Selling from strength

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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.

Yet, if your company is like most businesses, you’ve spent almost zero dollars and time figuring out what your client 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.

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, 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, clients 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, clients 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, clients get frustrated when you ask what they feel are obvious questions about things like company size, lines of business and competitive information.

How can you get this kind of information? How can you differentiate yourself from the typical salesperson? 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.

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; doc = Microsoft Word). For example: “technical textile” + trends + 2012 filetype:pdf will locate research reports and articles related to current trends in technical textiles. Or said another way, it equals sales leads.

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?

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.

Sam Richter, was named by InsideView as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in Sales in both 2011 and 2012.

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