Performing some sort of sales research can have a direct improvement on sales performance. A few areas that we can focus some time collecting information are the company, the industry, the people, and the competition. Not only will having knowledge in these areas give us more power by enabling us to make more informed statements and questions, but this may also impress the prospect as it will display that we are either sharp or that we have at least done our homework.
1. Researching the Company
In the old school world of sales, the sales person would start out a meeting by saying, “Tell me about your business.” Prospects today expect you to already know about their business in terms of history, portfolio of products, organizational structure, challenges, etc.
A good place to start and get some of this information is the prospect’s website. You can typically review an “About Us” section on a company’s website and usually find a good summary of the company’s history and the road they have traveled. Another good source of information will be a prospect’s listing of news articles and press releases. You can try to scan these to see any significant events that the company has announced to learn a little more about their strategy and direction.
A prospect’s annual report can be another valuable resource for sales research. An annual report will typically provide a great summary of the business environment that the company is operating in and some insights into overall strategy and direction. You can also analyze some of the financial data in the annual report to find trends or challenges in their business and these can be very impressive discussion points to bring up during a cold call. Be sure to use some finesse when sharing any negative trends that the prospect might not be proud of.
The amount of research performed per call or per account should have an inverse relationship with the number of accounts that need to be called. In other words, if we have a long list of businesses to cold call, we cannot perform extensive research on each business. But if we are working on a fairly short, finite list of assigned accounts, we should definitely go through some research steps to gather key information before making each call.
2. Researching the Actual Players
It can be very productive to perform some sales research on the prospects that we are going to be calling. A good process for this would be to put the prospect’s name into search engines and social media platforms to see what kind of data can be found. Key pieces of information to look for are to details around how they fit into the organization, any details around their career or previous work history, personal interests, mutual contacts you may have with them, etc.
These details can not only help you to navigate the organization, but they may also provide valuable points to discuss with the prospect while you are on the phone. For example, if you identify that they share any connections with you, or share some similar work history, those can be great rapport building points. If your research on the individual reveals some organizational details, that may enable you to tailor your standard questions to their situation to make the call more productive.
3. Researching the Industry
Every business that we want to sell to will be operating inside of an industry and each industry will be its own ecosystem in terms of news, trends, key players, language, politics, etc. When performing sales research, you can identify what industry the prospect falls under and try to increase your level of knowledge about it.
Similar to the amount of sales research that you want to do for each account, the amount of research that you should perform for each industry will depend on the number of industries that your accounts fall into. If you only sell to businesses that fall under one industry, you should try to submerse yourself into learning as much as you can about that particular industry. You should know all of the trends, the language, the latest news, etc. Although on the other extreme, if you sell to businesses that span across many different industries, you may be limited to only skimming the surface when trying to grow your industry knowledge.
4. Researching the Competitive Landscape
It can be very beneficial to perform sales research on the prospect’s competition in terms of knowing who the competitors are and how they all stack up against one another. Running web searches on the industry and companies will help to gather some good data in this area. There are also a number of financial and market analysis web sites that compile this data and have it in centralized and summarized formats.
Of course, similar to the other areas of research, you can only research the competitive landscapes in accordance with the number of prospects that you are trying to call into. But at a minimum, it could be good to know who the prospects main competitor is.
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Launch Pad Solutions provides sales training helping sales pros to perform sales research.
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