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There is a certain company that I want to try to sell my product to, but this company has somewhat of a monopolistic position in my market. Therefore I want to make sure I approach this in the right way, but I'm not entirely sure how that company works internally, and how to approach.

For this reason, I'm considering contacting an ex-employee of the company on Linkedin.

I'm not trying to solicit any kind of confidential pricing information or something like that. I would just like to ask him a bit about how best to approach the company, and make sure I talk to the right people in the right way.

But I really want to make sure I don't accidentally do something unethical, or something that would look bad. I don't want to come across as if I'm trying to be sneaky.

Is what I'm thinking of doing (contacting an ex-employee and ask for general advice), considered unethical or sneaky? Will the company consider it unethical or sneaky?

More generally, where is the line with this kind of thing? Obviously you can't ask about specific confidential pricing information, but can you ask an ex employee e.g. about how his former employer generally negotiates?

  • Is this ex-employee someone you already know, or a random stranger? Why contact a former employee and not a current employee? – David K Jun 9 '17 at 12:07
  • Someone I just found on linkedin. I don't want to immediately contact a current employee because I'm precisely trying to figure out how best to do that in a way that gives the best impression – user56834 Jun 9 '17 at 15:37
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If this was someone you had a pre-existing, personal relationship with, then it would probably be okay. Asking a friend for advice on how to talk to their former company is not particularly unethical; your friend would be providing their advice as a friend. As long as you stayed away from corporate secrets, anyway, and more like "How can I make sure not to step on anyone's toes" sorts of questions, or "Who do I call at XYZ company to talk about selling my product"; those are fine questions for a friend.

Without that, though, I think it's likely to be more harmful than helpful. Contacting a random person you don't already know not only means you're asking someone a question they probably don't particularly care to answer, as they don't have a relationship with you OR the employer, and to the extent they do have a relationship, it is with the employer - meaning they're more likely than anything else to tell the employer rather than to help you out.

  • What if I were to pay them a "consulting fee"? – user56834 Jun 9 '17 at 4:56
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    @Programmer2134 Joe's answer is spot on I think. Putting myself in the shoes of this "ex-employee" if it was regarding an ex-employer that I was amicable with I would feel defensive and unlikely to give any information away to you, if it was an ex-employer who I was on bad terms with then I'd just be irritated and stonewall you. Regarding your idea of a "consulting fee" - in this context it would be very hard to differentiate this from a "bribe" and would make things much, much worse in my opinion. – motosubatsu Jun 9 '17 at 8:52
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I would not do such a thing. I would not ask, and if i would be asked, i would not answer and potentially inform my former employer.

Rationale behind:"how do we negotiate?" is actually more critical than pricing information. "How do we negotiate" involves the information whom you have to address to influence the decision.

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