Michael Schrage is an author and research fellow with the MIT Sloan School of Management's Center for Digital Business.
The Google Rule is a practice that Mr. Schrage has followed for the past eight years. When he meets someone for the first time, he always Googles them. In his words, "I can say without hesitation or reservation that this has proven an exceptionally valuable professional discipline. I almost always find some relevant factoid or useful info-nugget."
By itself, this is not a surprising thing. I, too, am an inveterate practitioner of The Google Rule.
Schrage goes on to make an interesting observation. During his executive education classes that he leads at MIT, he makes a point of asking his students...if they have Googled him, prior to attending the class. The answer has always been the same. One or two students raise their hands, but the vast majority of his students have not taken the time to do this.
For what it's worth, I would corroborate Mr. Schrage's observation. I am often surprised at the number of professionals who do not use Google much to gather information about prospects or clients.
Let's think about meeting a prospective new client for the first time. Typically, what is the objective for this first meeting?
When you meet someone for the first time (in a prospecting capacity), the bar can be set pretty low. The main objective for the first meeting...is to get a second meeting. Nothing more than that. Studies have shown that, typically and on average, it will require about 7-9 "touches" before a prospect becomes a client. (A "touch" is defined as any form of contact, e.g. an email, a phone call, a letter, a face-to-face meeting, etc.) Given that there will be a number of different occasions where one connects with a prospective client; the objective of the first meeting is simply to determine if this is a person who you would like to connect with, going forward. To accomplish this, you will need to engage in dialogue, ask some interesting questions, and build a personal rapport. In building rapport with a relative stranger, Google is a great place to start.
As Mr. Schrage points out, taking the time to learn about someone prior to a first meeting is a common courtesy. In fact, to not do so is incurious, slothful, and somewhat disrespectful.
But the real power of The Google Rule is this: it may lead to the unexpected. By learning an interesting factoid about a stranger that can be appropriately inserted into a casual conversation, you set yourself up as someone who goes above and beyond the normal course of business.
To a prospect, the "expected" is tedious and boring. Nothing wrong with it, but it certainly won't set you apart from the crowd. Going above and beyond shows potential new clients that you’re serious, thorough, and genuinely interested in them. Not a bad way to start off any new relationship.