I once called a well-known investor trying to pitch him on my new startup idea, and I did not get more than a few minutes into the pitch when he shared that he was an investor in a directly competitive company. I felt like a complete idiot. I am sure he thought the same. Obviously, I had not done my homework.
How long does it take to do a search on potential business partner or client? A minute. Maybe another three to five minutes of reading the top three to four links? LinkedIn has a ton of personal background information that can be used to warm up the conversation. "I know Dave Neal as well. How long have you known Dave?" "I see you went to West Chester University, how did you like southeast Pennsylvania?" "Were you really a geographer?" Bringing just a little information into the conversation signals me that this meeting is important to you.
Do they have a blog? What they write about says a lot about what is important to them. "Hey Chris, I liked what you wrote last week on Inc.com." "I am a first-time CEO, and the article on being a new CEO was exactly what I needed last week." "How do you enjoy writing weekly? Is it easy for you, or do you have to work at it?"
As I have written many times before, networking is not hard, but doing it right takes a little work on your part. Do yourself and your targeted new networked friend a favor: Take five minutes and do your homework.
In my case, 15 years ago, with that call to the well-known investor, a brief search of his website would have revealed the competitive company. With that knowledge in hand, I would have changed my entire pitch and led with a question about his interest in the space and whether there was room for another map company in his portfolio. Fifteen years later, I am now professional friends with that investor, and I am hoping that he has forgotten that brief and awkward phone call.