Know your audience!

It’s amazing the difference less than a minute of due diligence audience research can make. Here’s an example:

During my time as a faculty member at Arizona State University, I received an email from a textbook representative from one of the top five academic publishers in the United States asking me if he could stop by my office and bring me desk copies of this publisher’s business communication imprint for use in my classes.

At the time, I was the faculty member heading up the business-communication curriculum at the largest university in the country. I was used to getting solicitation emails from publishers asking me to review books in the field or asking me to consult on digital products. Hearing from a publishing representative wasn’t new.

But here’s the kicker.

I’m one of three authors on the textbook that is used at Arizona State University, and many others throughout the country: Business and Professional Communication in the Global Workplace. I don’t say this to toot my proverbial horn (especially since each book that sells provides me barely enough money to buy a Starbucks coffee), but to illustrate a gross neglect of due diligence.

After shaking my head, I responded to the man, sent a direct link to the public syllabus listed on the department website, and told him that replacing my own book and rewriting the course content was not likely to happen. His response back to me may as well have been a gif of a foot inserted in a mouth.

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Does this mean he shouldn’t have contacted me at all?


Does this mean that salespeople shouldn’t contact people who already have a solution in place?


It does mean that if you do your due diligence, and analyze your audience beforehand, you can use a different approach, build a relationship, and make inroads for future opportunities and referrals.

Here’s how this situation could have panned out differently, and how you can reframe sales conversations to potential clients who aren’t ready to buy now, but could be a good connection in other ways.

Show that you’ve done your research.

If you’ve done your due diligence and know information that you want to communicate to a contact up front, do it. Demonstrate that you’ve done your research and let the person know you’re not coming to them for a sale. This will allow the individual to interpret your message in a new, most likely more open, way.

In my situation, had he written, expressing knowledge of the book utilized and asked if we had plans to create another edition (this one was released in 2010), he would’ve gained valuable information. He would’ve learned that, no, we aren’t renewing for another edition with our publisher.

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Look for ways to expand the scope of the relationship.

Even if this person isn’t a potential client right now, what other ways can you collaborate and build a relationship? How can you be of mutual benefit? How can you make an offer to be of service in a way that will genuinely benefit the other party?

In my case, knowing that we weren’t planning on creating a new edition of the book could open up a host of opportunities to expand the relationship. With that information the sales person could have (a) asked if we would be interested in talking to an editor at the company he represents–demonstrating his value to the editorial team in finding potential authors, or (b) asked if I would mind if he dropped off some books for consideration at a later date, should we decide to switch to a newer version, or to review updated chapters on technology for potential adoption, since that changes so rapidly.

Either of these options would’ve furthered the relationship, and who knows what might have happened in the long run.

Know your audience, do your due diligence research, and communicate what you know so you can create a platform for building a long-term relationship. It seems obvious, but it’s often overlooked.

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