Why is thorough call preparation of such critical importance? Haven’t you already spent enough time in research through the process of reaching out to prospective customers and getting the appointment? The customer has agreed to see you, so must be interested in what you have to sell, surely all you need to do next is to prepare a succinct presentation articulating the benefits and features of what you have to offer to convince the customer to buy from you?
This is not the thought process of the consultative sales person. A consultative sales person isn’t aiming to just make a ‘one time’ sale but to position themselves as someone that understands their customer’s needs, someone to be trusted, someone that the customer can turn to for solutions to their problems. Good call preparation is a key component in building this partnership relationship. (See ‘How to develop a successful sales relationship’) Consultative selling starts with thorough preparation, a preliminary analysis of the customer’s market position and what is happening internally within the company itself.
Understanding the customer's market position
This means determining the customer’s areas of business stress and what their future goals might be; understanding who their customers are and what they expect from them. It includes looking at their competition and why they might be more successful; a review of their channel strategy and how it operates; their competency and utilization of technology; considering their regulatory environment, the economy and how trends and groups like banks, unions and business analysts might impact their business.
Understanding the customer's company
This is about understanding the customer’s company’s key priorities and business issues, researching their organizational structure and business strategy. Do their people have the required skills and systems, to do what it is needed? What is their company structure, is it well aligned to their strategy, what is their corporate culture, their values, are they innovative and likely to be responsive new ideas?
Where to source this information
Web Research is the most obvious source, the customer’s website and also their competition’s which often includes useful information in annual reports and brochures. Look at the press, industry pages relating to their specialty, industry periodicals and the financial press. Consider reference sources like Yahoo finance, Google and Hoover's, business analyst’s reports, credit status reports and ‘Hold, Buy or Sell’ recommendations.
There are several sales apps available to help keep you updated on industry news, competitors in addition to the achievements, projects and thoughts of people you follow, take a look at apps like Cloze and Newsle.
Never forget the importance of talking to people, both in your internal team and in the customer’s external network. Allies in your customer’s company are an essential way of supporting and adding to your research. Also talk to the customer; customers love to talk about their business and if they detect your interest they will more likely share information with you.