Back when you were driving the company K car for the Big American Common Carrier, prepping for a sales call meant checking out the shipping doors while frantically trying to remember the name of your customer's prized poodle. If you botched it, there was no way you were going to snag any letterhead routings for your weekly call report.
Today, the way to prepare for a sales call is evolving faster than any other element of selling. According to legendary college coach Joe Paterno, who knows a lot about winning, “The will to win is important, but the will to prepare is vital.” Given all the sources of information out there, there's no excuse for not knowing every available detail about a prospect and his company. Here's where to start:
Get to know the company
What does your company know about your prospect's company? Have you done business before? Talk to your people who talk to their people. You need to know whether you've battled over pricing, unpaid bills or unmet expectations. Run a credit check. There's no point in wasting time and money if the prospect doesn't have the cash to pay.
Get to know the customer
Sure, you should check out the company's web site and search for news about how it's doing. But you really want to get to know the customer and find his “magic button” — the one thing that ignites the guy's passion and lets you really connect. Nothing, including price, will warm up the customer quicker.
I recently called on a prospect I'd never met before. Through a Google search, I found out he coaches a youth hockey team that won a regional tournament last season. When I met him, I was able to say, “I read about your hockey team. Way to go. I know coaching takes a lot of time and dedication, but for me, it's been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.”
Magic button. Instant connection. We talked hockey, kids and coaching for the next 15 minutes and then comfortably eased into the business side of the meeting. Before I left, he asked how I knew about his team. “When there's someone I want to meet,” I told him, “I make an effort to get to know as much about him as I can.”
Like hockey great Wayne Gretzky says, “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
You can find all kinds of personal information online; most of it is willingly shared, some of it is not (police blotters, court cases, etc.). It would take a year of sales calls, lunches and ball games, an expensive process, to figure out what you can now learn during one trip to Facebook. If you're not sure how to navigate Facebook, just ask your kids.
Dig deep, though. I'm not the Mike McCarron who works at the San Francisco airport, and I didn't play defensive end for Trinity-Pawling High School in 2005. And while you're checking me out, I'm checking you out, too. Those beer and bikini pictures you posted on Flickr sure do make an impression.
The real skill is to put this information into context. The hockey coach/traffic manager is a family man who'd rather spend his Saturdays at the rink than on the phone. He wants peace of mind when his freight goes out the door on Friday. When I sent my proposal, I placed emphasis on our company's reliability and customer service.
Now that you've done your homework, you're ready to sell, quote and hopefully close the deal.
Mike McCarron is managing partner at the MSM Group of Companies, which specializes in transportation and logistics service between Canada and the United States.