It’s important to familiarize yourself with the client’s industry and then, specifically, with the company you’re targeting. Have they been engaged with mergers and acquisitions as a growth strategy? Do they have new leadership? Have they changed strategy recently?
If the answer is “yes” to any of these scenarios, you can expect that people throughout the organization, from leaders to individual contributors, will need to begin to do things a little differently. So, for Richardson Sales Performance, in the area of sales training and effectiveness solutions, you can begin to drill down into whether they have the skills and abilities needed to align themselves with achieving the new goals and objectives.
This approach is not specific to the training industry. The same kind of preparation is necessary in any industry so that salespeople can demonstrate their understanding of the business in customer dialogues.
Among the tools I use to dig into the information I’m searching for are websites, such as Hoovers.com or the company’s own site. Search engines help me find information on specific terms, people, and companies. Also, LinkedIn is always a good resource to find out about the people attending my next meeting.
Another tool full of useful information is the company’s annual report to shareholders. In particular, the Management Discussion and Analysis section, or MD&A, offers good information about prior year performance, future goals, and planned projects. For publicly traded companies, the MD&A is where to find factual information that could illuminate the pain points being experienced within.
The annual report’s letter to shareholders can also give a good and quick snapshot about what happened in the past year and management’s objectives over the next planning period. The feature section and photographs should also be reviewed, as they offer information about products, culture, and company branding.
An ancillary source is the company’s archive of news releases. Even though these are often published for promotional purposes and don’t reveal the underlying business issues, as well as the annual report, they do highlight key events occurring throughout the year.
Another path that I pursue is learning about members of the board of directors. It’s worthwhile to see what industries and companies that the directors come from, especially new directors, as this might be an early indication of a change in direction.
Some salespeople have additional resources to make preparing a little easier and time efficient: their company’s CRM and other internal databases.
The next bit of preparation has to do with me and my company — what questions might clients have for me? There might be clues in the initial conversation conducted by phone or email that indicate a client’s sensitivity or concern. I have to anticipate and be ready to answer their questions and handle any objections. And, I make sure to revisit these topics again, either prior to or during meetings so that they don’t become obstacles in the relationship.
Good preparation takes time, but it is time worth investing. My rule of thumb is that for every hour spent with a client, there should be at least an additional hour spent learning about their business. And, that’s on the short end.
It doesn’t matter which of these tools you use to gather your information. What’s most important is spending the time to learn about the client so that you can demonstrate your credibility and begin building trust with the very first meeting.