Is Pre-Call Research a Waste of Time? Tips and Techniques to Improve Productivity and Effectiveness

How much time do you spend on pre-call research?

How much time do you spend gathering data on your prospect and looking for a clever edge before picking up the phone and calling the decision maker? Not a second?  A minute? Three minutes? Five?

When it comes to pre call research there tends to be two types of tele-sales reps: those who spend little or no time, and those who spend too much time… far too much time.  Very few reps spend the ‘right’ amount of time.

So where do you sit?

Too Little Time

The majority of tele-sales reps who make cold calls fall in this category.  And the majority of this majority don’t do any research at all.  They pick up the phone and play it by ear.  Sometimes it works out all right, other times it’s a disaster.

Of course, the trouble with too little research is that the unprepared rep wastes time and effort. He wastes his time and he wastes the prospect’s time.  Wasting time means poor or mediocre sales results, discouragement, frustration, tense bosses, lower commission cheques, job security … the whole nine yards.

Why do reps spend so little time on research?  Some don’t know how or what to research (and we’ll fix that today!)Others don’t understand the value.  Some have bosses who ‘won’t let them.’  And finally, there are those who are just complacent and lazy.

Too Much Time

I may offend some trainers and managers here but spending too much time methodically researching web sites, checking Linked In profiles, and running Google searches  can be just as bad (and maybe even worse) than spending too little time.

The trouble with too much research is that it can be a tremendous waste of time as well.  It takes time and effort to search, scan, read and analyze the data that you discover.  But the real problem is that the ROT (return on time) is rarely, if ever, there.

Don’t believe me?

Pick any five or ten websites and visit them.  You will NOT see a tab that says “Our Problems” or “Our Opportunities.”  You will never find a line that says, “click here if you are a sales rep looking to sell to our company.”  Glancing at a Linked In Profile can give you some insights on the decision maker provided they use Linked in.  But web sites and social media sites provide sanitized data. It is information that has been careful prepared and delivered and rarely is it of value.

In truth, the majority of reps who do loads of research are probably doing so not because they get valuable information but because it is an excuse not to pick up the telephone and dial as often as they should or could.  It is a way of procrastinating and avoiding rejection.

The Single Best Source of Information

Ultimately, the information or data you need lies in the hearts and minds of your prospects and nowhere else.  It is only by reaching them and dialoguing with them will you learn what makes them tick.  Period. End of sentence.

The sooner you reach a decision maker, the sooner you can zero in on an opportunity .. . if one even exists!

The Familiarization Process

So does this mean you shouldn’t do ANY research?

No.  Of course not. It is the degree of research that’s the issue.

Enter the Familiarization Process.

The Familiarization Process is a quick method of doing research on a prospect.  For those who do too little research it provides a means of gathering better data.  For those who do too much research it provides a means of trimming the effort. It provides a laser like focus to your pre call efforts.  Here’s how to do it.

Web Research

Go to your prospects web site and do this:

  • Check out the “About Us” or “Home” page.  In a few seconds you’ll have a quick feel for the prospect. You’ll know what they do.  Ask yourself: have you done business with a similar business? If yes, what were their issues, concerns, hopes, opportunities, challenges, interests or desires?  Leverage that experience. If not, speculate on how your offer might be of benefit to that company.
  • Sometimes there’s a ‘history’ tab.  Most of what you read is propaganda and/or vanity.   Don’t waste a lot time here. Honestly, your prospect won’t be impressed if you say, “I see that your firm started up in 1933 in the midst of the Depression.”
  • Click on  “Products” or “Services” page if they are listed and provided that your company’s solution has some sort of impact on the prospect’s products or services. If not, don’t waste your time surfing through the data no matter how interesting you find it.
  • Look for a “PR” (public relations) or “What’s New”  page.  These pages often hold little gems that you might use as a pre-text for calling.  It should take you no more than 8.75 seconds to check it out.  BTW, if they don’t have a PR page, chances are they are not sending out PR releases so you don’t have to worry about Googling them.
  • If you’re calling executives, quickly see if they have a page of biographies.  Some actually do.  This page can have potential if… IF… you are calling one of the individuals listed.  If not, skip it.

If you do all that, you’ve devoted less that 2 minutes to the process which is pretty good.

Telephone Research-

But look … if you want a fast, reliable way to get research information try doing this: pick up the phone and call your prospect’s sales and/or customer service department. These people typically have a wealth of information and most of them give it up freely.

Speak to a rep. Explain who you are and what you are trying to accomplish. Ask them if they could help you out.  Most will.  In particular, sales reps tend to open up because they are in the same boat as you.  They empathize.  Ask them questions about the following:

  • their company, their products and services (if applicable), their competition
  • the decision makers (who they are)
  • See if you can get direct phone numbers … better yet, e-mail addresses
  • Find out when they get in
How Much Time Should You Spend on Research

As a rule of thumb, for most products and services, spend no more than a couple of minutes researching your prospects.  By following the tips above you’ll have a process that is quick and efficient.

If you had to choose between web research and telephone research chose the telephone. Hands down. It is fast and usually more accurate than the web.

Summary

Don’t get me wrong: there are some sales situations where extensive research is vital and necessary.  Take the time and prepare accordingly.  Visit web sites, go to Linked in, and Google the crap out of the company.

But in the vast majority of cases only a minimum amount of research is necessary. Get familiar with your prospect. No more, no less.  Take a balanced approach to research. Do enough to feel comfortable with your prospect but don’t do so much that you are overwhelmed with detail.  Then, pick up the phone and dial. That’s where the real information lies.

At the end of day you’ll be more productivity because you’ll be able to make another 8-12 dials with the time that you saved. And at the end of the day you’ll be more effective because you’ll have more relevant information you can use it necessary.

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