A few years ago I was working with a new sales rep (we’ll call him Bill) that was struggling to hit his activity numbers. In fact, he wasn’t recording ANY activities after several weeks in the position. So I of course asked him what was taking up his time.
Bill: “Research. I want to be fully prepared when I talk to my prospects. So rather than just making a bunch of random phone calls, I’ve picked 20 companies that I am in the process of fully researching before I contact them.”
Ok, fair enough that he wanted to be able to know a little bit about each of the prospects before calling. So my next question was what was he actually doing to research the prospect.
Bill: “First I visit their website and go through every page and document I can find. If they are a public company, I read their latest annual report. I also read all of their press releases and blogs. All the time I’m taking notes.”
“Then I do a Google search on the company and read any relevant articles I can find. Then I go to the prospect’s LinkedIn page, Twitter if they have it, and any other social media I can find. Once I’ve done all that, I create a comprehensive profile document for each prospect.”
Me: “So how long is this taking?”
Bill: “About 2 to 3 hours of research for each prospect, and probably another hour or so to create the profile doc.”
Me: “So what if you do all that work, only to call the prospect and they say ‘not interested!’ and hang up the phone?”
It’s hard to find the right balance of research during the sales cycle. Most sales reps don’t research prospects enough, while some like Bill become paralyzed by it. In Bill’s case, he was spending dozens of hours researching prospects when he doesn’t know if they’ll even talk to him.
Here’s my recommendation on how much time, and where you should research a prospect before two key stages of the sales process.
Before The Prospecting Call
Time: 2 minutes
Where: Company Website, Contact LinkedIn Profile
Why: All you want to accomplish at this stage is to have a high level understanding of what the company does, and the contact’s role and background. On the company website, look for a brief description of what the company does on either the home page or About Us page. Then take a quick scan of their career page.
On their LinkedIn profile, we just want to know their role in the company and see if there is anything in their profile we have in common with them.
We don’t need to know everything about the company or the contact at this point. The reality is you only have about a 5% chance of getting them live on phone anyway, so any more preparation is wasted. All we really want to do at this point is be able to answer the question “do you know what we do?”
Before The First Meeting
Time: 20-30 minutes
Where: Company Website, Google, Contact LinkedIn Profile, Contact Twitter feed, Company LinkedIn and Facebook pages
Why: This is where you spend your time researching the company and the contact. Here’s what you are looking for:
Company Website – You are looking for clues as to growth or pain points. Review their job openings in more detail. Read their home, about us, and executives pages. Visit their careers page to see what their employer branding message – that tells you what is important to them. Do a scan of their blogs and press releases for relevant information.
Google – Run searches on both the company and any contacts you will be meeting with. You are looking for relevant news articles, association memberships, blogs, or awards. Anything that helps you build rapport or credibility, or allows you to tie your solution to their challenges/opportunities.
Contact LinkedIn Profile – Now you are doing a deeper dive into the profiles of all meeting attendees. Look for things in common: job history, education, connections, certifications, or groups.
Contact Twitter Profile – If they are on Twitter, they likely will have a link on their LinkedIn profile. Many times this is where you can see a more personal side to your contact, and a better chance to build rapport.
Company LinkedIn and Facebook pages – Scan both of these sites for more relevant information. LinkedIn will tend to have more business focused content, while Facebook may give you additional insight into the culture of the company
The key to researching is to know when you invest your time and how much. Too little research and you come across as unprepared, unprofessional, or uninterested. You also miss out on opportunities to truly tie your service to their need. Too much research, especially up front, and you end up wasting time on work that never pays off. Find the right balance and you’ll maximize your sales time and opportunities.
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