Many sales people go into sales calls winging it, or simply follow a script that “guarantees” success. Then, they walk out with no clear next steps or real understanding of the client’s needs and opportunity to do business. I’ve noticed the top sales people, the ones who are consistently successful year after year, are the ones that have made it a habit to research their prospects, set clear goals for the meeting, and plan their questioning to lead to these goals.
Understanding the client and their business is the first step. Think of it from the client perspective:
Here’s another sales person, who wants to be my “partner”, who I have to educate on my business and challenges. This better not be another hour of my time I never get back!
The client has welcomed you in because they have a need, and you use it as a classroom session!
The entire process can be jump started by doing your research ahead of time. Instead of 30 minutes spent on learning about the client’s organization and company, what if it was cut down to 10 minutes? That’s an extra 20 minutes to talk about challenges and issues, and explore opportunities to do business together. The real benefit is when equipped with knowledge and understanding at the start, you differentiate yourself from 80% of the other sales people, and can have a much deeper conversation.
With the wealth of easily accessed information at our disposal today, there’s simply no excuse for walking into a sales call without at least a nominal understanding of the client and their business.
- How is the industry doing in current economy? Economy favors, changes, or hurts industry?
- What are the challenges facing the industry? Geo-political? Technology? Legislation? Environmental? Demographic? Talent / expertise? Etc.
- Market: Who are the market leaders? Market dominated by few large players or many smalls? What is the dynamic between global / national / local firms in their space? Who are some of their competitors and how are they doing?
- What’s happening with the company? What do various finance sites (ex: Bloomberg) say about them? Where is their stock price trending?
- Go to the web site. Where is the company located? What implications are there for your products / services? Are you calling on the headquarters or a remote location?
- Find and read / view recent articles in the local media. Office moves, contracts won, recognition, layoffs, lawsuits, etc
- What charities or other community activities are they engaged with? Check the CEO / President’s profile to see what charities he / she is involved in as those are also likely the same community activities the company is involved with.
Client / Prospect:
- What is the prospect’s role in the organization? Leverage social media to find out.
- What types of challenges does this role typically entail? Even if you can’t find details, you can envision typical challenges by understanding the role: getting projects done, finding the right talent, minimizing operational costs, etc.
- Might the prospect be impacted, involved in, or leading company initiatives you discovered in your other research?
You don’t need to be a Data Analyst to gather the above information. Today’s sales person can find most anything they want through a variety of sources:
- LinkedIn: Pull up the client’s profile to see common connections, work history, background, and interests. Send an invitation to connect. Who else is connected to the prospect? Do you know any of these folks?
- LinkedIn: Search to find people that work at the company. See if anyone you know knows the prospect you are meeting with. Call them for insight.
- Facebook – pretty much everyone and every company is there.
- Become one with your search engine! Learn to use moderately complex search strings and Boolean operators. There are “advanced search” functions on virtually every search engine site, and searching “How to do Boolean searches on Bing” or similar will show you how.
- Search on the client’s name and company. Generally, you can find the public LinkedIn profile on the web there even if you are not connected to them. It is amazing what you can find simply by searching on a prospect or company name.
- Search for industry news sites and forums.
- Search business journals and industry magazines. For example, there are weekly “Business First” publications in 40 or so cities. I suspect there are similar publications in others.
- Local media (newspaper, TV, business magazines): Search Company and competitors.
- Company web site: Look at pages that list company history, who the execs are, news releases, job openings, charities and causes they support, etc.
The fact that prospects are willing to devote an hour or so of time to a sales person is a strong indicator that they have a reason to be speaking with you. Minimize the time spent on background and maximize the time spent on discovering needs and opportunities to work together by doing your research before the sales call.