Everyone is involved in the business development process: finding markets and identifying customers for our product and service offerings. No one is exempt from this process, either. Even if you are a technical professional who is transitioning into a sales role!
We all talk about “doing our homework” before we call on current and potential customers. What does that phrase really mean? The Digital Millennium overwhelms us with information. And not all of it is relevant to our customers.
I recently asked this question of Sam Richter, an internationally recognized expert on sales, marketing, leadership and web search as well as author of Take The Cold Out of Cold Calling.
Here are some points to keep in mind when using the web to locate information.
Everyone’s in Sales …
Sales has gotten a bad name. Your customer thinks you only are calling them to convince them to buy something from you or to sign off on your technical solution. They often feel you have no clue whether they are even interested in your products and services, or whether your solution is relevant. So think before you call your customers. Do your homework to determine what is important to them, not you, such as: their business objectives, how can they earn their bonus, whether you even have product or service solutions to help them achieve their goals.
Establish your Relevancy…
Being relevant to your customers allows you to be regarded as a valuable solutions provider. Find information on what that other person is concerned about and ask really good questions based on this information. You don’t get permission to show up and immediately fast forward and ask those “deep discovery” questions until you have proven your relevancy and trustworthiness to that prospect or customer. Then they will invite you to ask them these questions. Do you have stories you can share showing how you have helped others?
Your buyer doesn’t care about you or your company, no matter how nice you are and how great your company is. They have problems which are keeping them up at night. You need to be aware of these problems before you meet with your customer. They want to talk about themselves, their company and their problems. Not yours.
Focused Web Searching, not Surfing, establishes Relevancy…
Before you fire up Google, write down a list of questions you want answered. You want to search the web, not surf it. Your goal is to unearth the trigger events that are shifting your customer or prospect’s company’s decision making processes and creating problems for them. Keep in mind that a company only puts good things on their website, so that is not a reliable source of information. Use the left hand Search side of a Google results page to fine tune your results. Click on the “News” button to find out if the company you are meeting with has been featured recently in the news. Tip: use quotation marks around words and it treats everything as a complete phrase.
We are connecting on a human level, not a technical level or a sales/marketing level…
Your homework can be as simple as going to LinkedIn. There’s a high likelihood that when you are meeting with someone, they have a profile on LI. Find out about them: who are they, where have they worked, what is their experience, where did they go to school? We are trying to find information to connect on a human level. You might be selling a very technical product, but the person behind that decision is a human being. If you do not have that ability to connect on a human, emotional level, then you become perceived as a commodity. Once you connect on an emotional level, then you become a valued provider and, more often than not, can even charge a premium for that product or service.
You are trying to determine what their problem looks like today. You are asking them to envision what the future would look like if you solved that problem. You want them to know you can work together with them to bridge that gap. You are telling them about some relevant experience and information that you have, which shows how you have solved problems for others. This discussion is the same, whether you are technical or in sales. You are solving their problem. It’s the same mindset. And as a sales person, your ability to understand what the buyers’ problems are, and translate and connect with the appropriate technical expert in your company, is huge.
Business development involves The Platinum Rule, not The Golden Rule…
The Golden Rule assumes that others want to be treated the same way you do: do unto others as you would have it done unto yourself. However, just because you feel that your products and services are wonderful doesn’t mean that they actually are or that your customer is even interested in them. The Platinum Rule, proposed by Dr. Tony Alessandra, states “treat others the way they want to be treated.”
Most people sell via the Golden Rule. “I love my company and we will spend the next hour going through our catalog so I can tell you how great we are.” Platinum Rule business development involves “Hey I’ve done some homework on your company. I see you are moving in this direction. You have this capacity and this equipment. Are you able to move in the direction you wish?” Now you can share a story of how you have helped similar companies. And, if you show that catalog, you can tailor the content to fit the reality of this customer’s needs. You don’t know what your customer needs until you ask.
Entrepreneurs often approach venture capital or angel investors from a Golden Rule perspective: this idea is so important to me, that I am sure it also is important to you. They have to approach funding from a Platinum Rule perspective: I have this idea, what do I need to know to determine whether it is important to you?
Web searching provides data for asking questions, not finding answers…
When we search on the web, we’re not looking for answers. People confuse Google and searching for finding answers. Companies are not putting out “click here to find out what our problems are” information for you to find. Yet it’s your job to determine what their problems are.
What you are looking for is “trigger events:” something that is going on in that company’s world that is changing things. Press releases, mergers, acquisitions, new technology. By adding quotes around search terms and “+” between words, you get a lot of press releases related to trending information about that organization. Google isn’t the only search engine you can use. Mool.com/media is a new search engine based on media. It deals with news related to companies who are not in the news frequently, such as industrial manufacturers. Another alternative search engine is biznar.com. Click “advanced search” and search for information by date ranges, key words, etc.
Think of data differently…
Most of the time when we think of data, we think of information we can put into an Excel spreadsheet. Engineers are so data oriented. They are looking for data that means 2+2=4. What you are really looking for is 2+2=8. When I say data, I am talking about disparate pieces of information that can help us come up with hypotheses so we can ask better questions. What is the holistic nature of the issues, what problems might this company have? How can I ask better questions based on the information I find? The data we are talking about is what you find via different search techniques.
This doesn’t have to be that hard. The goal is to get the other person to start talking. Find that one article, not a lot of information. It allows you to ask a question that gets that person talking about themselves and their company.
The most powerful search engine ever created is that person sitting across the table who you are trying to get to talk. So shut up and listen. The key is, you have to have permission first, to ask the question. Make the other person feel important. Ask that question and then be quiet and let that other person talk.
There is an art and science to web searching. Those in the engineering profession have the mindset to connect the dots. They are wired to be very successful.
Sam Richter is the Founder and CEO of SBR Worldwide/Know More! and SVP/Chief Marketing Officer at ActiFi, a software and solutions firm serving the financial services industry. He was named by InsideView as one of the Top 25 Most Influential People in Sales and he was also named as one of the Top Chief Marketing Officers on Twitter. He is a member of the Business Journals/ “Forty Under 40” list honoring the top Minnesota business leaders under the age of forty. He also was finalist for Inc. Magazine’s Entrepreneur of the Year and he’s one of the more highly recommended persons on LinkedIn.
Go to http://www.samrichter.com/ and the Warm Call Center. Download the Know More! Tool Bar which accesses the most relevant sites for your search. His book, Take The Cold Out of Cold Calling, is available on Amazon.com and via his website, www.takethecold.com.