One topic that is frequently debated amongst sales professionals is the amount of time you need to spend researching a customer before you contact them.
This topic applies mainly to business-to-business sales, although it can relate to most selling situations, regardless of who you are selling to. The big question is how much more effective is your selling approach when you have more than the normal amount of knowledge about a particular customer.
I have worked with sales people who spend extreme amounts of time researching and looking into a customer before making contact with them. They need to know everything they can in order to feel comfortable initiating dialogue.
They spend hours on their website. They dig through the Internet. They comb through their company database to search for potential history. They talk to as many people as they can about a particular customer or account. They leave no stone unturned. They could tell you everything about an account, including information that is completely useless when it comes to successfully selling to or building a business relationship with someone.
Sorry researchers, but I just do not understand this. I have found that sales people who say they are "researching" are really just apprehensive about the selling situation and use the research as an excuse not to do the most difficult part of the selling process; prospect. They find comfort in the fact that they are actually putting in some type of effort. Unfortunately, that effort is often wasted time.
Now do not get me wrong, I do believe in having knowledge about a customer. Information you can gather prior to meeting with a customer can definitely help increase your probabilities of success. Customers want to know that you have done your homework. They want to feel important and they need to know you are serious about their business. Doing your homework and having pieces of relevant information can surely help you throughout the selling process.
There are also products and services that require an extensive amount of knowledge in order to properly qualify and move a customer forward in the selling process.
I understand and respect that type of sale. But for the majority of salespeople who are proactively selling and managing customers, you know what I mean. When you spend inordinate amounts of time researching prospects, you are taking away from the time when you should actually be selling.
The biggest issue I have seen with those who spend too much time researching is they develop inaccurate assumptions before they even start selling. Assuming is one of the most dangerous words in the profession of selling. It causes people to miss opportunities and pass over potential customers due to their preconceived notions.
I have found the best and most effective way to research a customer is to talk to them. Forget the hours on the Internet. Ignore the urge to dig. Instead of doing that, gather the necessary amount of information you need and call or visit your prospect. Spend time learning about them by getting accurate, real-time and relevant information directly from your customer.
Not only will your information be more accurate, you will also begin building a relationship with your potential customer, you will uncover more valuable information and most importantly, you will avoid what is often referred to as "analysis paralysis"!