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Gain Competitive Distinction Prior to Seeing a Prospect

15 Feb, 2005 By: Steven Power imageSource

Gain Competitive Distinction Prior to Seeing a Prospect

One of my low points as a sales
manager came early in my career, well before I had defined and documented all
the techniques I preach in my book PowerSelling.

This miserable episode in my
career began with a car ride to see a new prospect.   Accompanied by one of my
salespeople, I asked him, “What do you know about this prospect?” His response
was anything but encouraging. He vaguely explained, “He’s an attorney. He has a
Xerox. I just set the appointment on the telephone and then hung up.”

It was clear to me, based on the
lack of information we had, that there was no use conducting a strategy session
in the elevator prior to the call. As far as I was concerned, we were going to a
law office to meet an attorney to talk some business. In other words, we lacked
sufficient information and we were winging it. We were a couple of pros,
however. We had been in our fair share of situations and were capable of
thinking on our feet. But I knew we were cutting a corner in the sales process.
What I didn’t know was what price we would pay.

As we were escorted through the
law firm each office got larger until we reached the corner suite, which was
protected by a huge door with a doorknob the size of a coffee table. This law
firm was big. The offices were big. The guy we were going to see was big. And
the related opportunity, if played well, was really, really big.

Here we were, just seconds prior
to meeting an extremely important prospect face-to-face. It was clear that the
state of mind we were in was not sound. We were filled with fear, intimidation
and panic, all due to our lack of preparation. Is this how any salesperson wants
to walk into a first meeting? The answer is obvious.

The rest of the story is brief.
We bombed in making a first impression. We couldn’t build rapport to save our
lives. We asked some lame, generic questions, which failed to create any
intrigue and we ended up getting politely thrown out within 10 minutes. A
salesperson cannot show up for an appointment with a new prospect with little to
no knowledge. It will blow any opportunity for a sale.

 A Little Research Can Go a Long

The goal of preliminary research
is to gather information about your prospects, their organizations, industries,
and current situations. This enables you to personalize your opening lines to
build credible rapport, craft relevant and intriguing questions, and tailor your
initial presentation to make a high-impact first impression.

At a minimum, you should
identify who you are contacting and that prospect’s title and position in the
organization. You’ll need to research the answers to these questions:

  • What size business are you
    walking into?
  • Who else in the organization
    influences or co-approves decisions?
  • Does your prospect have a
    relationship with another supplier?
  • What is the scope of
  • Is your prospect’s
    organization in a strong and steady growth mode or a consolidation mode?
  • Who are your prospect’s
  • Who are your prospect’s
    other strategic partners?
  • Do you service any of these

These few pieces of information
have become easily obtainable and efficient through Internet research. Start
your research by exploring the prospect’s website. Read what this business tells
its own prospects, customers, investors, and the press about itself. Look over
the organization’s product and service offerings. Familiarize yourself with its
geographic scope. Visit the “Employment Opportunity” section of its site to
determine its growth mode. Scan “News Releases” to find the latest developments,
which translates to new initiatives. Use the “Search” function to locate an
organizational chart, which will provide information on the organization’s
decision makers and influencers.

If the company is publicly held,
read the president’s letter in the first few pages of the annual report. This
will tell you what opportunities the company is pursuing, its current
initiatives and what challenges the company is facing.

Don’t forget the financial
aspect of the company. Is the organization growing or consolidating? Is growth
internal or market-driven? What financial pressures is the company facing? And
above all, is the company financially sound? Is its business performance meeting
financial objectives? If not, in what areas can you help?

Next, use a database like
Hoovers.com to learn even more about your prospect’s business. Try to determine
what your prospect’s customers are demanding. Can you deliver something that can
help provide those customers with better results and therefore help your
prospect achieve competitive distinction in the marketplace? 

So what do you do with all of
this information you’ve collected? First, analyze the information and develop
comments you can weave into your initial conversation that demonstrate your
understanding of the latest developments, trends, and issues your prospect is
dealing with. Then use this information to build rapport and gain professional
respect from your prospect. Develop questions on the trends and issues facing
the prospect’s industry. Be sure to use some of the company’s internal
vocabulary. Again, the idea is to show up well-informed, make a high-impact
first impression, and begin to display your competitive distinction.

 It Helps to Have a Plan!

On any sales call you must have
a clear idea of where you are going and how you will get there before you ever
walk through the door. It helps to know exactly what you want to accomplish on
that call and what your next step will be so that you can drive the appointment
toward that end.

Before the first appointment,
define and document your overall objectives for this account in a pre-call plan.
Your goal may just be to get on the prospect’s Request for Proposal list, thus
securing a chance to compete for the business. Your goal may be to get in and
capture the whole bag of marbles or to gain a secondary position to the
prospect’s current vendor until you can prove worthy of taking over that
position. You may also decide that right now it’s best to compete for a specific
portion of the prospect’s business rather than the whole.

Defining your objectives in this
way helps you prepare for appointments and stay focused once you get there.
Create a checklist for yourself to determine exactly what you want to accomplish
on the call, what information you want to garner, what questions you will not
leave without asking, what requests you will make of the prospect, and what the
next appointment will involve.

I know salespeople who outline
this pre-call plan and post it on the inside cover of their pad folios, in clear
sight during the appointment. They constantly refer to this plan throughout the
call and check off the items as they proceed toward the final goal for the

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