Journalism, as concerns collecting information, differs little if at all from intelligence work. In my judgement, a journalist’s job is very interesting. – Vladimir Putin
How can you start to understand how someone else thinks?
These days it’s easier than ever before, because people put so much of themselves out there on the Internet.
You just need to spend the time doing your research.
A good model for how to go about doing this is to think about how a journalist might do a profile for their publication.
So, what would that look like?
The most powerful tools in a researcher’s toolbox are a notebook and pen.
Get a reporter’s notebook – one of those small four by six notepads, wire-bound at the top.
Get the cheapest one you can so you’re not worried about getting things perfect – this is a working notebook, a tool to help your process.
And grab a pen – and you’re ready to get started at take some notes.
What can you see
In this post we talked about how you could research where people spent their attention because of the tracking and information we get on the Internet.
This is always a good start – what does the data say?
For example, let’s say you’re interested in a particular field – process engineering.
If you type those words into LinkedIn you’ll get a number of results, including people who work in that industry.
If those people are the kind of people you want to talk to, then you can click on their profiles and look at the kinds of things they post and like.
Take notes on the kind of content they appreciate, the material they share and repost.
Now, imagine you were going to reach out to them.
The easiest thing to do is to simply send them a connection request, with no additional information.
You could add a note that is a generic connection message, something you cut and paste into every message.
Something like, “I’m trying to grow my connections and so I’m connecting with you” – something that says nothing.
Worse, you could follow up with a sales pitch as soon as you’re accepted.
Or, you could send a customised message that’s based on your research – where you point out the interests you have in common and ask if they would like to connect with you.
Then, instead of following up with a sales message, you can share the kind of content you know people like that are interested in, see if you can get them to like and engage with your material.
Which one of these approaches do you think has a higher chance of getting better engagement from the people you’re trying to reach?
What do they write?
Some of the people you want to reach will also put out material about themselves and their businesses.
Read what they write, study how they look at their world and explain their point of view.
The way someone writes can tell you a lot about the way they will respond to others.
It tells you whether they are open and warm, neutral and willing to reserve judgement or cool and reserved.
You can get a sense of whether someone will respond when you reach out or not.
What do they say?
Another very useful source of insight into people is to listen to interviews they’ve done or read the transcripts.
You can get a very good sense of an individual, their personal career journeys and the nature of their industry from interviews they’ve done.
They will talk about what excites them, what they see as the main problems and constraints they face, where the big opportunities are in their field.
That kind of information is hugely valuable for you when you try and construct a pitch or reach out.
If you know that a person cares about a particular topic and you are able to talk about how that topic is related to you and your interests – you’ll increase your chances of getting a positive response.
What do you know?
The last area, and possibly the most dangerous one, is to take notes on what you already know about your prospects.
What insights do you have into the way they think and what they want.
It’s important not to fool yourself, to make sure that what you know is based on facts and evidence – things that you can draw on to support your conclusions.
It shouldn’t be about what you think or believe is the case – you need to be careful not to create an idealized prospect who thinks the way you do about everything.
But, if you truly have an insight into their situation and perspective, draw on that, craft it into your messaging because you know it’s going to interest them.
Go forward based on research and evidence
When you first get started you need to ground yourself in research and evidence – you need to collect data.
This is where your reporter’s notebook has been an invaluable companion in the process, you should now have pages of notes and snippets of conversation that you can draw on.
Just that process of data collection will have been useful in itself.
But you can go further – process this data and really build up your understanding.
Before we do that, however, let’s see if we are in a position to build empathy with your prospect.
Let’s look at that in the next post.