Mapping out a plan to gather research about a customer or potential new client is the essential first step of the sales process. It's knowing the customer before you've even met them.
- It's Monday morning, and you've been given a good sales lead for a potential new client. You've reacted immediately, not letting the lead sit for more than 24 hours, and you've been able to set up an appointment for the initial meeting in a week. Your manager is happy about the lead, and other departments are already passing along ideas about what to offer, what to sell, and wanting to make sure you keep them updated. A sales administrator is asking you to update the account management system, so the prospect can be tracked. All of this is happening at such a rapid pace.
Now I may be exaggerating a bit, but to be honest, I've been in situations like this many times. The temptation is to get fired up and skip right to the part of the process where you're selling to the customer. Frankly, this is a common scenario for salespeople. You get all excited with pressure coming from others to get new business, and we contemplate rushing the process and go right into offering a product or service. However, what we need to do is stop, take a breath, and follow the first step of the sales process. And that is focused on three simple yet so critical tasks: planning, gathering information, preparation.
These three tasks must be done before we have any discussions about products or services since they build a foundation for everything that follows with meetings that we have with our customers. We want to develop a plan for learning about the buyer, the company that they work for, the customers that they're trying to reach, and get a general sense for how they're doing in the marketplace. This planning framework would be very similar to doing a basic research project and then gathering the key facts, figures, and important information.
This will give us a clear picture about the customer and enable us to be much better informed. Now that we have that background information, we can move to preparing a basic strategy for what we want to accomplish during that initial sales call. What are my goals? What do I need to learn from them? What are the critical questions that I need to ask? This preparation sets a strategy in place before the meeting so that when I'm with the client, I'm focused and I have a clear path of what needs to be learned.
The vast majority of buyers I've sold to expected me to have the background information in place before my first visit. There have been times when I've been the buyer and I've met with salespeople representing training companies or software suppliers. I know I scheduled follow-up sessions only with those salespeople who had taken the time to learn about my company, the products and services we offered, and the markets and communities that we sold to. Planning, gathering information, and preparation is so important, but you need to be careful not to get trapped spending too much time with this either.
There's a balance, and as you get more experienced, you'll improve each time and understand the key facts that need to be gathered before meeting with a customer. You'll set up that framework and fill it in during that first meeting and as you ask questions and listen. The mapping of this plan to research and gather information is essential before you meet with a prospect or even an existing account. The best salespeople know the customer before they've even met them.
- Gathering information
- Assessing needs
- Presenting and selling your product or service
- Delivering on your promises
- Following up with your customer
- Reporting and communicating back to your company
- Improving your process continually
- Learning from other sales processes
- Applying your sales process to other aspects of your life