You can’t believe it! In five minutes you’ll be face to face with your dream prospect! How this meeting goes will depend a great deal upon whether you’ve done more than just think about this prospect. Your success in this meeting will be a function of the preparation you’ve done beforehand.

There are three levels of research that you must perform.

1. Industry-level Research

Before exploring any specifics about the company you are targeting, it’s important to understand the industry. Industry insiders take a lot of things for granted. If you’re an outsider, your lack of knowledge will be apparent and you’ll be treated as an outsider. I can recall my first meeting with a telecom company. I didn’t do any industry research and I found myself in a meeting where all discussions were punctuated with three-level acronyms and allusions to past industry events. It was apparent to everyone in the room that I was an outsider. As I learned the industry and became fluent in their jargon, I was perceived as an insider and prospects increasingly and readily shared sensitive information with me. When researching an industry, find out:

    1. Who the major players are,
    2. What the significant historical events are,
    3. Learn the jargon, and
    4. Seek to understand the macro-level forces that are acting on the industry.

For example, many industries today are facing new legislation requiring compliance with environmental, safety or reporting standards. Moreover, many industries are embattled by new technologies or competing value propositions from previously irrelevant industries that are now encroaching on them. Understanding these industry dynamics will enable you to engage in more meaningful conversations.

2. Company-level Research

Once you have an appreciation for the industry dynamics, focus your research on the company. The annual report and 10K are a good place to start. Specifically, the letter to the shareholders in the annual report and the identification of risk in the 10K will provide you with a wealth of information. By reading the letter to the shareholders carefully, you will understand what the executive team believes to be its most important strategic initiatives as well as the specific challenges the company is facing. The risks section in the 10k will enable you to uncover additional challenges that may be inappropriate for inclusion in the letter to the shareholders. Also, reviewing the relevant line items in the financial statements over the past 3-5 years will enable you to spot trends and identify particular areas where you may be able to have a positive impact. In addition to the formal reports, doing a .pdf or .ppt search with Google may uncover presentations and speeches that will enhance your understanding of the issues. Be careful, however, if you uncover information which is confidential and which has been posted accidently.

3. Contact-level Research

Most sales people will use tools such as LinkedIn, Facebook, ZoomInfo, etc. to gather information about their targeted contact. They are typically looking for things they have in common and this is helpful in breaking the ice. It’s also good to look for people you may have in common and to reach out to these people to get nuanced information about your contact. You might also consider sharing information with other salespeople who sell to this company. Based on your previous research, you are now in a position to engage in richer conversation. When you sound like an insider, people are more likely to share more information with you. One of the things you should also look for is where your contact was employed previously and what they accomplished while there. More often than not, executives are hired specifically because of something they accomplished with their previous employer. The executives have developed a success formula that they seek to repeat. This is the main reason why when executives land in a new role, it’s not long before they surround themselves with the same people they had in their previous role. They need to execute with a small circle of trusted resources. Being aware of an executive’s past accomplishments will not only endear you to the executive, it will also enable you to better understand how to best position your product or service.

Back to the waiting room – your prospect is running a bit late and his/her assistant just informed you that they will see you in another couple of minutes. “No problem!” you say, as you sit back feeling extremely confident about your ability to provide compelling insights and ask provocative questions that will result in a robust conversation and a desire in your prospect to learn more about the value that you can provide.