Sales Team Issue Number Four – Prospect Information
Research and Questions to Be Answered
As a salesperson you’re initially responsible for qualifying your prospect as a potential customer. Since most of us are sales driven, our primary focus is to determine if the company has a need for your products. However, your first requirement should be to find out if they are credit worthy. The larger the company, the less likely it will be that the salesperson makes that determination. But be aware that there are firms that do not warrant your trust. In some cases, it will be best to move on to other prospects. Also, be aware that your prospect may be a logistical nightmare to conduct business with. Products shipped to a nonpaying account cost you not only the cost of goods, but the lost profit as well.
In this new era of solution selling, it is incumbent on you as the selling organization to know your prospects so well that an extensive question and answer interchange is no longer necessary.
However, to ensure a higher probability of winning the business there are questions you can answer internally, and expertise that can be acquired to be more confident that your proposal will meet and exceed the expectations of the prospect.
If the size of the contract warrants the expense, then hiring a new associate from that industry may be the best answer. If that level of commitment is not warranted, then searching for a consultant with expertise in that industry could be the best option.
It may be possible to undertake your own research effort if the expense of outside assistance is not feasible.
Allow me to provide you with several suggestions that should start you on a research journey. A note to the time stressed sales manager may be necessary here. If the contract has strong ROI opportunities, then your time spent researching the prospect and their industry may be the best investment of your time versus the time spent attempting to sell B and C accounts that will never contribute a significant amount to your bottom line. Or you may discover red flags that disqualify the prospect as worthy of your time investment. You must make that value judgement.
If the prospective company is publicly owned, then go online and find their quarterly 10K reports. In these reports, senior management will explain the current achievements, prospective opportunities, weaknesses (market changes, competition, lawsuits) and threats to the company. This level of detail is rarely seen in an annual report.
Analyze the balance sheets and profit and loss reports. Look for profit margin changes, overall margins, and net profits. Also be aware of the amount of leverage they have. (Outstanding loans) In this case, the annual report can be of use in your investigation.
All these issues will have an impact on capital spending. For materials, repair and operating suppliers look for a latitude to expand your business with them or refrain from the effort.
To obtain a report on the company’s finances, markets, and key contacts, try D&B Hoovers as a source of information. In some instances, a full report will provide standard business expenses in common categories for a specific industry. These common expense numbers will give you an indication of the opportunities that may exist for your company.
Look at their LinkedIN company page and select the key employees associated with the company. Ask for a connection with the key people that you need to learn more about. Read their profiles and employment history. Look for their outside interests and review their contacts for more insight after they become a connection.
If you are new to the target company and their industry, look for associations that represent their industry. Read their published papers to discover common concerns with the member companies.
If you are in the position of a potential new supplier; be aware of two hurdles that may need to be broached. Number one will be the mandatory supplier profile that has to be completed. Typically, that portal can be found on the prospect’s website.
Concern number two may be the existing supply contracts in place with your prospect. Incumbents are normally more difficult to replace. It would be quite rare to replace an existing supplier during a contract period. Consequently, you should make sure your timing is appropriate when you approach the prospect.
Review the prospect’s website for insights into their products and markets they serve. You may have some experience that will crossover as a strength to use in your proposal.
Look for press releases about new products, division spin-offs, mergers, acquisitions, and financial issues. They can have a significant impact on the timing of purchases, new product/services requirements or the illumination of a purchase requirement altogether.
There are multiple other websites and service providers that could provide company profiles. Look at some of these:
www.thomasnet.com (They also have a very good library of industry news articles)
Try Wikipedia.com for large company history and insights
https://www.forbes.com/connect/forbes-insights-reports/ (CEO Insights)
https://www.ipl.org/ (500,000+ Essays and research papers)
www.gallup.com (Research and Insight on Business Topics)
Try Pew Research Center for cultural Insights
Z-Library and Kindle could be quick resources for a deep dive into a specific company or industry
Harvard Business Review has a huge library of business insights
(A “for fee” service)
Don’t forget to simply try Google with a phrase, question, or word to find out more information.
Give Ask.com a try for a link to more information on your topic
For a smaller company try your local Chamber of Commerce for basic company information.
As a solution’s selling research team, determine the answer to these questions:
1. “Do we need to include any other decision-makers in the conversation?”
2. “If timeline or budget were not constraints, what would the prospect’s ideal solution look like?”
3. “Why is this a priority for them now?”
4. “What challenges do you think will come up as they try to purchase the product?”
5. “Are they currently using another solution? If so, why are you switching?”
6. “Has their team tried to use a similar product? If so, how did it go?”
7. “How can I make this process as easy as possible?”
8. “What’s their approximate budget for this project?”
9. “What other tools do they use in your day-to-day?”
10. “What challenges have they experienced in the past year related to [product-related goal]?”
Next, research needs analysis questions.
1. What is the management team hoping to accomplish in the next year?
2. Desired outcome for the pending purchase.
3. What deadlines are they currently facing?
4. From your perspective, what are their greatest needs?
5. What is their primary pain point?
6. Does your team know their proposal evaluation criteria?
7. Who is their existing supplier?
8. What empaths is do they place on price, quality and service?
9. What is their buying and success criteria?
10. Who are their primary competitors?
11. What factors in their economy are having the most influence?
12. What product features would lead to a purchasing decision?
As you develop your prospect profile and answer the demand type questions, you will be in a superior position to approach your prospect with a customized solution to a serious problem they are experiencing.
Author: Gary D. Seale – Trucon Communications