Unknown University recently had a function where they brought back a number of prominent alumni to talk about various topics. At dinner after the function, I ended up at a table with an MD from a major investment bank who manages about 10Billion overall in both traditional funds and alternative investments in the market where I'm currently doing some research. It was not by chance - I offered to lead a session that he was the main speacker for, and asked to be put at his table afterward.
So, at dinner (in between him checking his Blackberry every few minutes (dan - that is distracting), I got a chance to see whether my story about what I saw in my data passed the "sniff test" from someone who works in that market on a daily basis. Luckily, it did. Having topped that bar, we started talking about what sorts of things his firm has done in terms of research on the particular topic. So, it looks like I made a connection that could result in my getting some pretty scarce data in exchange for doing some research for the guy. It's a win-win - he gets some relatively low-cost access to eggheads, and I and my coauthor get some scarce data and access to people who can tell us far more about the markets involved than we could learn from academic articles and textbooks.
So, the bottom line is - If you're an academic who works on related topics, talk to practitioners. It's good for you.