How to Become a Socratic Sourcer

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Apr 15, 2016
This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.

Socrates believed that the path to knowledge was through questioning beginning at the root of one’s own ignorance.

In Socratic sourcing, the practitioner is always asking questions seeking intelligence; everyone is a “source” and each and every source a potential font of enlightenment.

As many of you know, I’m a strong proponent of calling into companies to gather information, particularly the employee name/title/contact kind. You also know that I’m an advocate of going directly at the Gatekeeper first for this information.  The Socratic sourcing method is demonstrated in the gentle debate style in the following exchange that slowly extracts one piece of information at a time rather than going at the Gatekeeper in a gale wind-brute force, “I need to know who all thirteen of your sales reps are on the West Coast.”

Although most Gatekeepers usually possess the knowledge you seek occasionally, and I do mean occasionally, you’ll get someone who truly lacks the knowledge you seek or the ability to help you right away without help from you.
Ring Ring Ring
“Hello, XYZ Company, Cindy speaking, may I help you?”

“Hello, Cindy, this is Maureen Sharib. May I speak with your Director of External Reporting?”

“I don’t know who that is.”

“Then can you connect me to your finance department?”

“I don’t think we have one.”

When this happens, you have to help this poor soul help you. Glancing quickly at my screen and the list of executives Hoovers provided me when I set the job up, I note the CFO’s name listed four slots down on the org chart.

“Can you transfer me to your Chief Financial Officer, Jim Garrison?”

“Oh – him! Sure, why didn’t you say so?” she laughs. “One moment please!”

(Quickly, before she transfers me) “Cindy, before you transfer me, can you tell me, does he have an Administrative Assistant?”

“He has an Executive Assistant,” she corrects me, suddenly beginning to sound more informed than she did at first. “Her name is Susan Jacobson – would you like to be transferred to her?”

“I think so, but before you do, Cindy, just IN CASE I GET DISCONNECTED, does Susan have a direct dial?”

“Yes, she does, you want it?”

Thinking I just told her I did I purr, “Yes, Cindy, I do, if you don’t mind.”

She gives me the direct dial and then she falls silent.  I make a suggestion, once again repeating the most beautiful sound in the world to her – her name, in an attempt to bee-charm the bee:

“Cindy, can you look to see if there is anyone listed under Mr. Garrison?”

I hold my breath; ready for whatever she comes back with.

She hesitates before announcing, sounding somewhat surprised, “Well yes, he has several “under” him, by the looks of it!”

“Oh, that’s helpful!” I say, trying not to betray my excitement. “Can you read off their titles to me?” I boldly go where not many dare.

She begins to read and the third one down, after the VP of Finance who appears to report to the Controller, is, miracle of miracles, wouldn’t you just know it, the Director of External Reporting!

“There you go!” I cry, sounding as if she’s discovered something really important and letting her know I appreciate her capabilities as a Gatekeeper. “And what is that person’s name?” I ask, sounding in great admiration of her and like this whole thing is her idea.

“Joan Peterson,” Cindy immediately beams back, and I breathe a sigh of relief as I quickly type it into my silent keyboard, along with the title.

“And does Joan have a direct dial?” I ask, looking for as much information as I can press out of this ripe fruit.

“She does – you want it?” Cindy asks me again to my wonder.

She gives it to me; I thank her for her assistance and hang up.
Whatever form your Socratic sourcing takes you’ll need different kinds of questions for different stages in the process. Here’s a list of six categories of questions for a Socratic Dialogue that will help get you thinking about this subject of Socratic sourcing:

  1. Questions that help clarify what the other person means
  2. Questions that probe assumptions
  3. Questions that look into the rationale, reasons and evidence the other person’s using
  4. Questions examining viewpoints and perspectives
  5. Questions that probe implications and consequences
  6. Questions get to the root of the other person’s questions

I didn’t use all of them in the example above but I used some of them.  Can you identify which ones I used?

(From Wikipedia) The Socratic method, also known as maieutics, method of elenchus, elenctic method, or Socratic debate, is named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates.

Socratic Sourcing, also known as investigative sourcing, a method of phone sourcing, telephone calling, asking questions, deep web search, is also named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates.

Most companies don’t realize the market research/competitive intelligence value their recruiting departments have or the value in training their recruiting departments in the art of investigative calling or linking/teaming their market research/competitive intelligence departments with their recruiting functions.

Irina wrote a piece on learning from investigative journalists. There are some great links in that piece that will lead you down a fun foxhole of discovery. This piece is meant to whet your appetite towards the idea that sourcing is, and always has been, so much more than the delivery of names. It is the delivery of wildly valuable information at a massive scale to a company’s deliverables by a select few. If you can master this art (and science because there’s plenty of science involved!) your value as a sourcer of the Socratic method will never again be questioned.

Cold calling gives you unique insight and valuable, real-time information about the market you’re working.  Many cold calls, however, could not be made as effectively as they could be without the information a great Internet researcher can begin one with.

On the other hand, Internet research is only as good as it can be, verified and enhanced, by a great cold caller.  Learning to “see” Lady Truth over a telephone connection with your ears is a huge component of becoming a great Socratic sourcer.

In today’s Socratic sourcing model, you must be both an Internet sourcer and a phone sourcer.

Socratic sourcing does not ignore any type of sourcing, it embraces each and every type and it melts into other circumstances off demand. It relies heavily on questioning and listening; it watches for details and particulars, facts, figures, statistics, data – all the news that gives guidance, counsel, information, etc.

It might get its start in the middle of the night, digging in the dirt on the Internet, or some early morning hours, calling C-levels before their Executive Assistants arrive, or it might entail an all-afternoon web search. All of this hard work in the hopes of accessing their company directories and “oh won’t it be nice if some of them have been there for thirty years and know everything that’s going on.”

Those six categories of questions were compiled by Richard Paul of the Center for Critical Studies.  You can view a link to them here.

Read them and make your comments below and let’s have a discussion about this subject!

This article is part of a series called Editor's Pick.
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