The Sales Rep’s Guide to Prospect Research

prospect researchAbraham Lincoln once said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” The sentiment here is clear: Task preparation is just as important as task execution. To achieve success in the B2B sales world, this is a rule you must live by.

Consider this: only 13% of buyers feel like salespeople understand their needs (source). Now, if you’re a sales rep, this statistic might leave you scratching your head.  Why do so many buyers feel misunderstood? And, how can you remedy this issue?

The short answer? Prepare for your sales conversations with better prospect research.  If we’ve piqued your interest, keep reading. We’re just getting started.

Why is prospect research critical to the sales process?

Prospect research is critical to personalizing and delivering a successful sales pitch. The reason for this is simple: without the appropriate background information, your offer lacks context, personalization, and authority—three important factors when it comes to closing a deal.

Consider these statistics (source):

  • 90% of business professionals agreed that sales outreach personalized to their industry is very important.
  • 83% of business professionals agreed that sales outreach personalized to their specific business problem is very important.
  • 70% of business professionals agreed that sales outreach personalized to their specific role within their company is very important.

Looking at these numbers, it’s clear why prospect research is so important. How can you speak to a person’s industry, their pain points, or their job role without doing any research? The short answer is, you can’t.

What information do I need to know about my prospects?

In today’s always-connected, always-on environment, there’s an overwhelming amount of information about your prospects online. It’s difficult to know where to start.  If you’re struggling with information overload, here’s what we’ve found to be most critical:

Company Information

In the B2B world, where sales reps sell to other businesses, it’s imperative that you understand the ins and outs of your prospect’s company before you get on the phone with them. Not only will this information help you determine if they’re a good fit for your product or service, but if they are, it will also help you deliver a more precise, tailored sales pitch. Use your prospect research to uncover the following:

Business basics:

  • What product or service does the prospect’s company provide?
  • Have they worked with your company in the past?
  • Have they worked with any of your competitors?
  • How many employees do they have?

Leadership information:

  • What does the company’s leadership structure look like?
  • Are there any unique circumstances regarding the way the company runs?
  • Who would you expect to have the final say in a purchase decision?
  • Based on company size and leadership, how many people would you expect in their buying committee?

Financial standing:

  • Are they a public or private entity?
  • What is their yearly revenue?
  • Can you identify any preliminary financial red flags?
  • Based on revenue, would you expect them to have the budget for your product?

Technographic information:

  • What are the core tools and technologies this company requires?
  • How sophisticated is their current technology stack?
  • Does their technology stack reflect tools similar in budget to yours?
  • Are they comfortable using more advanced tools? Or are their tools fairly basic?
  • If you’re selling a technological service or tool, do they work with any of your competitors?

Purchase behaviors:

  • What does the organization’s typical purchase size look like?
  • When was the last time the company made a purchase of the same caliber?

News and trigger events:

  • Has the company released a new product or update recently?
  • Have they recently made headlines for anything of note?
  • Have there been any significant events recently that suggest the company may be in the market for a particular product or service?

Industry background:

  • What industry does their company belong to?
  • Is there a particular set of challenges this industry faces?
  • Are there any significant changes have recently occurred within the industry?
  • Do you work with any other companies within this industry? And if so, which of your products or solutions helped them most?

Competitive insight:

  • Does this company have any big competitors?
  • Do you work with any companies that compete with this prospect? If so has your product or service been helpful for them?
  • How does this company stack up to their competitors?
  • In which areas does this company surpass their competitors?
  • And in which do they fall short in comparison to their competitors?

Contact information:

It’s not enough to gather information about the business you’re selling to. You must also research your main point of contact within the company. Here’s what you need to know:

Role within the organization:

  • What is your prospect’s job title?
  • What department do they belong to?
  • Based on their job title, what would you guess are their core responsibilities?
  • Are they entry-level, or in a management position?
  • Is their role a supervisory one?
  • Is there anyone above them who might have to sign off on a purchase decision?
  • How much influence do they have over the decision making process?
  • What particular challenges do they face within their position?
  • Does someone in this job role have pain points that might be solved by using your product?

Technical background:

  • Have they worked with a similar product or tool in the past?
  • Do they have any relevant certifications or skills relating to your business?
  • Do they have any past experience with your specific product or service at their current company? At a previous company?

It’s important to note that this list is by no means exhaustive – nor will it be a perfect fit for everyone. It’s intended to get you thinking about the types of information you need in order to craft the perfect sales pitch. The types of information that matter most will largely depend on your organization’s product, offering, and objectives. Think of this as merely a starting point.

How do I gather prospect research?

Now that you know what types of information to look for, it’s time to get started. We understand that, as a sales rep, you talk to many prospects each day and that the prospect research process needs to be a quick one. So before we jump into it, just remember –  you need to find a workflow that works for you and your organization.

Here’s what we suggest:

Step 1: Look for existing customer data.

First, check any internal resources to see if you already have access to information on your prospect. Your CRM or customer database may house a wealth of information about your prospect and their organization. Pay close attention to these two areas:

  • Prior interactions with your sales team. Has your prospect already spoken to a rep within your organization? Use this as an opportunity to learn. If possible, talk to the other sales rep and see if they have any insight on the prospect in question.
  • Marketing engagement. Check if the prospect has recently engaged with your company’s marketing campaigns. Are there any noticeable trends, topics, or content types your prospect seems to be interested in? This information can provide you with a working idea of their interests and pain points.

Step 2: Analyze their company website.

Another important source of information is the company’s public website. Here you can find the basic information regarding the organization—from product information to employee counts. Most importantly, the company’s website will provide you with insight into how they want the outside world to perceive them.

The goal of your search is to develop a better understanding of the ‘how and why’ behind an organization’s operations. Uncovering key information such as their mission, goals and values will help you identify which of your products or offerings will help them achieve their most vital business objectives.

Remember: while a company’s website may house a wealth of information, not every page will aid you in your search. To avoid a productivity black hole, prioritize your search to pages containing high-level data. These often include pages like the About Us, Leadership and News/Press pages.

Step 3: Check out popular review websites.

Review websites like G2Crowd, Yelp, or the Better Business Bureau are a valuable source of information on B2B sales prospects.  A simple search on sites like these often reveals key information regarding your prospect’s company. How do their customers feel about them? Can you identify common complaints about their brand or products? Do their customers have complaints about issues your product solves?

Using this information, you can often determine which of your products or services might help your prospect alleviate common customer complaints. For example, if you sell an e-commerce payment platform, look for customer complaints about your prospect’s payment system. Information like this will give you more candid insight into your prospect’s struggles—and as a result, it will better prepare you to fix them.

Step 4: Work with a sales intelligence provider.

If, after checking all publically available information sources, you find your prospect research lacking, it may be time to bring in the professionals. Sales intelligence providers specialize in contact and company information. And, although you must pay for their services, the data they provide is often instrumental to the success of your sales team.  Here’s what a good sales intelligence provider will offer you:

  • Important contact information to help you get in touch with prospects faster.
  • Company information regarding industry, financial status, competitors, and more.
  • Technographic data about the key tools and technologies your prospect uses.
  • The ability to search for additional contacts and accounts.
  • Customer insights that help you understand who your best buyers are.

These tools not only provide a wealth of information but they also streamline your prospect research process—often eliminating the need for the previous three step and making them a worthwhile investment.

Final Thoughts About Prospect Research

To put it simply, there is no such thing as being too prepared – especially in sales. Make more deals and build better relationships with your prospects just by taking a few minutes to do your research. With a deeper understanding of your prospect, you’ll provide a more tailored experience – from the first touch! And, the more relevant and meaningful your interactions are, the more likely you are to convert your prospect into a paying customer.

Prior to your next conversation with a prospect, ask yourself this: Do I have all the information I need to make a sale?

To learn more about our sales intelligence platform, contact our sales team today. ZoomInfo has the information you need to make more informed sales calls.