout Western Europe. It’s taken weeks of cold calling, following up, requesting a meeting—even just a bloody response—only to wake up, day after day, just to jump out of bed, run over to the computer and discover an empty email inbox.

Then, it finally happened—her office left a message asking you to come in for an interview. This one deal could ignite your career and position your spirited little company as the next big industry player.

You meet with the buyer only briefly. Unfortunately, she doesn’t have a lot of time and she seems to be concerned mostly with cost, which isn’t your strongest selling point. You leave feeling deflated, but cautiously optimistic.

You left plenty of time and got to the meeting early. While you were waiting, you struck up a conversation with the receptionist who, it turns out, obsesses over Manchester United almost as much as you. Like you, he also has a brother in The Andrew, which you discovered after you asked about the Royal Navy sticker on his desk.

You tell him you’re part of a great organization that supports sailors stationed overseas, and that you’d be glad to put him in contact with the group’s leader, who has become your mate over the years. He tells you to look him up on Facebook, which you do. Over the next few weeks, you and the receptionist exchange a few friendly messages and he likes your business page.

A few weeks later, when the senior buyer mentions in a meeting that their current supplier has made her unhappy yet again by delaying a big shipment of steel rebar, the receptionist reminds her of you—he even shows her your Facebook business page.

She decides her current supplier is complacent and, even though your price is slightly higher, calls you in and informs you she wants to place an order for three months worth of supplies, and see how it goes from there.

Giving to Get and the Value of Symbiotic Relationships

OK. Let’s examine what just happened. Although your big meeting was lukewarm at best, you connected with someone who was able to offer a reciprocal business relationship. The receptionist works closely with the senior buyer, schedules her meetings, takes her notes, knows her itinerary. The spark that struck between you was genuine. The chemistry was real, your shared experiences were emotional and your philosophical similarities ran deep.

But that’s not what turned a nice chat into a life-changing relationship.

You offered to help him by putting him in touch with your chum at the military support organization, and that’s the key—reciprocity. This isn’t a something-for-nothing type of universe. In order to receive the benefit of this connection, you had to pony up first.

That’s exactly what you have to think about with every connection you make. What can you give in order to get what you need? Your knowledge? Your expertise? Your time? Each situation will be different, but one thing will never change: you have to give in order to get.

Ask not what your connection can do for you, until you’ve done something for your connection.