March 24, 2011

Information Gathering or the Value of Research

Recently, in a conversation with some sales managers, the conversation turned to some challenges their people were having expanding their relationships with key customers. Specifically, the managers talked of how some sales people were able to start a relationship while working to get the contract signed but didn’t know what to do afterward. Their issue was not knowing what to talk about in subsequent meetings. Therefore, they were hesitant to schedule them. The managers asked if I had any thoughts or possibly some training material that might help.

After further discussion, I made the following recommendation. Rather than offering another training class, I recommended a coaching solution that the managers could implement themselves. I recommended they help their people master the art of information gathering or research. This step, typically the first one in most sales processes is the most neglected and yet most beneficial one. I suggested that the managers emphasize the benefits of effective, ongoing research and have their people practice this process with them. I mentioned that the research should focus on the following areas.

Your company

The first place you want to stay up-to-date is your own company. Sounds obvious but many people neglect this area. How well do you know who you work for? Do you have a good understanding of the vision, mission, and key goals of your company? Can you discuss your company’s value proposition? Are you current on the product offerings? What about process changes?

Your industry

The next place you want to stay up-to-date is your industry. Are you up-to-date on the latest innovations? How well versed are you with the direction the industry is headed? Do you understand how your company fits in the industry hierarchy?

Your Competitors

And what about your competitors? This is typically the hardest area to get good information, and therefore the easiest to put off until later. Do you know who your competitors really are? Would your customers agree with you? What changes have happened to their business models? Have you sampled or otherwise experienced their products to form your own opinion of their merit? Are you able to easily comment on the features and benefits of their products? Do you know why they get selected when they win?

Your customer

The last area is the most obvious, your customer. Do you know what their current vision, mission and key goals are? Have these changed recently? Do you have a good understanding of where they are going next? Do you know what their top initiatives are? Do you know how we fit into supporting these initiatives? Are you aware of any changes in their internal hierarchy? How deep and wide are your contacts within the company? Who else are they doing business with in your space? What other providers can we partner with to service them?

Finally, what do you know about their industry and their competitors? Are there any major changes in directions in their industry that is going to impact them? Do you know who they compete with? Do you know where they stand against their competitors?

The managers thanked me for my suggestions and told me they would keep me apprised of their results. What about you? Do you run a sales team? What suggestions do you have for this topic? Let me know in the comments.

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