Mild Stalking, AKA How to Win Clients and Befriend People

In the very first session of 99U’s two-day conference, I was singled out by name in a crowd of 30+ and handed a plate of hot onion rings. Why were the strategists at Firstborn, a NYC-based digital agency, handing me this delightfully random appetizer?

Research. Or, “mild stalking,” as I like to call it.

To prove the point that it’s possible to get on the good side of a virtual stranger, the Firstborn team chose me at random from the session’s attendee pool and dug deep into the information I passively share online. This exercise was a small portion of their overall message of “Selling to Skeptics.” This strategy-focused session covered multiple tactics, which included softer approaches backed by research and creative repositioning.

Softer approaches mean old-school tactics backed up by legit research. Like wooing someone with a plate of onion rings. Here’s how that went down – and how I became a Firstborn fan for life:

Before an initial meeting, pitch, or discussion, do your research. It’s should be a given that you’ve researched their business, so don’t just learn about the company – know about the person with whom you’ll be speaking and conducting business. This means scouring the web for any and all traces of a person’s personality.

There are two ways to go about this:
Old school: Look them up, dangit! It’s 2016 and almost everyone has some sort of social presence. This isn’t always a win, but the odds are often in your favor here. Some profiles may offer very few personal details, if any, which could mean they’re a very private person or that they’re not into social media and/or ‘newer’ trends. Sometimes the info not provided can be equally as helpful as what’s provided!

For this one, you’ve got to get a little creepy – check out what pages they like, dive into their photos to get a sense of their interests and priorities, and analyze critically their profiles to help understand what makes them tick. Even a marginally used social profile can paint a vibrant portrait of its user, so don’t let this be overlooked.

New school: Manually scanning Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are essential tactics, but not only does it sometimes not bear fruit, it can be incredibly time consuming. Heaven forbid you’re meeting with an entire team – then what would you do? And what about figuring out someone’s communication style? That can be just as important, if not more so, than their general interests.

Behold: Crystal, your communication guru and new best friend. Curious about how to word an email to a potential client? Not sure who on your team would be best suited to lead a pitch? Crystal figures it out by digging deeper into people’s online profiles and personas and crafts a description of each individual’s personality type and communication style. Crystal is a site as well as a web plug-in, so her guidance magically appears in Gmail, with phrasing recommendations and on LinkedIn and Twitter with thorough analyses.

Below is an example of what I see when I look at Todd Ramsey’s (Apples & Arrows founder, duh!) page. Crystal compares his personality type to mine and provides a brief summary of who Todd is before launching into a variety of tactics, starting with ways to gain his trust.

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So – while you may think Crystal is a little creepy, she/it sure is helpful. Next time you’ve got a big meeting or new business pitch on the horizon, give it a shot to help you shape your meeting. Crystal has its caveats, though. We have found that the analyses and suggestions are not always accurate, especially if the person whose profile you’re viewing does not have enough information for Crystal’s algorithms to analyze. The information provided should serve as a tool, but not as an end-all be-all guide. We still encourage trusting your gut and remaining authentic, no matter what Crystal says.

Now, what does this have to do with onion rings? Well, I didn’t even realize it until later, but I had mentioned my love for onion rings on Twitter, so that’s where they plucked that point of interest. But – and this is really where I fell for Firstborn – the onion rings weren’t their initial choice for me. They knew I loved Finland (like a bajillion pages liked on Facebook and Twitter type of ‘like’), so they ORDERED ME CHOCOLATE FROM FINLAND.

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Consider me smitten from that moment on. As in, if Firstborn were a dateable entity, I would’ve asked it out for drinks as soon as they told me that. They had to scramble and get me onion rings when they realized the chocolate wouldn’t arrive from Finland in time for their presentation.

And if you thought they were bluffing (I kind of did, just for a minute…), they tweeted at me that afternoon to let me know my chocolate had arrived, safe and sound, and was ready for me to pick up at their office. And that’s how I ended up with a humongous bar of Karl Fazer Salty Popcorn in Milk Chocolate, and with a great sense of affection and loyalty toward Firstborn.

If I were a potential client of theirs, I would note that their effort and thoughtfulness before I even stepped in the room showed their interest in who I am as a person, not just a potential payday, as well as respect for my time and my business.

Catering to someone’s needs, either literally with food (this never hurts, trust us) or with an appeal to one’s personality type or communication style, are traditional approaches that never go out of style or go unappreciated. With some mild stalking (a.k.a some extra research), you can go into any meeting with someone new and feel prepared and confident.

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  • Cindy Beden July 29, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    Thea: I have to admit that when I first read this, it made me feel a bit reticent to even consider this. But, two things changed my mind. One was meeting with a professional friend who was showing me how he uses the advanced search in Linked In to do a modern form of cold calling – utilizing a connection to make more connections IRL. Kind of another form of “mild creepery.” 😀 Also, I gave it more thought and realized how much I appreciate it when I can feel an instant connection with someone because of a shared hobby, appreciation for something, music enjoyment, etc. What a great way to make someone else feel special and build a friendship! It really only becomes creepy and/or awful if it is used as a ploy in order to just get something from the other person. So, thanks for sharing your discovery and how to utilize it in a way that makes our world a better place!