Do You Know Enough to Win?

Several years ago I was working with a group of sales professionals from a large computer company. At the start of our session, we were all sharing "memorable moments" in our sales career.

Mike, a rep from Philadelphia, told us about a sales call he had with an executive from a large corporate account - one he had worked long and hard to arrange. About ten minutes into the meeting Mike said, "Tell me about your company."

The executive looked at him stunned, then turned around and started searching for something on his credenza. When he found it, he turned back to Mike. "Here, he said. "Read this. And when you're done, come back and talk to me."

He then escorted Mike to the lobby, leaving him alone to read the company's annual report. Mike never got a second chance to talk to this key decision maker.

Although that incident happened 10 years ago, the message is even more relevant today. Reading the annual report just doesn't cut it anymore. "Winging-it" is a thing of the past.

To be successful in the new sales paradigm, it's imperative to be highly knowledgeable and up-to-date about your customer's business.

Why do you need this information? Lots of reasons. You can:

• Figure out how exactly your product or service can make an impact on your customer's business.

• Have intelligent discussions with key decision makers.

• Gain a significant competitive edge.

• Generate high-value ideas to help your customer improve their performance, cut costs, increase sales or gain a competitive advantage.

• Create an informed business strategy.

In today's business climate, knowledge is truly power. It's what separates the good sellers from the average ones and the committed from the complacent.

If what you're selling has a major organizational impact, it's essential to learn about your customer's: critical business issues, high priority initiatives, financial drivers, product/service line, primary decision makers, competitors, key customers, industry trends and more.

If your offering affects only a portion of the business (i.e., marketing, distribution, packaging, or manufacturing), you need to know much of the same information, but on a smaller scale.

Where can you find the information you need? Certainly the best place to start is by checking out your prospective customer's web site. Print out information about their business, products/ services and financial situation. Read the latest press releases.

But don't stop there. Keep on searching. Try Google - but realize there's a lot more info beyond Google! Here are a few sites where you can gather good data about your customer and their industry:

American Business Journals - lots of local in-depth coverage for over 60 US markets.

Yahoo Finance - a basic source of info; you can set up your own portfolio to get breaking news on key customers or prospects.

Hoovers - some good free overviews, subscriptions available.

Libraries are also excellent sources of information. But unless you're familiar with all the resources they have access to, you wouldn't even know where to start.

Go talk to a reference librarian. This person can show you all the high cost databases that the library subscribes to and what information you can get from them. Usually large corporations pay big bucks to get access to this info. Fortunately, libraries purchase subscriptions to make the best online resources available to the public. This enables small businesses, entrepreneurs and salespeople to compete on an equal level.

In addition to learning more about your customers, you can use the information you uncover to build lead lists, conduct in-depth research on competitors, determine pricing, study industry trends and build business plans. Plus, the higher up you call on in an organization, the more you'll need to be conversant on your customer's business, industry, competitors, marketplace and more.

For small to medium-sized businesses, the James J. Hill Reference Library is a unique online treasure. With their very affordable membership, you have access to more than 8,000 industry-specific journals and publications and immediate live, online help. The Hill Library also has masters-degreed business information specialists who will do research for you at a reasonable cost.

Selling in the new paradigm is all about creating business value for your customer. It's how you differentiate yourself from competitors. It's how you come up with irresistible, invaluable ideas. It's how you create a relationship where you're a trusted business resource.

To be a Value Creator, you absolutely need a broad base of knowledge and a deep understanding of your customers - before you contact them. And, you need to keep abreast of any changes in their business and market while you're working together.

So think for just a minute about your targeted customers. DO YOU KNOW ENOUGH TO WIN? Are you sure?


Jill Konrath, author of Selling to Big Companies, helps sellers get their foot in the door of large corporations, create demand and win profitable contracts. Get a free Sales Call Planning Guide ($19.95 value) when you sign up for the Selling to Big Companies e-newsletter. Just send an email with "subscribe in the subject line to . For more info, visit .
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