3 Sales Research Focus Areas in 2024
Posted on January 19th, 2024 to Uncategorized
Did you know that top sales performers spend twice as much time on research as their peers?
For founders and subject-matter experts who consult with companies, diving deep into research isn’t just beneficial in preparing for an initial conversation — it provides a solid foundation for a more effective and targeted sales process overall.
In this blog post, you’ll learn how to harness the power of sales research to improve your sales strategy significantly.
You’ll discover practical steps to deepen your understanding of your client’s needs, tailor your approach for deeper scopes of work and impact, and elevate your role in the eyes of your clients.
But before we delve into the why and how to incorporate research into your sales process, it’s crucial to understand how to leverage your unique position as a subject-matter expert.
Positioning Yourself as a Strategic Advisor vs. a Vendor
Navigating the sales process can often feel daunting, especially when you’re an expert in your field but not necessarily trained in traditional sales techniques.
The good news?
Your expertise is actually your strongest asset in today’s sales environment.
In 2017, Inc. Magazine published an article that captured this shift called, “Why More Companies Are Shunning Salespeople and Hiring Subject Matter Experts To Drive Sales.”
The rationale is simple yet powerful: modern buyers are incredibly well-informed, requiring anyone in a sales role to possess deep knowledge and expertise about their industry and needs.
Since then, this trend has only intensified, making your role as a subject matter expert (SME) more critical than ever in sales.
This should be music to your ears!
However, it’s essential to recognize that being an expert in your field is just one of many prerequisites for sales success.
You still need to hone specific sales skills, and one of the most crucial is the ability to conduct thorough research.
As I mentioned above, LinkedIn reports that top sales performers conduct twice as much research as their peers. This preparation is critical to understanding your prospects’ needs and challenges, allowing for more impactful conversations and a higher likelihood of progressing in the sales process.
To help you excel in this evolved sales environment, I’ll share some practical advice on preparing effectively—and meeting your prospect’s expectations – for your sales conversations using research.
Sales Research Focus Area #1: The Company
Transitioning smoothly into the nitty-gritty of sales preparation, let’s focus on a fundamental aspect: researching the company you’re engaging with.
To begin with, familiarize yourself with the basics, including:
- Annual revenue
- Number of employees
- Range of products and services they offer
These details provide a snapshot of the company but are just the starting point.
Digging deeper is crucial.
You’ll want to gain insight into the company’s primary focus areas and any initiatives they’re pursuing.
For publicly traded companies, an invaluable resource is the earnings transcript. These documents offer detailed insights into specific initiatives and strategies.
You can craft relevant questions and align your offerings with the company’s broader objectives based on what you learn here.
But, if accessing an earnings report isn’t feasible, there are other effective ways to gather this information, including:
- Media page on the company’s website for recent press releases and media mentions.
- LinkedIn posts will keep you informed about product launches and other significant announcements.
- Industry blogs are also a rich source of information, often covering a company’s latest challenges and achievements.
- Google searches can yield recent news items and articles, providing a contemporary view of the company’s activities and market presence.
- Review and comment sections or other dedicated forums where their customers and peers regularly post.
It’s important to emphasize that your ability to secure contracts often hinges on how well you can connect your solutions to the company’s major initiatives, which typically directly impact their bottom line.
When you demonstrate to your contacts that you can advance these company initiatives, you provide value and help them shine in their role.
This approach is a powerful value proposition, making you an indispensable ally in their success.
Next up: researching the industry.
Sales Research Focus Area #2: The Industry
Let’s pivot to another key element in your sales preparation strategy: researching the industry.
According to Hubspot’s 2024 Sales Trends Report, a staggering 96% of buyers have already done extensive research about you and your solutions before even initiating contact.
This stat underscores the necessity of bringing additional value right from the get-go during initial conversations.
After all, your lead wouldn’t be spending their valuable time meeting with you if they didn’t believe you were qualified to help. So, take the conversation to the next level by going beyond what they already know about you.
Remember, you aim to position yourself as a strategic advisor, not merely a vendor. A compelling way to achieve this is by showcasing your expertise in their business and their industry or specific role.
My top advice in this area? Think like a futurist.
While most people tend to focus their research efforts on historical data, remember that past information, while valuable, is already known.
Demonstrating a solid understanding of a company’s history and current market position shows you’ve done your homework.
However, to really move forward in the sales process, your focus should be facilitating insightful discussions about their future.
This requires staying well-informed about their industry’s latest trends, challenges, and opportunities.
Consider diving into resources tailored to specific sectors, such as:
- Industry-focused blogs
- Relevant podcasts
- Thought leaders
- White papers
These sources can offer a wealth of information, giving you a comprehensive view of what’s happening now and on the horizon.
Armed with this knowledge, you can engage in deeper, more forward-thinking conversations with your prospects, further solidifying your role as a strategic advisor.
Speaking of your prospects, let’s explore how to research the person on the other end of the call.
Sales Research Focus Area #3: The Person
Let’s shift gears to a more personal aspect of sales preparation — researching your prospect as an individual.
Begin by exploring their LinkedIn profile and other social media accounts.
- What can you discover about them?
- Are there interests or experiences you share?
- How can you support them on a personal level, not just professionally?
You will build a rapport and establish a connection with the person by spending just a bit of time on this step — and possibly even avoid disappointment.
I interviewed for a sales role early in my career without researching the manager interviewing me. We had both attended the same small high school. I could sense his displeasure when he realized I hadn’t noticed this on his LinkedIn profile.
On the flip side, I’ve deepened rapport and secured business by paying attention to social media clues.
In one case, I noticed a prospect was on the board of a non-profit focusing on the wage gap for women. During our sales call, I asked about it and connected her with an excellent speaker for their annual gala.
Understanding what motivates your prospect is another crucial aspect.
While this might be more challenging to discern without a direct conversation, you can often find hints.
For example, if your contact has frequently changed jobs, each time advancing in title, they’re likely driven by career growth. When you speak, you can guide the conversation to show them how working with you supports their aspirations.
I often browse my prospects’ social media posts to gauge their motivations. If their content is predominantly business-oriented, they may be motivated by professional success.
Conversely, posts about family, travel, or charitable causes might indicate goals like saving for children’s education, early retirement for travel, or philanthropic ambitions.
Understanding the challenges they face is equally important.
It’s also important to uncover the challenges they face so you can empathize with them and suggest solutions to help alleviate their pain.
Some prospects may not state what they’re facing point blank so consider using tools like the Empathy Map by XPLANE to enhance your ability to empathize.
Originally developed to improve team collaboration, I’ve found it incredibly useful for my clients to understand their customers’ perspectives.
You can check it out here: Empathy Map Worksheet.
Sales Research Focus Areas Are the Keys to Increasing Success
Effective sales preparation goes beyond just understanding your product; it’s about delving deep into your prospect’s world.
From researching the company and industry to getting to know the person you’re dealing with, each layer of information adds depth to your sales approach.
By tailoring your approach based on comprehensive research, you can create meaningful connections, anticipate future needs, and align your offerings with your prospects’ goals.