A 3-Step Guide to Performing Prospect Research (Before You Pick Up the Phone)

by Niti Shah

Date

August 6, 2013 at 12:30 PM

sales-prospect-before-connectWhat's the difference between a poor first-time connect and a successful one? One word: context.

Researching potential prospects before you first email or call them can make a world of difference between a deal or a bust. By understanding the background of a company and the person you're trying to speak to, you can better frame a conversation.

And just like no two prospects are the same, no two prospects’ interactions with you should be the same. It's important Sales take the time to collect information and then create more tailored experience from first touch. By creating relevancy, you're much more likely to engage a prospect and have a positive, meaningful conversation.

But we also know that time is precious. While there's a lot to gather from your research, ultimately it's important to train yourself to spend no more than around five minutes researching potential prospects. With practice, you can start to develop a sixth sense for knowing what to look for -- here's a guide to start you off.

Step 1: Learn About the Company

Visit the company website. Make note of its mission and vision. At the end of the day, this company wants to be great at what it does, and if you can identify how your products or services can help it achieve its vision, you can paint a more meaningful picture for your prospect.

Some basic information you should quickly gauge include:

  • Company Size
  • Number of Employees
  • Product or Service Offerings
  • Typical Sale Size

You should also do some more in-depth sleuthing that gives context to that information. Search for any recent third-party publications mentioning the prospective company -- is an industry blog talking about struggles that company is facing, or something the company is doing really well? Who are its competitors? Does this company have its own blog? Do they use social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn? What are they talking about there? Has the company just published a post about a new product they’ve released, or about an event they were a part of? Knowing this type of information can add relevancy when you reach out to start a conversation, and allow you to send relevant information their way.

If you're looking to learn more about how Sales can use social media to close business, check out this free ebook

(Bonus Tip: What is the company tweeting about? Does it seem to be trying to push one or two types of content -- maybe ebooks for a specific product or service, or a thought leadership piece? You might be able to discern some top priorities based on what’s being communicated in their own lead generation content.)

Step 2: Do a Background Check

It’s incredibly important not only that you reach out to the right company, but also to the right person at that company. Are you talking to an influencer, a decision-maker, or someone who has no reason to ever talk to you about your product or service? For example, HubSpot sells software for marketers -- so reaching out to someone on the R&D team of a company would result in either no connection, or a much longer sales process as they forward a representative onto someone else.

First, look at the company website’s “About” and “Contact” pages. Does it list bios of employees? Do they have contact information for certain areas, such as “please contact amy@company.com for all marketing inquiries”? 

LinkedIn should also become your best friend. Do some digging around people listing your company of interest as their employer. Look for information such as recent job changes, their job function, and their education. What's their role? How long have they been at the current company? Someone who has only recently started may not have enough context about the company's needs or may have less influence in the decision-making process. Build a persona in your head of who this person is, and think over how you'd address him or her if you were face to face. 

Step 3: Hypothesize Pain Points

Try to find out what a company is doing to address their problems relevant to your product or service offerings, already.

If you're selling an inbound marketing platform like HubSpot, for instance, you'd look at how a company is currently trying to drive traffic to its website. Perhaps the company's using banner ads and paid search, which can be costly. Your "in" here would be to bring up these points in the initial conversation - “I noticed that you've been using paid advertising. How well has this been working? Have you been able to hit your traffic goals? Why, or why not?".

The information gleaned before even reaching out can turn you from a salesperson into a consultant. Instead of talking at a prospect, you're starting a problem-solving process that you both have a stake in.

Since you’ve already narrowed down your list of potential people to reach out to, you should also look at these people's personal channels. What are they tweeting about? Are they part of a special-interest group on LinkedIn? It’s all about relevancy -- build an idea of who this person is, and what that person's pain points are within the context of their company's goals, before you reach out to them.

Remember, Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Methodology for pre-qualifying prospects differs from salesperson to salesperson, but one important rule of thumb is to never rule out a prospect if you can come up with even one reason they might buy your product. As you research, hypothesize different scenarios a potential prospect might be facing so you can be prepared to address it. Is there any reason they wouldn’t buy your product or service? Is there any reason they couldn't be a potential customer?

There are some cases where, as someone familiar with your industry, you just know a prospect is not workable. Other times, you can prioritize prospects based on likeliness of converting them into a customer. Assign them with a high/medium/low value and organize your time accordingly. Go with your gut on these, but err on the side of caution -- it’s better to send an email and make a call and not have anything come of it than lose a good opportunity. Most of the time you simply cannot know what is going on in a prospect’s head, and the only way to find out is to get him or her on the phone and ask them.

In short -- don’t judge a book by its cover, but make sure to read and analyze what’s right in front of you, too. Knowing as much as you can about a potential prospect before you reach out can save you time and energy by reaching out to the right prospect, with the right message that is tailored to them, at the right time. We are living in the age of context, and using relevant information to create a unique experience for each prospect will yield a more fruitful start to the sales process.

What are some pre-connect researching tips you have when prospecting?

Image credit: Rev Dan Catt



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