Most sales professionals are not contextualizing their outreach enough—they only have basic information about the company and buyer they wish to connect with. With the rise of sales automation, often times sales professionals default to the provided <<insert company name>>, <<insert first name>> or <<insert industry>> as a form of personalization.
However, buyers are much smarter than sellers and can sniff out a templated message from a mile away.
On the other hand, some of the more advanced sellers will try and put themselves in the buyer’s shoes. They will perform their due diligence on a target account’s revenue growth, SWOT analysis, competitive intelligence and more but generally, everyone’s outreach all looks the same.
Here’s just one of many poor examples:
It is all too common for sales professionals to call a buyer and inquire about challenges or goals, then launch into a brief explanation of why their company is the best, cheapest, provides the best value, etc. to assist with those goals. No wonder all the calls sound the same, and the status quo is maintained!
Penetrating Top Accounts Is Not Easy
Some argue that in this environment cold calling is dead, while others argue that senior leadership still answer the telephone and business can be won by simply reaching out by telephone. Both sides of this argument are missing the real point—which is that penetrating an account is difficult not because of the volume of attempts on the same account (eventually leading to a connection), but rather that the buyer sees little value in the engagement to begin with.
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In other words, if the sales rep does connect with a decision maker, in the vast majority of cases, the potential client will remain at status quo, and buy nothing because the information exchanged possessed little value.
The Right Insights Will Open Doors
This is why proper research is more than simply collecting information about a prospective client. Information is key, but insights will open doors.
Information is collected from a variety of sources such as:
- Annual reports
- Earning calls
- Form 10-K
- Social listening
- SWOT analysis
- Competitive intelligence
- Company website
Social strategies can help immensely here, but what are you listening for and what will you do with the information? Where can you possibly add value with insights about an industry that is likely not your own?
The answer lies in collecting enough information (some through social tools) that will help you understand strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats of the client you are trying to engage, and then clearly position your outreach with this information in hand. Based on our experience and working with our customers, here are three highly potent information sources that will be valuable for your account research.
Three Information Sources For Account Research
1. Annual Report (Form 10-K)
What is a Form 10-K? It is a comprehensive report of a company’s financial performance for publicly traded companies. In an annual report, you’ll find key information about company performance with insights such as growth strategy, revenue performance, headcount and more.
How to find an annual report? Simply type in Google “ Form 10-K" or go to the “Investor Relations” section of your account's website.
How To Use An Annual Report (Form 10-K) In Your Outreach
An annual report is quite potent with information, however, it is quite lengthy with financial jargon and can be difficult to comprehend fully. As you continually read and dissect an annual report, you’ll learn that the information within a report can be quite useful.
One key area to start is the “Business Overview” or “Management Discussion” which outlines the the overview for the company including mission statement, product information, customer information and financial performance.
Diving deeper into an annual report, one area that is quite useful is “Growth Strategy” which outlines where the company will focus their growth efforts for the upcoming year. All companies want to grow so this information will give you an understanding of which areas they will seek growth such as expanding their customer base, further penetrating their existing customer base, growing internationally, innovating their products and etc.
There are tonnes of information for you to read within an annual report but for the sake of prioritization, first focus on Business Overview, Management Discussion and Growth Strategy. Depending on which persona or department you sell to, you’ll surely identify key insights within the report to match your focus.
- Outlines which areas the company will focus on for the upcoming and/or current year
- Discusses strategy for each company department
- Details financial performance and trends for the year
- Insights on risk which can be detrimental for the business
- This information is only available for public companies
- Very text heavy and can be difficult to read or understand
- Quite lengthy so you need to learn which areas to focus on
2. Industry Reports
Depending on the industry and persona you sell to, there are numerous industry reports that are pertinent to your top accounts. You really have to put yourself in your buyer’s shoes and understand what information they look up and where.
For example, if you’re selling into Information Technology, Software or Telecommunications, undoubtedly your buyer is the CTO. The CTO or anyone within the IT department will seek out industry-leading research such as Gartner, Forrester, IDC and more.
One industry-leading report is the Gartner Magic Quadrant, which is available for specific markets such as Sales Force Automation, UCaaS, API Management, Business Intelligence & Analytics and more.
How To Use Industry Reports In Your Outreach
In the Gartner Magic Quadrant, you’ll find key industry insights such as overall addressable market growth, strategic planning assumptions, market descriptions, strengths and weaknesses of all competing vendors and most importantly, their famous quadrant itself which ranks vendors in terms of “Ability To Execute” and “Completeness of Vision.”
Here is an example for the Business Intelligenace & Analytics Quadrant:
For example: equipped with this information, you’ll be able to understand what insights are important to your buyer. What keeps CTO’s up at night without asking them “what keeps you up at night?” Most importantly, you can be the information concierge to your buyer by delivering commercial insights they did not know already.
- Outlines information about the total market and specific companies
- Competitive information on a company’s strengths and weaknesses
- Ranking of companies within a specific market
- Trusted by Information Technology leaders
- Only available for technology companies
- Not all companies are listed
- Can be challenging to understanding if you’re new to selling technology
3. Social Listening
Social listening is often free and high value prospecting to gain insights on an account or individual buyer. Social listening is the process of monitoring social conversations around specific keywords, phrases and topics or mentions of companies, competitors and products that are relevant to your buyer.
By analyzing the conversations happening on social, you can understand what’s important to that respective buyer in your target accounts. Within this information, you can now identify ways on how to engage him/her in a one-on-one conversation. Keep in mind that the name of the game is to deliver value, ensure you’re sharing insights instead of asking for a meeting.
What’s different about social listening in compared to Annual Reports or Industry Reports is the ability to get more personal information and find insights on an individual in real-time.
How To Use Social Listening In Your Outreach
Google Alerts gives you real-time news on your prospect or company. Look for executive quotes, executive priorities, hiring and/or growth, promotions, new products, new clients, or awards. Owler is a third-party aggregate of the financials and CEO satisfaction.
Here you can keep an eye out for news on acquisitions or a company’s missions/goals and/or values.
Glassdoor is great for businesses who sell to the buyer persona ‘customer success’ or ‘HR’. It gives you a clear picture of the pitfalls and challenges of the company’s culture.
- Highly contextualized conversations
- Better understanding of the buyer and what’s happening in his/her world
- Timely information that is currently top of mind for the buyer
- Amount time on information that can’t be used as a trigger for conversation
- The majority of information is not as in-depth as an Annual Report or Industry Report
- Not as effective for companies and individuals who are not active on social
Putting Your Account Research Together
Now that you’ve uncovered all this information regarding your target account’s industry, company and individual buyers, you can craft messaging and cadence to engage your buyers.
You information from Industry Reports like Gartner Magic Quadrant or the Forrester Wave to understand the total industry of your buyer. This information will help you identify industry trends, assumptions and overall growth. Annual Reports and Form 10-K will give you information on specific strategic goals for your accounts, overall company performance much more detailed information. Social Listening will help you identify timely conversations on a one-to-one level. By leveraging this timely information, you can further contextualize your outreach.
Research alone isn’t enough, however, it’s a great start in the right direction for crafting your message. By really understanding your buyer’s world, you’ll separate yourself from your competitors who are targeting that same account using an un-insightful approach.