Matching what you want to say with what they want to hear.
By Sam Richter
If your company is like most businesses, over the past few years you’ve probably spent thousands of dollars perfecting your messaging. You’ve hired marketing people to craft your website and brochures. You’ve hired trainers to critique your phone scripts. You’ve practiced your sales pitch countless times in your head, or in front of a mirror. You’ve even videotaped a mock sales presentation and, like a football coach, have viewed it frame by frame to determine where you can improve. You’ve become a master at what you want to say.
Yet, if your company is like most businesses, you’ve spent almost zero dollars and time figuring out what your buyer actually wants to hear. It’s only the intersection of what you have to say with what they want to hear that results in a sale. That intersection is called “relevancy,” and it is probably the most important word in sales today.
Selling custom fabrics—whether for high-end upholstery or for medical products—is a complex sale. It doesn’t usually happen after one phone call, and sometimes there are multiple decision makers. Competitors are also calling on your prospects and your existing clients.
Person to person
Yes, the Web has changed the traditional sales relationship. There is e-commerce, online auctions, reverse auctions, crowdsourcing and online e-lancing. Yet in the complex sale, people still buy from people—people they like and trust. The ability to understand the prospect or client, ask probing questions that get to the heart of business issues, and create relevant solutions that ultimately deliver results is core to every successful sale.
In the B.G. (Before Google™) era, buyers gave you the time to ask probing questions so you could fully understand their issues. In the A.G. era, where everyone is exceptionally pressed for time, buyers expect that you know the answers to questions before you walk through the door (or pick up the phone or send an e-mail). For in-person meetings especially, buyers get frustrated when you ask what they feel are obvious questions about things like company size, lines of business and competitive information. Many buyers expect you—even in the first meeting—to know things like industry changes, market positioning and even a basic understanding of the buyer’s internal business issues.
How can you get this kind of information? How can you differentiate yourself from the typical salesperson? How can you make a great first impression? The answer is relevant sales intelligence.
The power of sales intelligence
According to a study by CSO Insights, sales intelligence is one of the most effective tools for improving your sales effectiveness. When you understand your prospect—his company, her industry, the issues he faces, and details about her position and responsibilities—you’re able to customize your presentation and conduct a meaningful, value-based sales call. In this way, you’re almost twice as likely to move your prospects towards a closed deal as are organizations that don’t seek out sales intelligence.
According to the CSO study, however, fewer than 10 percent of companies provide their teams the training and resources necessary to conduct sales intelligence operations. Why? Because in our Information Age—our Google Age—it’s assumed that most people can just go online and find anything in a matter of seconds. Nothing is further from the truth. Although search engines are exceptionally powerful tools, virtually no one in business has ever been taught how to use them effectively. It’s also true that search engines make up only a very small percentage of the information that can be found online. Social networks, subscription databases and other resources offer a tremendous source of sales intelligence, almost all of it hidden from search engines.
Following is a sampling of the strategies, also featured in my book “Take the Cold Out of Cold Calling,” that can help you get beyond the Google.
Google Filetype Search. From company proposals to vendor and client lists, there are literally billions of documents that people post online. Following any Google search, enter filetype: (filetype colon) and then choose a filetype extension (for example: pdf = Adobe Acrobat®; xls = Microsoft Excel® spreadsheet; ppt = Microsoft PowerPoint® document; doc = Microsoft Word (note that for Office 2010 documents, you’ll want to add an “x” at the end). For example: medical + product + “membership list” filetype:xls will search for spreadsheets that feature the phrase “membership list” and the words medical and product. Or said another way, it equals sales leads. Another example: “technical textile” + trends + 2012 filetype:pdf will locate research reports and articles related to current trends in technical textiles.
Google News. In Google, enter the name of a company or a person. For the best search results, make sure to put the name within quotation marks (“Acme Corporation” or “Sam Richter”). On the Google results page, on the left side, you’ll notice a number of options. Click the “News” link to get current and archived news articles related to your search. If there are a lot of current news results, scroll down and click on a date range.
What kind of impression do you think you’ll make when, upon meeting a new prospect, you reference an article in which the company was just featured?
Insideview.com. Register for your free account. Then enter the name of a company into the search form, and choose the correct company from the results list. You’ll find basic company information including location, company description, number of employees and revenue figures. Click the navigation tabs to find key company contacts and company buzz, including recent blog and Twitter™ posts.
Zoominfo.com. ZoomInfo scours the Web locating information on people, and then automatically creates an online biography using that information. Click the “people” tab and enter the name of the person you’re interested in researching. If it’s a common name (“Pat Smith”), use advanced search and enter additional criteria.
Linkedin.com. With more than 180 million profiles, the social networking site is a great way to research people; use the Advanced Search for the best results. Before meeting with a prospective customer, enter that person’s name in the search field followed by an “at” and the company name (“Pat Smith” at Widget). You’ll learn that person’s work and educational history, personal interests, and even find reviews about that person by other Linkedin members.
Your local library. Big companies often pay big for expensive databases and list-building services. Most libraries have similar databases that you can use free of charge. Even better, you can often access many of these databases through your public library’s website. Visit your library’s website, locate the database you want to use, enter your library card number—and in seconds you’ll be logged into a premium subscription database at no charge to you or your company.
Using tips and resources like these gives you a good start on your way to sales intelligence, and to ensuring that every phone call and every meeting you make with prospects and clients is relevant and meaningful, to them as well as to you.