The preapproach step includes all the information-gathering activities salespeople perform to learn relevant facts about the prospects, their needs, and their overall situation. Then, on the basis of this information, salespeople plan their sales presentations, selecting the most appropriate objective for each call.
The sales rep should learn everything possible about the prospective customer’s business—its size; its present purchasing practices; the location of its plants; the names of its executives; and, most important, the names of people who make the buying decision as well as those who influence the purchase. It is also helpful to learn something about the buyers’ backgrounds, such as their education, social affiliations, or personalities. If the prospective buyer has been having problems, the seller, if possible, should become familiar with those problems.
When researching a current customer or one that has been called on previously by a salesperson from your company, start by reading the company files. They should provide a wealth of background information on the company and possibly on the buyers as well—sales records, correspondence, past sales call reports, and other relevant information. Many companies store information about their customers in a database to which their salespeople have easy access using laptop or notebook computers.
For new customers, you can easily obtain a great deal of information by using the Internet or online information services such as LexisNexis, Dialog, and Dow Jones News/Retrieval. Other sources include trade magazines, industrial directories, magazine and newspaper articles, chambers of commerce, and government publications, as well as the annual reports of companies. Sometimes the company’s current suppliers, customers, and certain employees can provide information.
The goal of customer research is for salespeople to know as much as they can about the company, the decision makers, and their needs before making that first call. As Kenneth Ranucci, a senior account executive at Contempo Design, says, “In-depth research into prospects makes salespeople stand out.”
Planning the Sales Presentation
The most important part of planning the sales presentation is defining the objective or goal for the particular call. The goal is not necessarily to close or complete the sale on each call. In fact, salespeople report that, on average, it takes four calls to close a sale.However, on each call, the salesperson does want to obtain from the buyer some type of commitment for action that moves the sale forward. For example, the salesperson may try to obtain a list of the customer’s vendor selection criteria or get the buyer to set up a meeting with some of the other people who will be involved in the decision. The objective may be any agreement on an action that moves the sale forward.
Salespeople also may plan how they are going to approach the buyer and what kind of questions they want to ask. It is important that salespeople recognize differences across selling situations and adapt their presentations accordingly. On the basis of their precall customer research, they will make a tentative judgment as to which of their products best meet their customers’ needs and then formulate a tentative plan for presenting the features and benefits of those products. Of course, the information gained by salespeople during the actual call often may cause them to alter their initial objectives or plans. This is called adaptive selling.