Preparation for Effective Prospecting

A reader writes, "Recently, I accepted a Director of Sales position at a new company. A few of the reps on my team just 'wing it' before placing a prospecting call, while others get bogged down with endless social media exploration. What's the proper amount of pre-call research?"

The vast amounts of data available on the web makes managing pre-call research a challenge for most sales leaders. 

Make a Distinction

Different types of sales calls require different types and amounts of pre-call information:

  • Prospecting - factual, broad based
  • Existing customer- updated, relevant
  • Presentation - in depth, detailed

In this newsletter, we'll talk about the introductory or prospecting call.

Developing an Approach

Clarify for yourself how much time you find to be reasonable for this activity.

Never having been a proponent of exhaustively researching a company before making a call or sending an email, I typically recommend the following:

  • Website: Learn about what the company does / makes / produces and to whom they sell their product. Read the bios of the company leaders. Review the products and services offered.
  • Press releases: Read the most recent ones. Pay attention to those with information on new product launches, changes in leadership, or recent problems.
  • Blogs:  If one or several employees blog regularly, read a few, especially the customer- and sales- oriented ones. If not, I'd skip it.  
  • LinkedIn:  Look at the profile of the person you'll be calling as well as the leaders within the company.
  • Phone:  Call into the department most relevant to your product or service. Introduce yourself and ask a few questions of whoever you reach. See what you can find out.

Put your research guidelines in writing and include it in the department handbook or sales training manual.

Recording the Information

Once they've completed the research, I recommend reps record the information in the notes section of the CRM system. They should include a description of the company's product(s), the names of key leaders, and anything of interest they uncovered. As an example, maybe they learned they attended the same college as the CFO.

Share Your Expertise

When sales leaders tell me that they've told the reps, over and over, not to spend an inordinate amount of time on researching a company before calling or emailing, I always ask them, "Have you tried researching a potential customer together?" They almost always reply "No."

Select a company and walk them step-by-step through your research process. Then, ask them to take the lead and research another two or three companies as you observe.  They'll begin to understand the proper protocol for this activity.

Review the Information

After they've completed research, ask the rep to tell you a little bit about the organization. When they can articulately speak about the company, customers, and competitors, and why they might be interested in your product, you can pronounce them good to go.

Peer Training

On your sales staff, which reps do the best job with pre-call research? Have the struggling reps work alongside them.  Ask the proficient reps to take them through their process, modeling what they do and how they do it.

Root Cause

The fear of rejection might cause a lot of the pre-call analysis paralysis. If your efforts to coach them on proper techniques come up short, broach the subject. Share your thoughts and experiences on the difficulties of prospecting.  See what they have to say.  

Might they need some additional training on cold calling?

Final Thoughts

As with most everything in sales, there's an art to pre-call research. You want to encourage reps to add their own personal touch to the activity.

However, some salespeople just don't know when enough is enough. They keep looking, clicking and reading, afraid of missing a crucial piece of information. At some point, all reps have to let go of the mouse and either call or walk into an account and introduce themselves.