In previous posts, we've discussed the first two stages of the social selling process, creating a robust online presence and developing your social network.  In this post we'll move on to the third stage, intelligence gathering, or as it's known in the Internet vernacular, "social listening." 

The availability of information on the Internet has been a boon to business developers.  I remember going online in the early 1990s, when I purchased a Windows 3.1 PC and subscribed to America Online.  I was overwhelmed at the information available, especially when I moved beyond AOL and onto the Internet!  I could research clients and potential clients, and learn more about their companies or institutions.  I could search for articles about them and get updated news.  I was so much better informed than I had been when I originally chose this career – even if it took five minutes for my modem to connect to AOL, and then it took forever to pull up a single web page! 

What has happened in the past five years, however, has been absolutely mind-boggling!  Not only can we research companies and institutions, but we can now research our prospects, and put a face to our business development pursuits.  Through Google searches and social media channels like LinkedIn, we can get to know our prospects virtually, determine points of commonality, and see if we have any mutual contacts. 

However, while this can be an amazing tool for savvy social sellers, there is also a very real danger of abusing this information and coming across as an annoying salesperson "stalker!"  In the past two weeks, I've had a salesperson email me five times to set up a phone call.  With each email he sounded a bit more desperate: "Perhaps you didn't see my last email."  Or, "Really, I have a product that will help you."  He's coming across as a stalker.  The most recent email I received from him was akin to waiving a white flag: "Okay, if you are not the person who can use my product, can you give me the name of someone who can?"


It's tactics like this that give business development a bad name!

This individual is using a "bullying" sales approach - once you get a person's email, badger them into submission; that is, pester the prospect until they agree to talk with you because they just want you to go away!  Had he bothered to do some intelligence gathering, he could have learned more about me, connected with me, and offered some value to me, instead of blindly trying to sell me a product that I don’t believe I need.  (Maybe I do actually need it, but since he is whacking me upside the head with it instead of educating me about its benefits, how would I know?)

Because of his approach, there's really no need for me to take the time to respond to him.  The easiest thing in the world to do is hit “delete" - as we all do, every day, with scores of unsolicited and unwanted emails! 

When conducting information gathering, you basically begin as a lurker.  And that's okay … it’s really not being creepy!  Have you ever been at a networking event, and there's a group of people talking?  You really want to join the conversation, but you haven't been invited... so you just stand a few feet away, listening, hoping to make eye contact to get invited into the little conversation circle?  As awkward as that feels, it's actually okay to be that person when social selling!

In the previous step, you joined a number of LinkedIn groups.  Now you're going to pay attention to the conversations taking place within those groups.  Many of the discussion threads will appear on your news feed, but you can also go directly into the groups (on the LinkedIn menu bar, select “Interests” and then “Groups” for a list of your groups).  Pay attention to the articles that are being shared and the topics that are being discussed.  If you are in an owner's group, you'll want to make note (write it down or create a digital list – don’t rely on your memory) of the topics that get a lot of participation or come up regularly. These are trends or hot-buttons for owners.  This will be critical in the next stage as you begin to share content.  But for right now, don't leap before you look.  Get a feel for what is being shared and how it is being shared. 

In fact, this is where industry media can be exceptionally useful.  Read the posts and articles that they publish.  Pay particular attention to the media that your clients and prospects follow, because what is important to them must be important to you.  Truly understanding the issues that your clients/prospects face can be a differentiator for your firm.  There's a ton of excellent, free knowledge out there.  Capture it, and share it with anyone at your firm involved with BD.  Save links or, better yet, make PDF files of interesting articles.  This intelligence will inform your forthcoming content sharing. 

Also, you can begin populating your CRM.  For instance, if you've identified a dozen (or two, or three) people that you don't yet know but would like to connect with, check out their LinkedIn profiles - depending upon their privacy settings, you may or may not be able to see much about them.  A lot of people make their profiles public, which shows that they are open to making new contacts.  You'll find some folks that have very little information in their profiles, and only a handful of contacts.  They are just occasional LinkedIn users, and social selling may not be the best way to connect with them unless they happen to be active on other social media channels. 

For prospective contacts who have made their information public, check out where they've worked in the past.  Find out where they went to college.  You are looking for commonalities.  Pull contact information into your CRM database (whether it is hand-written notes, an Excel spreadsheet, or a more robust program like Deltek Vision, Cosential,, or Act).  Go beyond just name, title, company/institution, address, email, telephone, and website.  Create a notes field and add some personal information – birthday, college, past employers, spouse name, interests, etc.  Harvey Mackay, best-selling author of Swim with the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive, created the “Mackay 66,” a list of 66 things to know about your customers.  Check it out here:

One word of warning.  Depending upon your privacy settings, other LinkedIn members may know when you are viewing their profile.  Under “Accounts & Settings,” select “Privacy & Settings” to adjust yours.  If you choose to be anonymous (people won’t know that you, personally viewed their profile), you won’t be able to see who has viewed your profile, which is a useful tool.  One trick I use is to employ Internet Explorer’s InPrivate browsing feature.  I’ll be logged off of LinkedIn, and will research people’s LinkedIn profile anonymously.  This doesn’t always work (depending upon their privacy settings), but often does allow me to check out LinkedIn profiles without the individuals knowing.  I’ll often have one window open where I’m logged into LinkedIn normally, and a second window with the InPrivate feature to cloak my presence! 

One final component of intelligence gathering is competitive research and analysis.  By all means, check out your competition - not just your "real" competition (those firms you regularly compete against), but also the industry leaders in your target markets.  What are they saying?  What type of content are they publishing or sharing?  Who are they working with?  While imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, the idea here is not to copy them:  you'll be able to determine how to differentiate your firm from them while getting a feel for how they market and sell.

As I mentioned in the first social selling post, even though I'm defining specific stages or steps in the process, the reality is that you'll be doing these steps continually!  It may seem more linear as you delve into social selling for the first time, but as you get deeper into social selling, doing these things will become second nature.

Now the warm-up is complete!  You've developed your social media presence - at least on LinkedIn, perhaps on Twitter or other channels.  You've connected with people that you know, and identified people that you want to know.  You've "lurked" and learned about how people share information, as well as what type of information is being shared - content that is of interest to your clients and prospects.

While this post has primarily focused on LinkedIn, note that intelligence gathering (social listening) can be done across multiple platforms.  Many people use third-party tools like Hootsuite, a social media dashboard.  Create an account, connect your social media, and monitor the conversations in one place.  Hootsuite also allows you to continually monitor search terms or phrases (like BIM, facilities management, etc.) to gain intelligence. 

In the next post, social selling will get real, as you begin sharing content and providing value to your current network and people you hope will become part of your network.