In sales development, volume of outreach and appointment-setting rate are the two metrics which most directly affect your sales (and your compensation). You can only contact so many prospects in a day, so most of the time, your appointment-setting rate is what determines your level of financial success.

Turning a prospect into a lead employs a number of specific skills, but the most important of them might easily be your ability to get people to talk to you. Before a prospect becomes a lead, they have to open up to you and tell you their needs, and before that they have to be willing to talk to you in the first place.

All the steps are important and all the skills are valuable, but every sales process starts with getting the prospect engaged in dialogue.

How do we do this?

The RAIN Group Center for Sales Research surveyed 800+ brands in 25+ industries to understand B2B buying and selling habits and found that providing valuable industry intelligence and personalized solutions were the most effective ways to create down-funnel opportunities.

Primary research data relevant to their business was the most popular answer (69%), followed closely by…content 100% customized to [ the prospect’s ] specific situation (67%)…a whopping 75% of [ CEOs ] will take a call because of an ROI case…

(Source: HubSpot)

Simply put, never reach out to a sales prospect “in the dark” about their business or their industry. Setting aside even a few minutes of time to research potential leads before beginning your sales process can dramatically increase the number of opportunities in your pipeline.

Use these 5 tactics to gather intelligence on your sales prospects quickly and with minimal effort:

Company Website

Visit your prospect’s company website and quickly scan the home page, product/solution/service pages, and recent blog headlines to discover their primary area of focus and how they describe their differentiation.

For the technically inclined, you can use a browser extension like Scraper Crawler to scrape a few pages within the website to extract the most frequently used keywords in each area. Doing this on product pages and a couple blog posts can help you identify any industry or technical terms relevant to your prospects’ industry that might be unfamiliar to you.

ScraperCrawler Chrome Extension
Install Scraper Crawler from the Chrome Extension library and create your free account. Then just activate the chrome extension when you’re on a site you want to research. Export the “Combinations” (multi-word phrases) into CSV files and dig through the ones with 3-4 words per combination to find complex topics worth investigating further.
Scraped keywords from ScraperCrawler
There will be a lot of phrases that don’t mean anything out of context or seem repetitive, but you’ll quickly find something of value if you scan quickly watching for repeating patterns and trends.

Twitter / LinkedIn

More than Facebook, or any other social network, Twitter and LinkedIn are where brands typically share the most original content and curate thought leadership from other sources. Even scanning the headlines of content that’s been shared on either timeline over the last month will give you an idea of how they represent themselves and their value propositions.

Knowing how they sell themselves means you can leverage similar language in your outreach to show that you understand their value, as they want to be understood. This helps to establish a pleasant rapport right away and may indirectly give you insights into their strengths (and weaknesses). All of this is great intel!

Research prospects on Twitter
Your prospects’ current corporate narrative is likely to be articulated in great detail through their social media profiles. Take advantage of everything they’re sharing to understand how they want their brand to be seen.

Review Sites

You can learn a lot about a company from what people are saying about them in online review sites like Google My Business (the profile that appears when you search for a brand name), Facebook, and a wide array of industry-specific review sites like Capterra and G2 Crowd (for software companies), Clutch (for agencies), GlassDoor (for recruitment across all industries), and others.

Many times the challenges an organization faces will be documented in excruciating detail in the comments of their customers, but this is useful information to solutions providers who can help them address these issues. Conversely, companies with sterling reputations have a tendency to produce rapid and vocal advocates with first-hand knowledge of their capabilities and status.

Research Glassdoor reviews to learn about prospects
Glassdoor is a universally good way to get an insider’s view of the company. Lots of bad reviews and disgruntled employees says the organization is struggling. Great reviews speak to the brand’s stability and likelihood to grow.

Browse the list of employees with LinkedIn accounts to get a feel for what the company org chart looks like and where decision-making power likely resides.

Smaller companies tend to have more decision-making power in the hands of the CEO/President, mid-sized organizations typically divide into silos with a CFO reigning supreme, while enterprise companies employ an entire department for procurement and business rules guide a formal decision-making process.

You can determine which of these situations you’ll face easily by examining the job titles of employees working for the brand.

View employees of a sales prospect on LinkedIn
First search for the company you’re researching, then click “View X,XXX Employees Of This Company” and filter the results by searching for department or job title with this company selected.

News Alerts (from MarketChorus Resonance)

Staying on top of recent news on a prospect is a great way to appear informed, and invested into, the organizations you’re courting as potential customers. In most cases, employees of a brand will feel pride about the subject of the coverage (unless it paints them in an unfortunate light).

Recent news can be a great way to break the ice with a new prospect, if you reach out with a genuine note of congratulations -and a thoughtful question- you may start a dialogue.

Tracking brand mentions and industry news can be done with expensive PR software like Cision or Meltwater, or basic tools like Google News and Google Alerts, but the experience is not very user friendly. Instead, you can use a free research tool called MarketChorus Resonance to monitor the world and industry news for mentions of brands and topics of interest automatically.

Search MarketChorus Resonance
Search MarketChorus Resonance for the brand you want to monitor, using Advanced Search options to fine tune your results.
Automatically receive alerts when relevant articles are published with MarketChorus Resonance
Click “Create Alert” or “Save Search” to save a search and enable alerts. Activate alerts via email for daily summaries of new articles…
Integrate MarketChorus Resonance with Slack
…or share to Slack as a message to yourself, or publicly, to the channel of your choice. Keep teams informed about accounts, prospects, and relevant industry news automatically.

Set Sales Habits That Generate Success

It’s well worth your time to spend 5-10 minutes getting acquainted with each prospect when you’re ready to start a sales dialogue. The intelligence you gather in a few minutes can be the difference between a rejection and an opportunity. But, thanks to machine learning technology, you can automate most of this process and stay informed about your prospects and accounts effortlessly, by sending yourself notifications through Slack or email.

With tools and tactics like these at your disposal, the excuse that “research takes too much time” just isn’t true any longer.

There’s no reason not to take advantage of free technologies that increase your appointment-setting and close rate, and it’s very easy to set the habit of spending 5 minutes setting up searches and gathering data before reaching out to the next prospect on your list.