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5 Things I Want to Know About a Prospect Before I Make the First Sales Call

by Doug Davidoff | Sep 14, 2016 3:00:00 PM

You Only Get One Chance to Make a Strong First Impression

before-first-sales-call.jpgAs a part of my role on the growth team at Imagine, I spend a significant amount time having first conversations with prospects. These prospects can come from a variety of activities:

  • Select inbound leads
  • SQLs developed by our sales development rep
  • Referrals
  • Follow ups from speaking events that I do
  • The time I spend each month doing my own sales development work

In the old days, handling first conversations was easy. You simply made the call and started with a question as simple as, “Tell me about your company.” If you wanted to be bold you said, “Tell me about the problems you’re trying to solve.” Frankly, you didn’t really need to know that much about the prospect, as you could rely on them to educate you.

Today that approach will kill you. Valuable prospects have neither the time nor the desire to educate you on their company, their issues or their objectives. You must earn that right, and you do that by knowing your prospect before you engage with them.

Before I get to the factors I want to know, let me first share the approach that I’ve found to be most effective in driving real revenue growth results. I split prospects into two groups:

  • Core prospects. These are the lifeblood of most businesses that are looking to scale. They’re the “typical” customer/client. These prospects balance profitability and volume.
  • Strategic prospects. These are the opportunities that can move the needle for a business. They represent either significant revenue opportunity, strategic value (like entering a new line or area of business), growth of internal capabilities or any/all of the above.

For strategic prospects, I take a very customized approach to learning about them. I’ll address that subject in a future post. The approach to core prospects is what I’m addressing here.

With core prospects, you don’t have the time to justify completing extensive research on each prospect. The opportunities are not big enough to justify that type of work when the probabilities are still low at such an early stage in the sales process.

So how do you do it? It’s actually quite simple - not easy - but simple. The extensive work you (should) do on creating your ideal client profile and buyer personas should provide the base of knowledge you need to address these prospects.

One of the most common conflicts I must overcome with our clients is the need to segment their customer and prospect base. Growth executives will often push back telling me that it doesn’t matter what the customer does, their product or service works the same. While that may be true from the task-oriented solutions perspective, it’s not true from the perspective of how a prospect views the problem and the solution.

Clayton Christensen likes to say that people don’t buy products/services so much as they “hire” them to do something for them. So where the solution may be the same, what the prospect is hiring your product/service to do is not. And you must be clear on this to generate the impact and the value for your sales efforts.

Alright, enough theory, let’s get to what I want to know before I begin that first conversation.

1. What does the company do?

The work I’ve done already (as mentioned above) should make me familiar with this, so it shouldn’t take more than a few seconds to know enough here. To be clear, I’m not talking about some surface answer like, “they sell widgets.”  I mean I want to have an idea of what their value proposition is, and a hypothesis of how they’re different from their competitors.

2. How does the company present itself to the public?

In the same way that prospects hire your offerings for different reasons, the way your prospects go-to-market and/or present themselves to the public and their customers is different as well. Understanding how they approach this area enables me to personalize my approach and create alignment and resonance much faster.

3. What are the likely problems and opportunities confronting that company?

Here again, I should already be familiar with this from the work I’ve done to understand my customers. Usually, I don’t even have to do any additional research to move forward here. When I do, I spend a very short time looking at their website and/or reviewing business intelligence tools I have access to.

There’s an important point here. When I approach a prospect with a clear hypothesis, I don’t have to be right. Prospects respect the advance work you do, and so long as what you’re doing is solid, they’re happy to share how their situation is different.

4. How does the company appear to be addressing the areas I impact?

I want to have an idea of what the prospect is likely doing (if anything) to address the problems that I address. Oftentimes this comes from the advance work I’ve done on the market overall, though sometimes it does require that I look a little deeper.

5. What are the common alternatives to my approach?

I know that my approach is not the only way to address the problems and opportunities my prospects are pursuing...it may be the best approach, but it’s not the only one. It’s crucial that I understand the alternatives available to manage the sale effectively, and this includes the alternative of doing nothing.

Knowing these five factors before you begin a call with a prospect will quickly put you in a leadership position, enabling you to earn the attention and time from the personas who have the authority to move the initiatives you impact forward.