Principle #3 Use Spies to Gain an Edge

The Art Of War Of The Inbox

Principle #3 Use Spies to Gain an Edge

Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. - Sun Tzu

Having information that others don’t, can be a source of immense power.

In the past, in order to gain an ‘information edge,’ you would deploy spies on your enemy. Applying these principles proves to be much more tricky in the modern inbox and internet age.

The best way to illustrate this principle is for me to argue the opposite.

What’s the opposite of using spies?

It relies on information accessible to everyone else. (especially others vying for your customer's attention.) The tricky word is ‘accessible’ because the Internet has leveled the playing field for everyone. Now the access is egalitarian.

There are very few secrets left that could sway the outcome of an inbox battle. Yet, they exist, and I’ll help find them.

Get ahead of your competitors by having foreknowledge - Use Spies - Principle #3 in the Art of War of the Inbox.

Outdated (or bad) intel

First, let’s start with a few examples of how outdated (or bad) intel screws up your results.

Scraped lists

Scraping emails is very popular, and for a good reason - it can work well. But where you likely go wrong is how you scrape and where you scrape from.

For example:

You go to LinkedIn Sales Navigator and filter for:

Job title:

  • CIO (Chief Information Officer)
  • 1-200 employees
  • Location: California

Bad idea. Every single one of your competitors is doing the same. The list is likely outdated, stale, or simply overused.

Off-the-shelf  databases

Off-the-shelf databases are tools like Zoom Info, Clearbit, Ocean.io..or other data enrichment tools.

They can be helpful in some instances; they do speed things up and make building lists extremely easy, but…

…mostly everyone (including your competitors) uses them too. It’s doubtful you’ll create an unfair competitive advantage this way.

Conference  attendees

A common idea, easily accessible. Unless, of course, it’s your conference. wink wink

It’s not so much that you should not be using these kinds of tools & information. But know that this is not enough. Treat it as a starting point.

Ask yourself: I’ve got the basics - now what else can I do to gain some competitive edge?
How might I use my creative muscles and pimp up the list a notch?

The myth of no secrets

eye of Mordor scanning the terrain gif

I believe there’s a myth that’s permeated most of the world. The myth has significantly killed our inner treasure-hunters. I call it the myth of no secrets.

The belief in this myth is why “having foreknowledge” seems ridiculous to most people. The primary assumption is that all the significant discoveries & inventions are behind us.

The other assumption, more on an individual level, is that globalization has squashed any chance that you may figure something out ahead of everybody else…(and then why bother if they are just going to steal it anyway.)

Well, I urge you to ask yourself:

Is everything there is to know, already known?
Are there no more secrets left in this world?
*Why can’t I be the one to uncover some of them?

Email  ‘spies’

1) Cross-promotion campaigns

If any non-competitors out there sell to the same people/target market you are, they likely already have an opt-in list that’s not accessible to any scraping tool. They also likely have insights & perspectives on your customers that you don’t have (just like a spy).

Try to develop a relationship with them. Find someone who can do a warm intro for you. Create a win-win proposition that these “influencers” simply cannot refuse.

2) Befriend gatekeepers

In the B2B world, we often want to go straight after the top dog in the organization - The founder, CEO, or Partner.

The issue is that many of them have ‘gatekeepers’ that check their inbox for them and keep the noise & bullshit out of their head. You could predict that ahead of time, and try to befriend the gatekeeper first, gain some favors…and only then go for the kill.

Nate’s military story:
Many many years ago, in my military days during the operation Iraqi Freedom, I used to be a gate-keeper for cournels. I was the guy who answered phone-calls, managed emails - all the good stuff. People that were nice to me, and brought me presents (I had a guy bribe me with Twix), would get a spot on the boss's calendar. Others, who weren’t as nice, wouldn’t.
This tactic may sound manipulative, but sometimes you have to bend some rules to close deals.

3) Befriend niche data brokers

There’s a whole ecosystem of niche data brokers. They have access to tools, lists or information not accessible by browsing the World Wide Web. However, most of the time it means you have to step outside the email inbox and into the real world of handshakes, gifts, and favors. So-called - networking.

Keep in mind, that your ‘friend’, may also be a friend of your competitor.

Digging  for secrets

The best place to look for secrets is where no one else is looking. Or where most are not paying attention.

The other strategy is to look where everyone else is looking, but through a different lens, with a different perspective — your unique point of view.

Sometimes the secret is already within you - the obvious idea - that you assume everyone else knows/thinks, but what is evident to you may not be apparent to everyone else. Your obvious is your talent.

Finally, and most importantly, remember that this is a team effort. Don’t try to win the war by yourself. Technology is terrific, but the true advantage lies in other people's hands. Your network is your net worth.

As a going-away present, a few questions to ask yourself:

*Where can I look for ideas, somewhere where no one’s looking..?
How might I gain an advantage by ‘digesting’ the information more effectively?
*What secrets the best in the game, are not telling you?
Where are the hidden doors that everyone seems to be overlooking?
Who could I connect with, that would help me unlock some of these doors? (Maybe I already know someone…)

The art of war of the inbox

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