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Know More Selling

The “fourth R” is the key to selling in today’s environment.

The Internet has changed the way companies sell and buyers buy. Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island for the past 15 years, I’m sure that statement did not send shock waves through your consciousness. (Even if you were on a deserted island, you probably had Internet access anyway.)

However, I’m not talking about companies selling their products online or consumers shifting more of their purchases to online retailers. Rather, I’m talking about business-to-business selling. No, not reverse auctions, online catalogs or global outsourcing. I’m talking about the traditional salesperson calling on a prospect or an existing client—the one-on-one client relationship—that the Internet has completely redefined.

Unfortunately, most salespeople don’t yet fully grasp the scope of change. Nor have they grasped the opportunities it represents to the companies and to the salespeople who understand how to leverage the Internet to grow their traditional sales business.

For most complex product and service sales, there is no doubt that the role of the salesperson has, and always will be, integral to the deal-closing process. People still buy from people who they like and trust. The ability for the salesperson to understand the buyer, ask probing questions and create relevant solutions that ultimately deliver results is core to every sales program and every sales process.

Big companies spend millions of dollars each year on sales training, teaching various techniques for getting past gatekeepers, identifying buyer advocates and interacting with decision-makers. At the core of all good sales training programs is a section that discusses how imperative it is to understand your prospects, their needs, their business issues and, as some programs call it, their pain.

In today’s world where virtually everyone is exceptionally pressed for time, there is an expectation by many buyers that salespeople know the answers to questions before they walk in the door (or pick up the phone or send an e-mail). Especially for in-person meetings, buyers get frustrated when a salesperson asks what some feel are obvious questions like company size, lines of business and competitive information.

Many buyers expect salespeople—even in the first meeting—to have even more complex business know-ledge, such as industry changes, market positioning and a base-level understanding of the buyer’s internal business issues.

How can you get the kind of information that will make a great first impression? How can you differentiate from the typical salesperson? How can you obtain the information needed to understand your prospect and their key issues before you walk in the door? The answer is sales intelligence.

According to a study by CSO In-sights, sales intelligence is one of the most effective tools for improving a salesperson’s, and a company’s, sales effectiveness.

When a salesperson understands the prospect—the company, industry focus, issues the prospect is facing and even details about the individual with whom the salesperson is meeting—the salesperson is able to customize the presentation and conduct a meaningful sales call. In fact, according to the study, a company that embraces sales intelligence is almost twice as likely to move its prospects toward a closed deal as those who don’t embed the value of information into their sales culture. Said another way, if you know how to find and use information, you’ll win twice the business of competitors who “wing it.”

Yet, according to the CSO Insights study, fewer than ten percent of companies provide their sales reps with the training and resources necessary to conduct sales intelligence. Why?

The “Fourth R”
Historically, students of business and sales are taught that success comes from mastering the traditional three R’s of “reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic.” If you learn to communicate effectively, write a good proposal, understand a financial spreadsheet and manage a realistic budget, the chances are good you’ll succeed in business.

In today’s value-oriented business marketplace, the “fourth R”—research—is the tool that truly differentiates one business and one salesperson from the next. If you understand what interests other people, if you know what they genuinely care about, you can ask relevant questions and engage people to share what they most likely don’t share with others.

When you’re armed with relevant data, you’re able to ask better questions and massively increase your credibility. Remember, people buy from people they trust. And people trust people who can intelligently engage in dialogue that is relevant.

The “fourth R” is a powerful tool that, once applied in every sales interaction, will elevate you to the top one percent of all salespeople. The good news is that virtually anyone can learn to master the “fourth R.” You don’t have to attend library school. You don’t need a private investigator’s license. You just have to follow a few simple steps.

Although the best information is not easily found via popular search engines, if you know where and how to look, the best information can be found easily. When you use these tips, tricks and resources, you’ll be well on your way to mastering sales intelligence and winning more business than you ever thought possible.

Google Filetype Search
From company proposals to vendor and client lists, companies think that the files they post online for colleagues to download are secure. But if not properly protected, Google can index the data and make them available to people who know how to look.

  1. Enter the information you want and/or the company name (use quotations around phrases, e.g. “paper industry” or “widget corporation”).
  2. Enter filetype: (filetype colon) and then choose a filetype extension, e.g. pdf=adobe acrobat; xls=Excel spreadsheet; ppt=PowerPoint document; doc=Word document.
  3. For example, “paper industry” + “membership list” filetype:xls will search for a paper industry membership list in Excel format. “Widget corporation” filetype:ppt will search for a Widget Corporation PowerPoint presentation. “Plastics industry” + trends OR issues filetype:pdf will locate research reports and/or articles related to trends or issues in the plastics industry.

Google Timeline Search
Type the name of a company in Google. If the company name is more than one word, put the name between quotation marks (e.g. “acme corporation”). On the Google results page, you’ll see a link that says “Show Options.” Click on the link. This allows you to sort your Google search results using a number of criteria.

One of the options is labeled “Timeline.” Click on it and you’ll see a graphical timeline by decade, with certain time periods blocked out. Click on one of the blocked out periods and you’ll see articles featuring your search results from your chosen time period. On the left side, you can also click the “Latest” link, which will show results featuring your search criteria mentioned in blogs, current news and even instant Twitter messages.

How can you use this information? Imagine that you conduct this sort of search prior to a sales call. You click on the current month and pull up press releases and articles. You reference this information during your meeting. For example, you might say, “I saw in your company press release from last week that you are…” or “I thought that article from last month where you were quoted as….”

You’ve probably heard about Dun & Bradstreet (D&B) and its company information databases. You’ve also probably heard that D&B is fairly expensive. Did you know there is a free service from the Web site Manta that, with registration, provides basic D&B data?

Type the name of a company into the search form. Then choose the correct company from the results list. You will find basic company information, including location and industry, plus additional data like the number of employees, revenue figures, year started, key executives and more.

(Encyclopedia of American Industries)

Imagine your next sales meeting where you’re sharing industry statistics and knowledge that your buyer might not even have. Do you think your credibility will reach a new high?

You can quickly get an overview of just about every industry by using the Encyclopedia of American Industries online database. Once on the site, click on a category and scroll down to find the appropriate subcategory or SIC code. You can also use the search engine by entering the industry you’d like to learn about. Click on a result and get an industry overview, complete with statistics.

Want an easy way to find an executive’s biography? ZoomInfo scours the Web locating information on people, and then automatically creates an online biography using the information that it found.

To use it, click the “people” tab and enter the first and last name of the person you’re interested in finding. If the name is a common name (e.g. Pat Smith), use advanced search when on the people section, and enter in additional terms such as the company where the person works.

This social networking site is a great way to research people, and even receive virtual referrals and recommendations—the most powerful kind of marketing. Once you’re registered, invite people into your network. Your network grows exponentially because, as people accept your invitations and you accept theirs, everyone’s network is shared. As your network grows, search for people by name, company, job title and more. Use the Advanced Search for the best results.

Following a search, if you see a name of someone you’re interested in learning about, click their name and view their LinkedIn profile. Each person creates his or her own online profile, so you can learn a lot about someone’s background and interests as you’re basically looking at their online r?sum?. If you find someone you’d like to meet, you can request a referral from one of your first-level contacts—just click the “Get Introduced by a Connection” link. Choose the person you know who knows the person you’d like to meet. Write both a note, and LinkedIn will facilitate the online introduction.

Your Local Library
Most people don’t know it, but one of the most powerful business research resources around is your local public library. Big companies with big budgets pay for expensive databases and list-building services. What you probably didn’t realize is most libraries pay the same or similar databases that you can use for free.

Even better, you can often access most of these databases at no charge via your own home or work computer, any time you’d like. Just find your library’s Web site and locate a tab or link titled “databases” or “online resources.” Click on the link to access the database and enter your library card number. In seconds you’ll be logged into premium subscription databases at no charge.

Follow these tips and resources and you’ll be well on your way to mastering the “fourth R” and sales intelligence. Most important, you’ll begin to know more than you ever thought you could (or should) know about your prospects, clients and competition.

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Associtation
Sam Richter Sam Richter is a speaker, author and founder of the Know More! sales improvement program based in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and on the Web at www.samrichter.com.

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