Polly Professional has a lot going on today. She has a blog post due, a podcast script to write, an employee review to conduct, and two client Zoom calls.
And then it comes. Ding.
An email from Steve Stranger.
Maybe he’s a sales pro trying to set up a “quick meeting to discuss his company’s solutions,” but it’s clear he has no idea what her company does or what Polly’s role is. Or maybe he needs a job, and he figures that being her second-cousin’s college roommate has got to qualify him for something. Or he wants to write for her company’s blog, even though he doesn’t understand the audience or the topic.
Worst of all: Maybe he wants to pick her brain.
Polly grits her teeth and counts to 10, then deletes the message. She considers marking it as spam, but she’s feeling kind-hearted today.
But she is never, ever going to answer Steve’s email.
Why? Because Steve failed to respect her time. He didn’t do his homework.
When you approach someone without doing your homework, you send a clear message: You think your time is more valuable than theirs.
It’s annoying for Polly — but it’s murder on poor Steve. Let’s face it … sometimes we need to ask folks for stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that. Helping one another out is an important part of business.
Steve could have spent a few minutes preparing for that request — and Polly would have been a lot more likely to consider it. Here’s how to do your homework, so you don’t end up like Steve.
Homework tip #1: Know their work
I can’t tell you how many cold sales emails I get from people who demonstrate that they have no idea — at all — what I do.
Unlike kind Polly, I often do mark them as spam.
When you’re approaching a person or an organization, take the time to understand their work.
If they have a blog … read it. Not just a week’s worth of posts — really look at it. Have they identified their most popular posts? Read those. Yes, all of them.
Look over their website, their podcast, their YouTube videos, their white papers — any content they’re putting out. If it’s an individual, take a look at what they post on LinkedIn or the other social platforms.
What recurring themes do they address? If their content tells stories … what’s the moral? What do they see as their unique winning difference? What kind of language do they use to talk about that?
What do they do? How does that make money? Who are their customers? How do they serve those customers?
“You can observe a lot by just watching.” – Yogi Berra
And that brings us to the second point …
Homework tip #2: Know their audience
Taking some time to look through a company’s website and content is pretty common-sense, even if people often don’t do it.
But smart networkers know that it’s just the beginning.
Whether you’re trying to reach a person or an organization, take a look at who their audience is.
These are readers if you’re approaching a blogger, viewers if you want to connect with a popular YouTuber, and customers if you’re approaching a business.
Influence comes from an audience. The audience is the battery of the system.
This used to be somewhat hard to do, but social media has made it much simpler.
Do they have blog comments? Read them.
Do they have a Facebook or LinkedIn presence? Tune in to the audience conversations there, not just what the influencer is saying.
And when I say “tune in,” realize I’m talking more about listening than I am about weighing in.
You can socialize later — it’s often a good idea. But first, understand who you’re socializing with.
You’re looking for what’s energizing this audience. What do they complain about? What are they worried about? What do they struggle with? What problem do they turn to this influencer or company to solve? How’s that going?
If you understand the audience, you understand the influencer. If you understand the customers, you understand the company.
Homework tip #3: Play along
You won’t always have this option available to you, but if you do, take it.
What’s your influencer or organization spending a lot of time thinking about these days?
Do they have a new product launching or a big promotion running? Do they have a book out? Maybe there’s a challenge or a community event going on. Maybe they have a charity they’re doing a lot of work with.
If you can connect what you have to offer with something they care about, it’s a lot easier for them to hear what you have to say.
Please stick with what you can readily find that’s been publicly posted online, though. Homework is good … stalking is not.
Do your research to stand out
If all of this seems like it would take a lot of time … it probably takes about as much time to approach five people intelligently as it does to approach 100 like a monkey throwing paintballs.
Those five people will be far more likely to actually stop and listen to you, because you’ve respected their time (and your own) with relevant, pertinent communication.
And you’ll stand out … because most of what’s in our inboxes is paintball after paintball.