Customer Research in Less Than 30 Minutes

By Geoffrey James

This probably isn’t a big surprise, but your job is harder than most sales jobs. Unlike selling commodity or specialty products, such as office supplies or medical instruments, software must adapt and change to meet customer requirements. Because of this, you’ve got to have a solid understanding of your customers whenever you make a sales call. This means doing research, though you’re probably too busy to spend much time digging around for good information. Not to worry. Here’s how to research a potential customer in just half an hour.

Minutes 1 through 4: Gather context. Go to www.hoovers.com and search on your customer’s full corporate name. Read the summary. Glance at the company’s finances. Then write down the list of the customer’s competitors. (If there is no Hoover’s listing, skip to the next step.)

Minutes 5 through 10: Gather basic background information. Visit the customer’s Website. Examine the page that describes the company’s mission and purpose. Note the names and roles of top executives, if provided. Read the last 20 press releases for significant events, especially changes in management. Note the names of individuals who might be present at the sales call.

Minutes 11 through 17: Gather deep background information. Do a search on your customer. Go to www.sec.gov and click on Search for Company Filings. If the customer is publicly held, you will get a list of SEC reports. Examine the latest 10K or 10Q report. Glance at the P&L statement, the names of the corporate officers and top management team. Skim the section about the company’s structure, sales channels, business models and competitive threats.

Minutes 18 through 21: Gather competitive data. If there wasn’t a Hoover’s listing for the customer, skip to the next step. Otherwise, go back to Hoovers (www.hoovers.com) and search for the prospect’s three major competitors. Read the overview. The reason you don’t do this during the first step is because the competitive data will be more meaningful once you’ve understood the context in steps 2 and 3.

Minutes 22 through 25: Gather the latest news. Visit http://news.google.com and search on your customer’s name. Skim the first three articles of interest and note the names of analysts or experts who comment on your customer’s business or industry.

Minutes 26 through 30: Gather industry context. Use www.google.com to search on the names of the industry analysts you noted in the previous step. Skim articles that discuss the general state of your customer’s industry.

Congratulations. You now know more than 99.9% of the software sales reps who call on that account.