This is “Researching Your Prospect: Going Deeper”, section 8.1 from the book Powerful Selling (v. 1.0).
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Spring break is just around the corner. You and your friends definitely want to go away somewhere great. You decide on Cancún, Mexico, as a destination. Since you want to get the best plane fare and hotel rate, you will have to book early. That means planning, coordinating, and even doing some research on the area. You want everything to be perfect—after all, this is spring break.
Just as preparation made your spring break trip come together perfectly, preparation also makes a sales call successful. By now you’ve identified and qualified your prospects, you’ve come up with an action plan, and you’re probably eager to get down to business. However, you can’t just call your prospect or show up at his door without doing your homework first. How big is his business? What are his business goals? What is his company culture? Is he already doing business with any of your competitors? In what ways do your products or services present a solution he could use? The preapproach, or the process of finding out the answers to these questions, is critical.Neil Rakham, The SPIN Selling Fieldbook (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1996), 39. Doing your research and coming prepared gets your prospect’s attention and shows him that you care. It gives you the power to sell adaptively and puts you ahead of your competitors.
Keep in mind that when someone ultimately decides to do business with you, he is trusting you with one of the things that’s most important to him—his money. Furthermore, he is trusting in you above all other people and companies to help him with his challenges. Consider that your company is using personal selling because customers want additional information or customization of the product or service in order to make a decision. People only buy from people they trust.C. J. Ng, “Customers Don’t Buy from People They Like, They Buy from Those They Trust,” EzineArticles, August 7, 2008, http://ezinearticles.com/?Customers- Dont-Buy-From-People-They-Like,-They-Buy-From-Those-They-Trust&id=1391175 (accessed July 15, 2009). You have to earn that trust every day. The first step starts here: how well are you prepared to earn his respect and trust?
By the time you’re ready for the preapproach, you’ve already done some initial research as part of the qualifying process. With the preapproach, you take your research to the next level; you find out as much as you possibly can about the company or individual with whom you want to do business. As marketing and strategy expert Noel Capon says, a thorough understanding of your prospect’s business processes and challenges gives you the crucial insights you’ll need to offer specific, workable solutions your customers can use. Gathering this information demonstrates personal commitment and boosts your credibility with your prospects.Noel Capon, Key Account Management and Planning (New York: The Free Press, 2001), 142.
Your research will pay off whether you’re preparing to contact a new prospect—a target accountA new, qualified prospect.—or whether you’re working with an existing customer. In Chapter 7 "Prospecting and Qualifying: The Power to Identify Your Customers", you read that some of your best prospects are the customers you already have. It’s particularly important to identify your key accountsAn existing customer that is (or has the potential to be) a significant source of sales for your company., your current customers who are—or have the potential to be—your most significant sources of sales. Maybe you sell insurance, and you’ve contracted with a large restaurant chain to provide their employee health and dental plan. This key account is one of the largest companies with whom you do business, so you make an extra effort to stay informed about developments that affect this company. You’ve recently received a news alert that due to an unstable economy the restaurant chain has decided to cut employee hours. As a result, many of the staff members are now working part-time and no longer qualify for full health benefits. Based on this information, you call your contact at the company and offer to provide a more flexible and less expensive partial employee benefits package for which their part-time workers could still qualify. You tell her that this solution will serve her company’s need to cut costs and will allow them to retain employees who might otherwise become dissatisfied and leave.
Whether you’re contacting new or existing customers, it’s important to have your specific call objectives in mind and to clearly map out the information you’ve already gathered about the company so that you can refer to it during the call. You can keep this information organized using a precall planning worksheetA document that details the goals you hope to achieve during a particular sales call. that lists the key company statistics you’ve identified as part of your research and includes a checklist detailing the purpose of the call: the information you’d like to learn about the company, the solutions or key facts you plan to communicate, and any other goals you hope to achieve. The worksheet doesn’t have to be complex; it can be as straightforward as the sample in Figure 8.1 "Precall Planning Worksheet". Your customer relationship management (CRM) or contact management system (CMS) may also provide a place for you to do your precall planning work. A sample precall planning worksheet is shown in Figure 8.1 "Precall Planning Worksheet".
Figure 8.1 Precall Planning Worksheet
Listing your goals in writing before you make a sales call gives you the power to measure the success of your call. Did you get the information you needed? Did you communicate the information you listed in your checklist? If not, how can you adapt your approach and set goals for your next sales call?
The first sales call (or calls) is often an extension of the qualifying process. Even if the company passes initial qualification, as you learn more you might find out that they aren’t your ideal customers after all. You might discover that your contact at the company is about to leave or change positions. Or you might realize that the company’s current situation isn’t one in which they’re willing or able to buy. The following are some things you’ll want to know as you research the company during your preapproach.
Company news. Tracking company news is another way to discover opportunities for sales. Has the company put out any recent press releases? (You can generally find these on the company Web site in the investor relations, press release, or press room section.) Has the company recently appeared in the news? (Setting up Google News Alerts at http://www.google.com/alerts for your current and potential customers will keep you up-to-date on this.)
Don’t just read the news; creatively think about what the news is telling you about selling opportunities with a prospect. For example, if you were selling paper goods (cups, lids, straws, bags, cup jackets, napkins, etc.) to coffee shops, you would have read a press release about the test marketing of McCafés several months before the national launch. Then you would have read about the announcement of the national launch a few months before it was planned to occur. These press releases are selling opportunities. You might think it would only be a selling opportunity if you were selling to McDonald’s, but that’s not true. The fact is McDonald’s announced that it was about to expand the market for premium coffee. That’s an opportunity to help your customers and prospects. For example, what if you suggested that your customers and prospects print an advertisement on their bags, napkins, cups, and cup jackets to announce a promotion called “Morning Joe Wake-up Call”? “Buy a cup of coffee every day for ten days and get a free cup of Joe!” This helps increase their sales, which ultimately increases your sales. You could bring this idea to your customer or prospect in advance of the McCafé launch and discuss how your idea can help him build his brand prior to the competitive effort. Now that’s using company news to drive sales.Gerry Tabio, “Creative Solutions,” presentation at Greater Media Philadelphia Sales Meeting, Philadelphia, PA, May 14, 2009.
Listen to the Most Current Quarterly Earnings Conference Call for Macy’s
Understanding customer demographics can provide important insight for selling. For example, each of the customers shown above has different demographics and different needs.
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Customer reviews can tell you a lot about a company and help you identify your best prospects, as in the case of the customer reviews for Southwest Airlines compared to those for United Airlines.
© 2010 Jupiterimages Corporation
Preparation Is Essential(click to see video)
Listen to Priya Masih, sales representative at Lupin Pharmaceuticals, talk about how she prepares for a sales call.
Your current customers are your best prospects. While you might be excited about a new account, make sure you don’t spend so much time and energy on new prospects that you neglect the ones with whom you’ve already established a relationship.
Opportunities to expand the relationship. There’s no better place to increase your sales than with your existing customers. They know you and your product or service, you know them and their needs and challenges. So start by leveraging the information you already know about your customer’s business. This is the best way to expand your relationship. For instance, if you have sold fitness equipment to a regional chain of health clubs and you know that it is important for them to minimize maintenance costs and down time, you could target the buyer as a prospect for the new line of weight machines with hydraulics. You could also expand your research and determine how much money the club could save in a year based on the number of machines and include that as part of your presentation. This is establishing your value propositionThe benefits of the product or service that a customer is willing to pay for., what you have to offer that your prospect or customer is willing to pay for.
If your customer is using some of your services in combination with your competitor’s services, this is also a sales opportunity: find out how satisfied your customer is with the competitor’s services and see if you can come up with a better solution. (“You’re currently using our hydraulic weight machines, but I see that you’re buying your exercise machines from this other company. Did you know that we offer treadmills, exercise bikes, and elliptical machines that come with free maintenance and product replacement guarantees?”) If your customer has a contract with this competitor, finding out when the contract expires will help you time your sales call effectively.Marcel Sim, “Leveraging Your CRM System to Expand Your Client Relationships,” Get Entrepreneurial, August 12, 2008, http://www.getentrepreneurial.com/customer-service/leveraging_your_crm_system_to_expand_your_client_relationships.html (accessed July 15, 2009).
And what about your contracts with the customer? If you have a service-level agreement (SLA)A contract between a customer and a service provider that sets out the frequency, length of time, and expectations for providing the service. with the customer, you can leverage this opportunity to strengthen the customer relationship. SLAs define the terms of the service you will provide, and they generally expire after a certain length of time (think about the contract you have with your cell phone provider). Establish open lines of communication to make sure your customer is consistently satisfied with your service. You might discuss expanded service options he can purchase, or you could offer a discount for renewing the contract early. Consider giving a short survey to gauge your customer’s satisfaction level and find out whether there are additional services you might be able to offer her.
You can also consider moving into other departments of the organization: use your CRM system to track the organizational structure of the company and find the influencers in other departments. Of course, you can ask your current contacts at the company for referrals of other prospective buyers within the company.Marcel Sim, “Leveraging Your CRM System to Expand Your Client Relationships,” Get Entrepreneurial, August 12, 2008, http://www.getentrepreneurial.com/customer-service/leveraging_your_crm_system_to_expand_your_client_relationships.html (accessed July 15, 2009). Maybe you’re formatting documents for the research branch of the company, but you know the company also has a communications department that puts out brochures, reports, and newsletters. You can scan your CRM database (or look on the company’s Web site) for the names of managers in the communications department and ask your contact in the research department if he could give you a good referral.
When you want to dig deeper with your research, you can often return to the same sources you used during the qualifying process and simply get more specific with the information you gather.
In addition to these sources you’ve already used, consider another powerful resource: people. If you’ve already formed a relationship with key people in your target company, you can ask them for referrals to influencers in other departments of the organization. Your contacts at an organization have inside knowledge and will usually be able to tell you whom to talk to if you want to make something happen. If they’re satisfied with the service you’ve been providing, these contacts are often happy to give you the names of others who might be able to use your solutions. Complementary salespeople can also be an excellent source of information about a prospect. For example, if you are selling computer hardware you might find nuggets of information from the person who sells office furniture. You can help each other by sharing insights and information.
It might surprise you to know that competitive salespeople can also be a resource. If you’re a member of a professional organization, if you attend conferences or tradeshows, or if you’re simply connected in your community, you’ll probably know competitive salespeople. While your competitor isn’t going to give you the inside scoop on a prospect he’s currently pursuing, he might share some useful insights about companies or people he has worked with in the past. Maybe he used to do business with one of your current contacts and can tell you things to avoid or things that will impress her. (“She will eat you alive if you don’t have all your information.”) Maybe one of your target companies is an organization he has sold to in the past, and he has some useful advice about the way they work. Never underestimate the power of relationships and networking.