Picking the right company is a crucial component of your individual success. Every product needs the same foundation: A great customer service team that shares a common goal for excellence, an adequate budget to finance growth, and a management team with the experience and vision to ensure opportunities are utilized. Understanding whether these mechanisms are in place before joining a company requires extensive research.
The following points will help provide a comprehensive overview of potential employers, how their products are viewed by customers, and the competence of the management team. In this example, I discuss researching a company that supplies a technology-based product, but the process can be adapted to any situation.
1) Product-Based Research
Do not attend an interview without having downloaded your prospective employer’s free software. View the product from the customer’s perspective and make notes about the functionality and how you feel. Does it hook clients and offer an obvious progression into a premium subscription? If so, why? Could it be improved? Take these notes to the first interview. Differentiate yourself with an informed opinion.
Then, if it goes well, ask for a login to the premium service to understand more before the next interview.
If you get the job, learn the product before stepping foot in the building. That way, you are ready to produce revenue on day one.
Call the company's help desk to understand the customer experience. Good customer service is the pillar of repeat business.
Contrive a problem, or simply call in and ask for help with the free software. Was the support team responsive and knowledgeable, did they value your call, and did they conduct themselves professionally? Form your own opinion. Then, call the competitors and do the same. Why not? Know what you're up against. I never hesitated to do this throughout my sales career, and it served me well.
Call the sales team to enquire about pricing and unique selling points. Don't lie about being a customer -- just ask about the service. Do you feel pressured? Is the process complicated? What is the process of getting a quote? This says a lot about what the company expects from its salespeople. This is another chance to get the customer experience.
2) Customer-Based Research
The most valuable feedback about your potential employer is from their customers. Find a way to contact them, explain that you're thinking of joining, and ask their opinion of the company and its products. If you try hard enough, you will make this discussion happen. Existing customers will also offer their perspective of competitors and what differentiates products. This provides a roadmap to selling your product from the only person who matters -- the person buying it.
3) Company-Based Research
Think strategically. Don't just research the company -- seek to understand the industry too. Is your prospective employer an industry leader or a lean startup, and who are their biggest competitors? What are the company's competitive advantages or disadvantages in the market? Where does your potential new product fit into the grand scheme of things? These questions help you formulate an effective sales process. Is the company developing new technologies, and is there an opportunity to progress into this? This pre-interview research shows your potential employer you are a serious, professional candidate.
Ask to meet the sales team before joining. Meeting your colleagues prior to joining helps give a sense of how collegial, supportive, and competent they are. Ask them what it's like to work there. In my experience, there is always a cynic on the team who is only too happy to have a good moan. Find them and ask what they are unhappy about. If it's an issue, such as constant in-fighting, then you know there is a managerial issue.
What is your new boss's history? Look at the success and legacy of your new bosses and who is implementing the overall strategy of the company. Can you rely on them to drive the business in the right direction? Can they clearly articulate how you will hit your targets? Ask the Sales Director how their existing customers would describe the product. Does this align with your research? You might be surprised by what you hear. However, you are the salesperson and own the target -- do the research and decide how it's getting done, before joining.
4) Align everything to your personal goals
The best salespeople view their customers as equals and maintain this power-dynamic at every point of contact. It's the same mindset when talking to a prospective employer. The process shouldn't be viewed as an opportunity to beg for a job. In addition, don't automatically take for granted the content you read on the company website. It all looks good; every word has been carefully chosen to seduce the reader. Take ownership of this process, through rigorous preparation develop an informed opinion, and understand every aspect of what the job involves and how it fits with your personal goals.
Crunching the sales revenue numbers. If the sales-cycle doesn't match the annual target expectations, you will fail. This is particularly important in the first year when ramping-up your sales activity. For example, if your sales cycle is three months long, then deals pitched in months 10 through 12 won't close in the first year. Also, you are unlikely to close substantial business in the first quarter since joining. Has the company accounted for this when setting your annual target? Have you accounted for this in your sales plan? These oversights do not sort themselves out. The best salespeople identify discrepancies and plan accordingly.
Understanding your territory and how you will make your numbers. Not all territories are created equal. Research your territory, and understand any nuances required to sell into it. Map out potential revenue by account and create a plan to win this business. Reverse-engineer every step and share this with your potential employer to check they agree.
Knowing the product's longevity. A logical, well-researched, metric-backed understanding of your new product's longevity will help you predict future changes in your salary structure. If the product becomes widely accepted and customers become enterprise accounts, will you be paid more, less or replaced? Is there progression within the company beyond this point?
Having a backup plan if it goes wrong. Some companies are actively working towards automation and replacing their salespeople. The world is changing fast, so adopt a similar mindset. Consider what to do if the company isn't what they claim to be, ditches your division, alters commission plans, or is a bad fit.
This is the point where a salesperson must assess the impact they can have on an industry.
Are you able to build a strong enough network and personal brand to future-proof yourself against decisions out of your control?
View new opportunities from this perspective, and it will serve you. This is a tactic normally reserved by only the best salespeople, but you just read it, so no excuses.
Continue to network with potential new employers, even after you accept your position. Let them know you're beginning a new position, but want to stay in touch. This way, you won't be starting over from scratch if things go wrong.
Genuine company culture, management styles, or plans for the business aren't found on the website. Also, day-to-day expectations are often poorly represented in job descriptions. If you do the above, you are giving the process of finding a new company and product to sell the respect it deserves. Use the interview phase to fill in the gaps, demonstrate your expertise, and show how you can add value to the company and your customers.
I hope this was helpful. Please feel free to connect with me on Twitter and LinkedIn.
Editor's note: This post originally appeared on Lee Bartlett's blog and has been republished here with permission.