Sales and marketing, Channel markets

Sales Prospecting: How Much Pre-call Research?

Author: David Brock, president, Partners in Excellence
Author: David Brock

How much pre-call research do you need to do to be effective in your prospecting Frankly, it’s a really loaded question, with answers all over the place.

Some argue you need to research deeply, learning as much as you can about the company and the individual as possible, becoming well informed about them and their business so you can be relevant in the conversation. I’ve always tended to default to this answer–but it’s largely driven by my target prospects, which tend to be C-Level Executives of very large corporations. It’s hard to reach them, so I want to make sure I make the best use of our time.

Some sales people claim they have to do similar amounts of research, but often, I actually think it’s an excuse for call avoidance, rather than preparation. When I see the research they are doing, it doesn’t seem focused and purposeful, so I wonder, “What are they trying to learn?” Inevitably, these sales people make calls, not as many as they should, and I sometimes wonder how they are leveraging their research as I listen to their conversations.

The majority, seem to default to the other end of the spectrum, they do no research at all. They are calling from some meaningless list, but they have no idea who they are calling and whether they are even in their sweet spot. Those calls are always easy to detect, “May I speak to the person responsible for ……” Or, “Google, Microsoft, and GE get huge value from our solutions, we think you can to” C’mon, we’re a small company, you should know that, if anything talk about the small companies or consulting companies that are leveraging you solution.  But again, these people haven’t taken the time to understand who we are an what we do.

Some calls get a little further in my prospecting screen, they have a good opening, but then start to talk about the value we might get from their solution. I have to give them credit, at least they aren’t pitching the feeds and speeds of our product. But, I ask them to pause, I ask, “What do you know about our company and what we do?” Some are honest enough to say, “I don’t know, can you tell me?” Some, you hear their fingers on their keyboards, try to guess or give a quick answer when they get their search results.

So there are these two extremes to preparation and research. One is very deep, purposeful research and the other end is doing nothing and just letting it rip!

Clearly, except in certain cases (like our company’s), truth is somewhere in between. The amount will vary based on who you are calling, how you create the best first impression, and how you maximize your impact.

But here are some thoughts to be more effective doing just the right amount of research.

1. Never never make a call outside your sweet spot! This is the biggest time/reputation waster. Just randomly dialing numbers off some purchased list means the majority of people you may be calling will never be a customer, nor should they be if they aren’t in the sweet spot. If you are dealing with leads from marketing, make sure marketing has narrowed the leads to only those in your sweet spot (I’m hard pressed to understand why they might ever do anything outside the sweet spot, anyway. At least you know the prospect you are talking is likely to have the problem you are the best in the world at solving. It may not be a problem for them right now, but there is likely to be some “connection,” just because they are in your sweet spot.

2. Group your calls by industry/persona. If financial services, manufacturing, and pharma companies are in your sweet spot, and you are calling on VP’s of development, CIOs and CFOs, group your calls to similar companies/personas. For example, start with financial services CIOs, then CFOs, then VPs of development. Then move to those in manufacturing, then move to those in pharma. The reason to do this, is the people in the same role in the same industry are likely to be facing similar issues.  For a fairly small amount of research, you are likely to hit on issues they may be interested in.  Here again, marketing and product management need to be equipping you with some basics, for example, what are the issues CIOs in financial services face and how do we help them.  The reason for grouping them, it’s simply easier to remember and you get smarter as you make or calls to that group.

3. (1) and (2) require virtually no research. They require knowledge about the issues and problems, they are likely to face, but lay those requirements on marketing and product management to equip you so you are prepared for those conversations.

4. If you want to ramp up your impact, do a little preparation about the specific company and individual you are calling. It’s not much more than a few minutes, but go to the individual’s LinkedIn profile.  Learn a little about them and their background,  Go to the company website, learn a little about what they do, if they have an investors page, read the last few press releases on the page (e.g. earnings announcements, etc.).  Just this simple research gives you much better insight into the individual and the company, enabling you to have very informed and relevant conversations with them.  Clearly, if you are making hundreds of calls a day, it’s tough to do this so at least default to (1) and (2).  But many sales people aren’t making that high volume, so they can and should take a few minutes to do just this basic research before a call.

5. Then there are those calls that may require much more research. Not necessarily hours, but more than a few minutes. Typically, these are very senior executives, and you want to maximize your impact and the impression you make on those calls. More importantly, you have to feel confident that you can hold up your end of the conversation.  As a result, you want to research and prepare.

The right amount of research—well it depends. But none is not the right answer, and extensive/deep is only in some very special cases. For the most part, the answer is somewhere between those extremes.