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5 Signs Your Prospect Research Has Turned Into Stalking

ThinkstockPhotos-534697857-344500-edited.jpg

ThinkstockPhotos-534697857-344500-edited.jpg

A couple weeks ago, I got a sales email that began, “Hey Aja! Wanted to let you know that Dig Inn just opened a location in Boston -- I found a blog post you wrote a couple years back about healthy vegetarian food, so I thought you might want to check it out.”

The rep clearly did his homework. But his message didn’t impress me … it creeped me out.

In sales, there’s a fine line between researching prospects and stalking them. These five habits are signs you’re crossing that line.

1) You’re Getting Too Personal

Social media can be an invaluable resource for salespeople -- but they should avoid referring to intimate details of their prospects’ lives.

For instance, a rep might discover via Instagram that his prospect has a passion for travel blogging. Blogs are pretty public spaces, so she probably won’t bat an eyelash if he starts his email like so:

“Hey Chloe!

Stumbled across your travel blog -- it’s awesome. You mentioned you were looking for a new camera; have you considered the Klassen 345?”

But suppose the rep came across an Instagram photo from his prospect’s wedding. It would be highly inappropriate to write:

“Hey Chloe!

Congrats on tying the knot -- it looks like you had a beautiful ceremony. :)”

This detail is far more personal, so mentioning it feels invasive.

To figure out whether they’re going too far, salespeople should ask themselves: “Is this a detail I’d feel comfortable discussing with a complete stranger?”

If the answer is “yes,” they can make the reference.

2) You’re Going Several Years Back

In their quest to find the perfect personal detail to reference, some reps end up going deep into the archives of their prospect’s internet history.

However, most people will be freaked out to learn a near-stranger has been reading content they posted three, four, even five years ago. They might not even remember posting it.

It’s better to be safe than stalkerish. In general, reps should avoid referencing content older than six months.

3) You’re Using the Wrong Sources

Some sources are more acceptable to mine for information than others. The average person has more than 90 online accounts -- which means reps can usually find their prospects on multiple sites.

But while mentioning a buyer’s tweet won’t make them uneasy, bringing up something they posted on their personal YouTube account probably will. Content people share in their off-hours should generally be treated as off-limits.

If you’re not sure whether to reference a site, use this cheat sheet:

Yes: LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, company blog, Google+, Quora, Medium

No: Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest, Flickr, Vine, YouTube

4) You’re Bringing Up Off-Limit Topics

There are several subjects salespeople should never bring up: Religious preferences, political beliefs, and personal health.

Some topics are okay to discuss if prospects mention them first. For instance, one might say, “I had a great weekend -- I spent some time with my partner and kids at our lake cabin.”

Because the prospect brought up his family first, he’s willing to talk about them and it would be perfectly fine for the salesperson to respond, “That sounds great. How old are your kids?”

In general, following the prospect’s lead will help reps avoid any conversational landmines.

5) You’re Saying Too Much, Too Soon

Timing often determines the line between personalized and creepy. In general, reps should stick to professional rapport-building topics during their first interactions with prospects. It’s just like forming a normal relationship: The better you know someone, the more leeway you have to bring up less surface-level details.

Here’s a sample timeline for the details the rep might reference:

First email: The referral who connected the rep to the buyer

First call: The town the buyer lives in

Second call: The buyer’s weekend plans

Third call: What the buyer is doing for Thanksgiving

This sequence also helps the salesperson gauge how open the buyer is to discussing non-business topics.

The rep who recommended I try Dig Inn clearly had his heart in the right place. But intent doesn’t matter if the execution falls flat. Next time this SDR emails a prospect, he should build rapport by commenting on a blog post they shared or a recent initiative from their company -- not their dietary preferences.

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