When I began selling in the early 70’s not many sales managers talked about preparing for a sales call. I’ll modify that. The managers said to make sure your brief case with product samples was neat and orderly. The trunk of your car should have all the selling pieces arranged alphabetically. That’s the mickey mouse version of preparation and not the one I’m referring to.
Let’s say you’re making a sales call on Widget International and you sell some pretty sophisticated robotics. The lead came from two sources-one was a convention and the other was a referral from an existing customer who just happens to be in the same CEO coaching group as the CEO of Widget. Widget is an $80M company and growing according to the sparse amount of information you have.
You’ve made the call to the CEO, Billy Joe Bob Evans, and the appointment is set for two days ahead. You’re naturally excited; the potential for this company is enormous. You’re sitting at your desk contemplating what you want to do on the call and your stomach starts to growl so you join a few other reps for lunch. My hunch is that you will forget about the Widget call until an hour before the meeting when you Google for directions. This, my friends, should make every sales manager run for the antacids. Here are some facts that you might want to research about Widget:
- How long has the CEO been in the position and where was he before?
- What companies does Widget sell to? (Could they be some of your customers?)
- What is the company’s growth rate?
- What industry, market, finance factors affect Widget’s business?
- Has the CEO ever been interviewed or written articles for publication?
- Where does the CEO live and does he belong to a country club?
- Does the CEO have specific hobbies?
- Has Widget bought any other companies in the last few years?
- Is the manufacturing facility expanding?
I am not kidding when I say that I could pound the keyboard for another 2 hours, adding to this list of research questions! What’s the point of this? Imagine that you are in a sales call with a prospect and, because you did some research, you have a series of questions about the prospect, the company and the industry that have a direct impact on how you communicate with the prospect? How about this for a question you ask the CEO relative to growth at Widget? “Billy Joe Bob, several industry papers mention that Widget is pursuing new markets in the Pacific Rim. What impact is this going to have on your current production capabilities?” At this point all you have to do is sit back and listen for opportunities!
In the age of electronic information the research task is very, very easy. There is an organization in St. Paul, Minnesota called the James J Hill Reference Library that is the number one research facility in the world and all the business intelligence they have is available on line! A small percentage of one piece of closed business will pay for the service for a year.
However, if you’d rather not do the research that’s cool. Will your competitor pay the bucks for the intelligence information and close the business first? Will your boss, who is joining you on the sales call, ask what you know about Widget? If the prospect asks you a question about the industry that you should know but don’t how will that make you look? Good preparation translates into a good sales call. Check out www.jjhill.org.
The Final Thought: No man ever reached to excellence in any one art or profession without having passed through the slow and painful process of study and preparation. Horace-Roman Poet