- You can spend too much time researching your clients before you call them to schedule a meeting.
- Focus on research that will give you the ability to compel change.
- You should do more research after you acquire a meeting, to ensure you create value for your prospective client.
There are two mistakes you can make when researching your target clients and contacts. The first mistake is spending too much time and effort researching a prospective client before you attempt to schedule a meeting, without acquiring the one thing necessary to prospect effectively: the information you need to compel change. The second mistake is not doing enough research after you acquire a meeting with a decision-maker or a decision-shaper.
Learning the Basics
A salesperson who spends more time than necessary researching prospective clients and contacts exhibits a form of call reluctance. This pernicious malady can arise from conflict aversion, if the salesperson doesn’t want to make anyone unhappy, but it’s more likely that the salesperson doesn’t yet know enough to engage in a valuable conversation with a decision-maker. Tragically, piling on more research rarely improves their confidence.
You really only need four basic pieces of information before you call a prospective client: knowledge of what the client does, a basic understanding of the contact’s role in the company, their contact information, and a theory as to why they might change. That last piece is the most important. A theory about how and why your client would benefit from changing is essential to early sales conversations, including your initial request for a meeting.
You can spend hours reading your prospective client’s website, studying their competition, and understanding their products or solutions without ever bumping into a reason—or a set of reasons—that would compel them to change. Even if your efforts rival Clarice’s research into one Hannibal Lecter, most of the personal details you’ll learn will be useless to your conversation. Besides, contacts get freaked out when you start a call by telling them that the Facebook photos of their kids are cute.
The Right Research for Prospecting
If you want to acquire the knowledge that allows you to gain meetings and help your prospective clients explore change, you would be better off developing a theory of why they should change. That insight allows you to play the role of sense-maker, helping each client recognize and evaluate the change going on outside their window.
You do this by researching a vertical, to understand the pressures that the companies in that industry are experiencing now or will experience soon. Understanding the vertical will help you develop a theory you can apply to most every prospect in that vertical. More to the point, by sharing the implications of not addressing potential threats to your client’s business, you strengthen your ability to compel them to change.
One of the biggest research mistakes is ignoring the experience your company has serving clients in the same vertical. At least one of your colleagues has already had conversations with similar prospects, converting them into clients and solving some problem they were experiencing or trying to avoid. Knowing why that client bought your company’s solution and how your company improved their results provides you with talk tracks for a discovery meeting with your new prospect. You’ll also increase your confidence to call your prospective clients when you know enough about why they should change.
The Right Research for a Meeting
Your prospecting research covers a large part of your preparation for that first meeting. Depending on who you are calling and what information is available, it benefits you to learn what you can about their specific company. For public companies, especially large ones, the best place to start is with their SEC filings: financial reports will teach you far more than a LinkedIn page or the company website.
In almost every disclosure, you will find what the company believes they need to do to succeed—or continue to succeed—as well as an assessment of their risks. Looking through those two lenses often indicates what results the company is pursuing and what they believe threatens those results. While your vertical research gives you a picture of the industry, this research gives you a clearer view of the individual company.
Another useful source is news stories about the company, including their press releases. You may or may not use the information directly in your meeting, but doing your homework will give you a richer context for your conversation. If your client is a private company or a small-to-medium public company, you may have to work a bit harder to prepare for a meeting. In addition to news stories and public disclosures, spend some time browsing employees’ LinkedIn profiles to see what you can glean from their posts.
You never want to show up to a meeting and have to ask, “So, what does your company do exactly?” When someone is kind enough to give you their time, you demonstrate your gratitude by preparing to use that time well, creating value that far exceeds their gift.
Do Good Work
- Commit to doing the kind of research that allows you to confidently call on any client in your target vertical.
- Prepare for meetings by researching your prospective client’s company, developing the context for your conversation.
- Develop a strong theory about why and how each client should change, while remaining open to modifying your ideas based on information you gain in your first meeting.