Keep your sales team selling, not searching

Research and intelligence support for sales

sales business handshake

From prospecting to proposal-writing, salespeople have a need for background information.

That’s especially true in high-value, high-stakes scenarios that involve products and services with hefty price tags and complex decision cycles. And nothing has enabled the search for background information like the internet, which has turned every sales rep I know into a research analyst.

Sometimes it’s efficient and cost-effective for sales reps to do their own research. But many sales teams would benefit greatly from being able to offload some of the burden to professional researchers.

Intensive, online searching is simply not a good use of a sales rep time:

  • Many of them are not skilled at information research.
  • They can be misled by information that’s irrelevant or not trustworthy.
  • The free and open internet can tempt the most disciplined person to wander off into Facebook or online shopping or any number of other distractions that are only a click away.

Along with removing distractions and easing the time-consuming burden of online research, professional researchers can support a professional sales team in three valuable ways.

1. Identifying and understanding who the right people are

Most business-to-business purchasing decisions are made by committee, groups of people that are often cross-departmental and have different levels of decision-making and influencing power. Yet any one of these influencers or decision-makers could derail a sales opportunity.

The sales rep’s first challenge is to identify who these people are. Executives are easy to find, especially in publicly held companies. And even in privately-held companies or firms, most business websites at least mention them by name and include a brief bio; this can be further researched through coverage on business news sites and then to LinkedIn and Twitter to cross-reference and delve deeper.

But to strike true information gold, you have to go mining. The information that gives sales reps a knowledge advantage lies in the “deep web” of subscription-based sites from providers like Bloomberg or Thomson Reuters and personal social media networks like Facebook, but those options are behind paywalls and privacy walls. The other wall is the layer of people below executives—finding middle-managers and staff decision-makers and influencers. Even when you identify them, there’s not as much or as useful information available on the public web.

Professional researchers have search skills that most sales reps just don’t know about. They’re familiar with reliable yet obscure resources that are free and in the public domain or they have access to paid subscription information resources.

They’re better equipped to scale those walls, and they can be both discreet and objective about it.

laptop research

2. Supporting a consultative selling model

Business-to-business selling requires an informational, consultative approach. The decision cycles tend to be long and risk is involved at multiple levels:

  • Individual quotas and responsibilities of the sales rep
  • Team quotas and responsibilities of sales leadership
  • And of course, the business itself, which needs revenue to survive

With so much at stake, most business leaders understand that their sales teams must be equipped with knowledge and information to become the authorities they’re expected to be. Modern B2B selling has become consultative, and the most successful sales reps are successful because they really know their stuff, and they find strategic and tactical ways to share enough knowledge to be a trusted resource without giving away the secret sauce.

According to the RAIN Group, a global sales training company, the people who are sales winners educate buyers with new ideas and perspectives 3X more often than second-place finishers. And second-place may as well be last, because there are few silver medals in sales deals.

New ideas and perspectives require inherent knowledge held by the sales rep. However, that knowledge really becomes useful and consultative against the backdrop of where it fits within markets, industries, the current business climate, the regulatory environment and other factors. Salespeople who are kept abreast of this important background information have a leg up on their competitors.

One of the ways we’ve been able to help our clients improve their selling and business development efforts is through curated alerts, delivered regularly based on research we gather on the kind of background information I just mentioned.

3. Supporting the need for multiple touch points

I keep returning to business-to-business or B2B sales scenarios, not only because that’s my personal background and the world I live in, but as I’ve stated already—it’s generally the most complex sale process, and that’s no news to those of you in the same boat.

Contributing to the complexity is a lengthy decision process involving multiple decision-makers. This process involves a stream of information. Before a sales rep gets involved, the marketing team has started the process already. The best marketing departments are enabled by market and competitive intelligence research support, which enables them to position your products and services for the first round of information-gathering. When similar research support is extended to the sales team, your business will be better-positioned for meeting specific needs and guiding leads through the sales funnel.

Referring once again to RAIN Group, multiple touch points are one of the keys to prospecting success:

“It takes more attempts than most people think to get through to top prospects. It can often take seven, eight, nine, or more touches to get through to someone. That number goes up and down—across different industries and when you reach out to different titles.”

The most effective way to make those attempts is through information streams that sales people can share with prospects and current clients on regular basis, to help them get a coveted meeting and to build and maintain relationships.

Sales people are among the most high-value talent within any business, yet it’s been my experience that the support they receive is often nominal. The may receive sales training and marketing ground cover. If your selling is high-value and high-stake, consider an investment in research and intelligence support. The ROI potential could be significant.

Jim Haggerty

Jim Haggerty

Jim Haggerty is Vice President of LAC Group's information management services. He oversees the expansion of the company’s information management offerings for on-site and virtual research librarians at law firms, corporations and any organization wanting unparalleled research and competitive intelligence.