Skip to main content

You are here


Dig Through Your Customers’ Garbage

Not really. Try this instead.

Imagine someone walking down the street wearing a t-shirt for your favorite band. How easy is it to start up a conversation by saying, “That’s my favorite band! Have you seen them live?” Your shared love of that band will provide a subject over which to connect, instantly establishing rapport.

What’s the modern-day equivalent of this phenomenon? Public-facing social media posts from your customers and prospects. Social media gives you the tools to instantly build rapport with people — without seeing what they’re wearing that day.

Before social media, this was harder. When I would call on financial advisors as a 401(k) wholesaler, I would walk into a prospect’s office and immediately start scanning their walls and their desk for something to connect on in a non-creepy way. Sometimes, I’d notice some photos from the golf course. “Hey, I see you like golf. What’s your home course?”Once we got started into an interest we shared, it would often lead into a more intimate conversation.

Seeing someone’s public profile on social media is like seeing the inside of their office. It’s not like looking inside their house, it’s not like digging through their garbage. The interests, photos and articles they post publicly are the things they’re okay with people seeing in public. You never want to weird-out a client, and it’s not weird to refer to something that’s on their profile.

If you Google someone, you’ll almost always find something about them that’s publicly available. They might have shared some photos on Facebook or Instagram, or listed interests or community involvement on LinkedIn. They’ll have something that indicates who they are and what they care about.

Read more commentary by Spencer X Smith here

I know the idea of cyberstalking your prospects still makes many people uncomfortable. You think you’ll catch them off-guard if you mention something from their social media profile, right?

Here’s what you can do to assuage your concerns: Before you meet someone in person, while you’re checking out his profile, give him a quick “like” or “share” on that social media platform. Let him know that you’re listening to what he put out there. It could be a week before you meet him or a few hours before. Either way, when you bring it up in person, he will already know you’re aware of his rock climbing trip to South Africa.

But here’s another caveat — you want to build rapport, but you don’t want to seem phony. Whether you’re looking around the walls of someone’s office or reading about their interests online, you need to find something that you can honestly appreciate.

So, what if you’re looking around the office, or on their public profile, and you don’t find anything in common? They’re super into hunting, or golf, or opera music. You’re into none of those things.

You can still find common ground, but you might need to think of their interests in a broader sense. Hunting becomes traveling. Golfing becomes the outdoors. Opera becomes live music.

At that point, don’t be afraid to be honest. Here’s a sample conversation starter when you’re talking to the person with golfing photos: “I’ve never been into golf, but I love the outdoors. What do you like most about golf?” The person might then respond, “I actually stink at golf, but I like that it gets me outside.” You don’t need to have an in-depth knowledge of the subject they’re interested in, and you definitely don’t want to fake it, because there’s a very real possibility that they’ll test you on the topic.

The goal isn’t to just break the ice. The goal is to genuinely find out something about that person that gives you a touchstone. It will help you close deals, but more importantly, it will help you be a better service provider. Spend a few minutes on social media to do research before your meetings, and enjoy better and more meaningful conversations.

Spencer X Smith is the founder of He’s a former 401(k) wholesaler, and now teaches financial services professionals how to use social media for business development. He can be reached at

This column originally appeared in the Fall issue of NAPA Net the Magazine.