Prospecting or Stalking? Three Tips to Use Digital Research Effectively and Professionally.

13 May 2020 13:05

Worker with a notebook out and actively searching on her laptop in a browser. “3 Tips to Use Digital Research Effectively and Professionally”

Technology today allows business development leaders, sales teams and—well, just about anyone—to gain an unprecedented level of information about individuals. Things like birthdays, career history, relationships, hobbies and weekend activities are easily searchable.

Still, just because you can access certain information, should you? If so, how can business development professionals use digitally retrieved information in a way that doesn’t cross professional boundaries or core social etiquette? It’s a 21st century dilemma where a clear answer is still being worked out.

Whether you’re cold calling a potential lead, reconnecting with a former client or engaging in some traditional person-to-person networking, there are some general guidelines to follow to ensure the boundary between digital prospecting doesn’t cross into uncomfortable territory.

Don’t Be Creepy. Seriously.

Information gleaned from digital prospecting research—or at least, the information you mention out loud—should be fairly straightforward and related to the professional topic at hand. While relying on information such current or recent employers, membership in professional organizations, shared acquaintances or friends, and even one’s alma mater is appropriate, mentioning adecade-old Spring Break pictures clearly crosses the threshold into unprofessionalism.

Remember that the purpose of prospecting research is to determine if there’s a professional fit between your product or service and the needs of a potential client or business partner. Instead of bringing up out-of-bounds social information—even if it represents a shared interest that could be a point for conversation—allow the prospect to first share that information with you. From there, allow the information to be explored and shared organically. Authenticity like this leads to better outcomes.

There’s a Right and Wrong Way to Mine Others’ Contacts.

One feature of many networking sites is the ability to see an individual’s connections with others. A current client in an industry you target might be connected to hundreds of others in the same industry, and it can be tempting to source that as a pre-made prospecting list of your own—especially when the list is just a few clicks away.

Not so fast. If you’re targeting individuals with whom you share a mutual connection, it’s almost always wise to include the mutual connection in the mix. If you target dozens of profiles from a contact’s list of friends or connections, there’s a high likelihood that this will come to their attention and raise red flags. They could rightfully see this as crossing a boundary, especially if you didn’t get their permission first. It’s never wise to jeopardize an existing relationship on the hope of an opportunity to gain a new one.

Instead, ask permission before acting. Request that your contacts introduce you to people in their network who they think might be a good fit as a potential partner. By allowing them to be the referral source, you protect your existing relationship and will be introduced to their connections in a more authentic manner.

Remember the Value in “Old Fashioned” Networking.

The resources and information provided by the internet are invaluable and, when used correctly, can greatly augment prospecting, sales and other marketing activities. They shouldn’t be a total replacement for the tactics of yesteryear, however. Just like an investment portfolio, prospecting processes using a diverse list of referral and lead generation sources are likely to be most effective.

Generate value by providing content that brings leads to you. Incentivize referrals from existing partners. Hit the ground at trade shows and other networking events. Pick up the phone. And, absolutely, go into these scenarios with information from digital research as a tool to help guide conversation and connections.

Enriching Lists with Research.

Okay, so you created or purchased a prospecting list. Cold calls are rough and social networking can only get you so far. Instead, take a moment to research a person with a more premium news and business source. These sources can help you to uncover important information like biographies, affiliations with boards or corporations, whether they’ve been mentioned in the news – for good or bad reasons – and so on.

These additional insights will help you to give you a more well-rounded view to your prospect and also evaluate the worth of the prospect.

Ultimately, like most things in the business development world, paying attention to the nuances will serve you well. Just don’t forget the “human” aspect of human-to-human interaction and avoid tactics that might damage your reputation as a professional or cause a prospect to question your intent. Use research wisely.

Learn more about researching prospects. (Link to NDP prospect research materials / Nexis Dossier materials)

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