R[E]D – Research : Emotion : Design

A Brand Research and Development Strategy Firm

Knowledge Sells. Facts Don’t.

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Your customer’s buying process has changed. Prospects and customers no longer depend exclusively on your sales person to educate them.

Author: Shelley F. Hall

Business prospects are acting more like “consumers.” We research before we buy. We search the web; we use social media such as Facebook, Yelp, manufacturer’s ratings and so on. We ask friends what they would buy and why. This consumer behavior is being emulated in the business world, and therefore your prospects are educated before even they see a sales person — if they ever do.

So the question becomes, what value does your company representative bring to the table?  The answer is actionable knowledge. Today’s changing sales environment demands salespeople who can take disparate pieces of information and turn them into knowledge that will help their prospects (and thus help the sales person) sell.

As CEO, you know how important it is to do your research. The best salespeople are terrific researchers who learn about a prospect’s industry, market, competition and challenges before they meet with the prospect. They can take data such as…

    • Annual revenue
    • 5 year revenue/profit statistics
    • Number of employees
    • Number of salespeople
    • Industry trends
    • Online ratings from the prospect’s customers
    • LinkedIn interviews with mutual contacts
    • Mystery shopping of the prospect

…and use that data to develop real knowledge about the prospect.  Knowledge refers to the depth of information and the understanding of how these facts all relate – what picture does it paint of the prospect’s situation?

Armed with this knowledge, the sales person’s job is to use that knowledge to:

    • Shine a light on the prospect’s challenges by developing deep discovery questions
    • Position your product or service as the solution to those challenges
    • And most importantly for the sales person, to position themselves as an invaluable resource

Conducting really meaningful research is a skill. It takes intellectual curiosity. I’d bet that intellectual curiosity is not a characteristic you even consider in your sales hiring process. It should be. Becoming skilled at taking research results and turning them into understanding takes practice and patience, but investing time into this expertise is worth it.

To build this skill, create a “treasure hunt” based on finding a deep fact about a prospect. The entire sales team must research the answer; the first one with the correct answer wins. The answer however, is not just a fact but an “understanding” or “insight” into the prospect’s situation and how the sales person would use this information effectively.

Create a contest called “Stump The Sales Person.” Have each member of your sales team give each other a prospect problem or an industry issue to research. Once again, whoever gains the insight first wins. Get your customers involved by asking them to submit their burning questions for the sales team to chase down; your sales team learns great research skills and your customers get tangible, valuable information for free.

Today’s business prospect is savvy and educated thanks to the web and social media.  Adding value to the sales process is becoming harder and harder.  To add value, your sales team must add knowledge for the prospect and use that knowledge to shine a light on their challenges.  Your salespeople must be true consultants who uncover the issues and needs the prospect didn’t know they had — and then show the prospect how your product or service will meet those challenges and/or solve their problems.

Without this real understanding of how to help, your salespeople are wasting their time and that of your prospects.


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