The wealth of information online about companies and the people that work there – on websites, blogs and social networking sites – is making a marked impact on the sales process. In the last study into global sales effectiveness by CSO Insights*, nearly two thirds of sales professionals said that the Internet has had a significant impact on account research and a quarter said it has had a noticeable impact.
There is no doubt that the richness of information available online makes it easier for sales people to research their prospect base and turn those prospects into customers. What used to be called a cold call is now something much warmer.
But what are the specific nuggets of information that will improve your ability to turn the prospect into a customer? And how much selling time should be spent finding this information when sales professionals already spend a fifth of their time on research and lead generation? It’s far too easy to spend excessive amounts of time ‘prospecting’ with so much knowledge accessible online. But if you’re spending time finding out about people at companies that are never going to buy your product or services then you’re wasting valuable selling time.
While there will always be some element of time spent reaching out to more people than will ever become customers, it’s safe to say that the days of a complete ‘spray and pray’ approach truly are over, or at least they should be.
In this information rich Internet era, sales people should be more effective than ever in their ability to turn prospects into sales. But they should start with a finely tuned prospect list where each prospect is likely to become a customer rather than waste time connecting with prospects that are never likely to convert.
Finding the best prospects
Sales teams ranked outbound prospecting as their number one source of qualified opportunities in our last Sales Pulse survey, so getting the prospect list right to begin with is critical.
Start out with a targeted list of defined prospects based on what your ideal prospect looks like – looking at factors such as the sector they operate in, the size of business, and how your company can help solve their problems. You then want to be alerted to any new prospects that meet your specific criteria, perhaps through a merger or acquisition or just growth, as well as keep track of any changes, or sales triggers, that will help make your conversations more relevant.
Making your conversations more relevant
A sales ‘trigger’ is an event that could stimulate your client or prospect to make a change and buy. So identifying actionable ‘triggers’ will help you to find the prospects most likely to buy from you and let you know when to contact them. For instance, a buying opportunity may arise when one company buys another or when a new director joins who is keen to make their mark.
Triggers can also provide you with a framework for planning your prospecting. A reminder such as CompanyX is 90 days from its year end could be an extremely useful prompt to make a call or tailor a pitch to a prospect, especially when you’re managing multiple accounts.
Selling in this way can increase the prospect to sale conversation rate by as much as five times. When the quality of the pipeline (with the right company and person) and the conversation is more relevant, then you improve your ability to turn prospects into sales.
Avoiding the Internet Wild West
You are probably using a multitude of different information sources – which all take time to browse. Further, not all information sources online are equal and the last thing you want to do when you’re making a sales call is base your conversation on out of date or irrelevant information. You also don’t want to spend time sifting through information and making decisions about data quality.
A specialist information provider that has invested in sophisticated data analytics techniques will make the research job much easier since it will be able to analyse vast amounts of data from best of breed information sources and present to you tailored and relevant snapshots. In effect, the research job is done for you. Look for a company that has access to multiple specialist information sources. This will ensure that you are mining the most relevant parts of the Internet to deliver the insight that you require for each and every prospect.
It should include tight integration with, not just access to, business focused social networks like LinkedIn and Twitter so that when you’re viewing the rich detail on key people within your prospective client base, you’re doing it as part of your prospecting activity, in a single view. This ‘connected’ single profile of a person or company from multiple information sources, will enable you to have a far more effective conversation with the prospect and save you time dipping in and out of multiple information sources.
A new era
Prospecting has always been a fundamental element of selling but it’s usually the first part of the process. With the opportunities afforded by social media, prospecting has to become part of the entire sales cycle. Those businesses that understand the rules and expectations in their new business environment and adapt the sales process to act on the delivery of relevant and timely knowledge will gain competitive advantage in the selling process, shortening both research time and the sales cycle.
Karim Iskandar is Vice President International of OneSource Information Services, a company that provides sales and marketing professionals with actionable insight from business information www.onesource.com
*2011 Sales Performance Optimisation Trend, CSO Insights