Warning: Step away from the search engine!
Google is a great tool, but it’s not perfect for everything.
You can use it to learn the time difference between New York City and Hong Kong, or you can settle an argument with a friend about whether flies really vomit when they land on you. These kinds of questions — ones with a clear-cut, definite answer — are what Google is made for. But if you’re looking for answers to questions that will affect your company or help you make a decision on a professional matter, Google doesn’t quite cut it.
Why Google misses the mark
A Google search is both faster and easier than tracking down an expert to talk to, so why would you go through the trouble of finding a real-life person to answer your questions? Here are three reasons why it’s better to seek an expert’s opinion
You get content that isn’t available online. There is only so much information in a searchable, digital form. The rest is in people’s heads and can only be accessed through personal interactions.
You get answers to more complex questions. An expert will always be better than Google for answering questions that are specifically tailored to your situation. When you talk to an expert, you don’t get generalities; you get VIP access to his perspective and experiences to help you solve your specific problem.
You get trustworthy answers. The Internet is full of wannabe experts spreading misinformation and confusion. Talking to a real person lets you cut through the crap and get an answer you can trust. An expert will understand your question and get you the information you need more quickly and reliably than a search engine.
4 creative ways to connect with an expert
Experts are in high demand, so you might have to be a little creative when approaching them. Here are four methods you can use:
Connect on LinkedIn. There are millions of professionals on LinkedIn, and people are becoming increasingly open to forming connections with strangers if the relationship has the potential to be mutually beneficial.
Deduce email addresses. It’s relatively easy to guess someone’s company email address, so drop him an email and explain why you would like to connect. Depending on the size of the company, try firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Send individual emails to each address so it doesn’t look like you’re phishing.
Make a cold call. This is the scariest form of approach for most people, but it can be very effective. Find the expert’s phone number through his website or switchboard, decide what you want to say ahead of time, and give him a call.
Network. This is probably the safest approach to meeting an expert. Find an existing contact who can introduce you to the expert you’re looking for, or make a more accessible connection with someone who can put you in touch.
One of the biggest reasons people are hesitant to reach out to an expert is fear of rejection. Just remember that if the person doesn’t return your call or email, or if he directly says no, you’re really no worse off than if you hadn’t approached him at all. But if he responds, you’ll get expert answers to your questions and possibly form an important business relationship.
Stirling Cox is the managing director of AlphaSights USA, a company that connects today’s business leaders with the insight and expertise they need to prosper. The company assists private equity firms, asset managers, strategy consultancies, and corporate executives in making more informed decisions.