Consider the following hypothetical example: The Coca Cola Company is considering entering the emerging maple water business. They aren't yet serious about this and don't want their competitors to know that they are exploring this area. So, they enlist someone to research prospective maple sourcing partners to learn about their capabilities and interest in considering a business relationship...before deciding whether or not to make direct contact themselves.
Who is this "someone" that the client might enlist for this mission? Most of us are familiar with the story of Cyrano De Bergerac, who romances the beautiful Roxane on behalf of another party (I am more familiar with the comedic film adaptation featuring Steve Martin, but I digress...). In essence, the Cyrano character provides the inspiration for the role that I and others like me get asked to play in intelligence gathering...except without the romance and poetry writing part. This role may also be referred to as a relationship developer/miner, etc...but Cyrano De Bergerac of External Innovation sounds more dramatic, n'est ce pas?
Kidding aside, if one considers the matter, there is typically limited relevant (public) information that companies can gather about select external parties without making direct contact with them. So, practically speaking, it isn't really a question of whether or not to seek to connect. It's more a matter of how best to do it. This is where an experienced Cyrano can provide useful service. Here are some tips for engaging in responsible information gathering with external parties:
- Identify yourself and provide your professional credentials: This legitimizes you and your mission with the party you've contacted and should make them more accepting of you. If you have a website or LinkedIn profile that provides your CV and or professional credentials, including references, be prepared to share this information.
- Be honest about your purpose: You may not be able to name your client, and you don't have to disclose their strategic intentions, but you should provide the reason why you've contacted them and what you hope to learn from them. Be clear about what could be in it for them (for instance, if there is a possibility that they may be offered the opportunity to be a business partner), but don't misrepresent its likelihood. Be sure to tell them that you aren't seeking and won't ask for confidential information (without proper protections first being put in place).
- Explain the process: Whether you are on a one-off info gathering mission or are actively seeking a prospective business partner, explain to the party you've contacted the process that you would like to follow and seek their buy-in to it. This should include a reconnection step to provide feedback, introduction to your client (if appropriate) and or closure, (if appropriate).
- Respect their right to decline to participate: While there may be benefit to the party resulting from having engaged with you, this is not always clear, and rarely certain. If they don't wish to engage with you or prefer to not be as forthcoming with information as you would hope, that is their right. Don't press them.
- Listen: Your job is to learn. Let them talk. They will often share more than you might expect them to.
-Thank them for their time: Especially if they choose to accommodate your information request, they are providing a service with an uncertain benefit to them. Express your appreciation for their willingness to assist you.
Good luck with your own external information gathering efforts. Feel free to contact me to discuss your needs.
614 937-2408 to discuss your company's needs.