If part of your job is to reach out to open new enterprise accounts, you know it’s more that just a numbers game. If you manage to connect with an important prospect for the first time – on the phone or in person – you need to be ready to create a fantastic and memorable first impression. You won’t do that by reading a script or reciting a elevator pitch: You must be prepared and really know their business.
There are at least 6 areas I always research and understand about the company before picking up the phone or going to event where I will introduce myself to an prospect.
1. Company Website
Nothing is worse than a sales person who hasn’t thoroughly reviewed the company’s website. That means the home page and management bios – and it also means the places that can give you real insight to hot buttons. Look for and understand:
- Company Mission Statements
- Time in job for executives
- Press releases – financial releases, partnerships, who’s quoted?
- Product/service descriptions and benefit statements – why does the company think it’s different?
- Case studies
- Client lists and testimonials
- Career page – lots of listings? For what jobs?
- Events list – where are they going to be?
2. Financial Reports
If they’re a public company review 10-Q/K and other financial statements. You can get these from the company site, and from the SEC’s EDGAR site at www.sec.gov. The quarterly and annual reports will help you understand more than financial position and trends. You can also find tons of sales-relevant and useful info such as:
- Strategic direction statements
- Analysis of risks to their business
- Outstanding issues they are focused on correcting
- Their view of market changes and dynamics
While a corporate website is an attempt to paint the most positive picture of their organization, SEC rules require a publically traded company to be perfectly open and frank in stock reporting – that’s where you’ll find fantastically valuable nuggets you can leverage in your sales strategy. If the company is not public, you can still find information about their industry, competitors, financial transactions like major borrowing or leasing, and other data that will give you hints about their financial position.
If you’re lucky enough to have access to a commercial org chart database, great. If not, you can still get a reasonable idea of the reporting structure and strategy by inference. Spend some time sketching the org and update as you learn more. Beyond the company website, use:
- LinkedIn to find top leaders and help name lines of business, divisions, departments, etc.
- Glassdoor to see department names and job titles
- Job postings to get titles of hiring managers (usually not names)
- Speaker names/titles at industry events
- Get a free account at data.com
- Your personal sales network (you do have one don’t you?)
4. Their Market and Competitors
Your company probably spends time researching your market and competitors. You do this because you’re searching for advantages, trends and positioning to give you an edge. Your prospect does the same thing. In order to carry on a peer-to-peer conversation with your prospect you want to be knowledgeable about their world and their concerns. Identify their competitors by searches on your prospect’s products/services to see who comes up. Also, look on Yahoo Finance and other sites that show you competitors and compare company performance. Then do similar research and think about how you can help your prospect compete.
5. News and Alerts
Set up a Google alert for any company you target to get daily, or at least weekly, updates on all news mentions. Not only is it important to understand what’s happened in the past, if you’re truly committed to cracking a new account you want to be up to the minute everyday.
6. Social Networking
This should go without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: Follow the company on all the major social networking sites like LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter – and actually read and understand. If you can, join industry professional social sites. Looks for typical announcements, but also look at what customers, partners and competitors are saying about your prospect.
Researching the Individual
If you do all this you’ll know enough about the company to have an intelligent conversation and hopefully offer some valuable insight when you meet your new prospect. But, it’s just as important to research and understand the individual you’re trying to reach.
You can use all the techniques and resources I talked about above to profile specific people you’re trying to reach. But, a word of caution: If you have clearly “stalked” an individual when you speak to them it will go bad. As in horrifically, tragically, awfully bad. It’s just creepy for a stranger to approach another and try to leverage personal information, e.g. “I understand you and your wife are in a running club that meets on Tuesday’s in Poughkeepsie”.
How would you feel if someone you’d never met approached you and it became apparent that they knew where you lived, how much your house was worth, and how many kids you have? It’s very easy to find out this stuff about almost anyone, but forming a relationship with someone starts with trust. Let them tell you. It’s OK to talk about professional accomplishments, speaking engagements, common associates or friends, but it’s almost never OK to use personal information when you first meet.
Don’t Stop There
Importantly, your research must be ongoing. Things change and you should check often.
I made a little video on preparing for prospecting when I was building a lead sharing SaaS program called SalesDivvy. Unfortunately, the software no longer exists, but the video does. Check out “The 10 Aways” on YouTube.