How to research a sales prospect -- in 10 minutes

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(MoneyWatch) A meeting with a prospect is more likely to result in a big sale if you go into the engagement armed with solid information about the prospect's firm. Fortunately, there's no mystery to market research. Here's how the experts build a quick corporate profile when they're pressed for time:

Go to Hoovers.com. Run a search there for the prospect's corporate name. Unless the company is very small or very closely held, you'll likely get a summary of the company and its business model, the basic financials, and the names of a few top executives, even if you don't have a subscription. If there's no listing for the prospect in Hoovers, skip to step 3. If there is a listing, cut and paste the summary and the headquarters address into the top of your profile document. If the company is not publicly held, skip to step 3. If it is publicly held, continue to step 2.

Go to SEC.gov. There, click on "Search for Company Filings," then "Companies and Other Filings." Enter the prospect's corporate name. You'll get a list of documents. Click through to read their most recent 10K and 10Q reports. Typically you get a list of .html files. Click on the first one, which will contain the bulk of the company's last detailed financial report. The most important sections are the financial tables, the list of executives, the descriptions of the prospect's business model, and the "issues and uncertainties." This last identifies the prospect's pain points that might provide an opening for a sale. Cut and paste whatever looks interesting into your profile document.

Go to the prospect's website. Click on the "About" link and examine everything that the company has to say about itself. Pay particular attention to any management biographies. Cut and paste whatever looks interesting into your document. Look under "News," or "Media Relations" or whatever, for the prospect's recent press releases. Cut and paste any releases that look interesting from the perspective of your firm's offerings. Now look under "Jobs Available," which might be called something else, to find out who they're hiring; that gives you a good idea of how and where they're planning to expand and where they're short of resources (another pain point).

Go to Google. Run a search for the prospect's corporate name and the name of your contact in the prospect's firm. Hint: Put queries within quotes, such as "John Doe" and "Acme Corp." Look over the links and summaries in the first two pages of results. Click on any document that contains information that might help you better understand the contact's roles and responsibilities. Take especial note of anything, like references to a personal life or conference speaking engagements, that might offer a "hook" for rapport building. Cut and paste whatever looks interesting into your profile document. Repeat the process with relevant executive names that you retrieved during earlier steps.

Voila! You've got a twenty to thirty page document that, if you study it for a half hour or so, will give you a better understanding of the prospect's firm than most of the employees who actually work there.

This post by Geoffrey James originally appeared on BNET.com.

  • Geoffrey James

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