Sales 101 — Researching Sales Prospects

Making a sales call or setting up a face-to-face meeting without detailed background information can leave a rookie salesperson feeling desperate and worried. When a customer starts asking pointed questions, new salespeople often end up lacking the context to answer appropriately, and in turn can lose the customer’s confidence. When a customer’s confidence is undermined, sales slump, and many new salespeople wonder how they could have prevented the loss.

Pre-meeting research can go a long way toward mitigating these issues. Some knowledge problems can be solved with as little as a quick Google search an hour before the meeting, while others might require more effort. In this article we discuss some tips for solid pre-meeting research to level up your sales calls from cold calls to targeted, effective strategic maneuvers.

Just the Basics: Understanding the Target

The first thing any salesperson should research before a sales call is the target company itself. Business to business sales require strong knowledge of a company’s needs, as the customer has no time to figure out how the features a product provides affect their bottom line. The salesperson needs to be the one who can outline exactly what benefits exist with any business-to-business product, and it needs to be done fluently and succinctly.

It can be helpful for salespeople to develop a sort of pre-flight checklist of basic knowledge they need before conducting a sales meeting or phone call. Not all of the information will always be available online with all customers, and some may not come up in practice. Developing reliable tendencies toward preparation and thought before a meeting or call, however, will serve all salespeople well in the long run. Some questions that a salesperson should be able to answer before the call include:

  1. Who is this company’s target audience? Are there other audiences the customer might be expanding into?
  2. How is the company doing? Is it in a growth phase, or holding steady?
  3. Has the potential customer launched any new products or services lately?
  4. Has there been a recent event that’s changed the company’s position in the marketplace?
  5. Is there an obvious way one of our products slots into the company’s apparent strategy?

Don’t research too excessively. Spending several hours before each and every sales call flipping through reports can lead to wasted time and effort, especially when a potential customer decides that this product just isn’t in the budget. Depending on the number of calls a salesperson needs to make regularly, however, a half hour or so spent reading might not be a bad idea.

The World Beyond: Looking for Context

The other major component of pre-call research deals with the “sea of uncontrollable variables” on which the potential customer sails. Are market conditions currently favorable or unfavorable for the lead’s product or service? Have any events happened recently that could help or hinder their own marketing efforts?

Just like the questions about the company itself, these questions can help a salesperson construct a smart pitch for a product. Having this knowledge also goes a long way toward establishing a salesperson as knowledgeable and credible, and in turn can put customers at ease and make them more likely to follow through with a purchase.

Staying Current: Continuing Research

Salespeople should always be absolutely certain their information is as current as it can be before starting a call or a meeting. This doesn’t necessarily mean rereading every document right before the meeting, but a quick search for new developments in the industry or a company of interest can potentially lead to a new talking point or avoid an embarrassing gaffe.

This sort of research can help on followup calls as well, and demonstrates commitment to helping customers find a place in their industries. By keeping on top of changes in a customer’s field, a salesperson indicates a desire for the customer to succeed, rather than to sell a product and walk away: and this is ultimate what sells products..

What do you think?

Research shouldn’t be paralyzing, but it can’t be neglected, either. Salespeople who can research quickly and effectively can close significantly larger numbers of sales and build confidence in current and future leads. How much research do you or your team do before a sales call? Have you had a great success or unfortunate failure due to the information you had at hand? Tell us about your experiences with sales research in the comments.