Why you should “spy” on the people you ask for help


Imagine you need to ask someone a favor. Or you’re a salesperson pitching something. Or you just want to ask for free advice or check someone’s opinion. Or you’d like them to promote something you just created.

If you hit them up when they’re in the wrong state of mind, whose fault is that?

It’s yours.

All you need is a little context.

How to get context

Before you connect with someone, spend ten minutes doing this:

  • Check their profile on LinkedIn to see if they’ve changed jobs (or posted) recently.
  • If they regularly create and post content (for example, on a blog, a podcast, or YouTube), check out what their last few posts are.
  • If they’re on social media (and most are), review their most recent posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or the like.
  • Do a quick web search on their name to see if anything interesting pops up.

You might learn that your contact just gave a speech, got promoted, published a book, bought a house, posted an article, had a child or grandchild, or dropped an interview with somebody cool.

Or, you might find that they’re grieving the death of a friend or family, got laid off, got a challenging health diagnosis, or are struggling and frustrated with something.

If you know their state of mind, you can approach them sensitively and productively. Or decide not to approach them. You can also avoid the awkward “I’m sorry to hear that your dad just died, but would you be willing to blurb my book?” type of conversations.

Yes, this takes time. But you’re asking for help. So spend it.

I admit it, this tip has a lot in common with what I read in Rebecca Otis Leder’s great book Knock. Worth a read.

But let’s be fair. If all this information is available to you, and you ignore it and just blunder ahead, you’re, well, an insensitive clod.

These are people you’re asking for help. So take five minutes to get the context you need to treat them like human beings.

One response to “Why you should “spy” on the people you ask for help

  1. This type of approach used to be kind of rare, so often I would respond to people who took the time to research me. These days salespeople mostly all do some rudimentary version of this.

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