Guest Blog from Bruce Wedderburn, Vice President, Global Channel Sales at Huthwaite.
Recently I had a call with a sales person, let’s call him Fred, who wanted to discuss how a partnership with his firm could be beneficial for Huthwaite. He was referred to me by a colleague and I was very open to speaking with him. In the first few minutes of our discussion he dropped into the conversation the names of two colleagues from my college drama class, the name of the high school that I attended in Australia and that he, like me, also admired the artwork from another friend of mine who happens to promote her exhibits through social media.
Needless to say, he had my attention. If personalizing the opening of your sales call is a good thing then Fred scored high marks. It was obvious that he had done his homework on who he was calling on. He used all of the available search engines, websites and social media to research his customer. As such, he differentiated himself from other sales person who has called on me. All good things and something that every person in sales should be striving to achieve within five minutes of a first meeting with a potential customer, right?
Some knowledge isn’t power. While I admit that Fred had my attention I also felt another emotion - that my privacy had been violated. It aroused in me suspicion, and I began quietly asking myself (while Fred was talking about his firm and its advantages) if this was preparation or sneakiness? Was Fred professional or slippery in his approach? Do I admire his customer-focus or start to worry if he also has my bank account number? The more I pondered those questions, the more Fred began to lose a critical element to any sale - trust. It seemed the more he knew about me, the less credibility he had.
Yes, information about all of us is out there and available through clever navigation of the web. For better or for worse, anyone can find out more information about you than you are probably willing to share. But knowing personal information about your prospect doesn’t necessarily mean it will help you make the sale. It may actually do the reverse.
I have spoken about this to other business leaders recently and have heard almost unanimous agreement. It’s not that research before a sales call isn’t important. Just focus it on where it will help you create maximum value for the customer. Your customer doesn’t care if you know her personal interests, but she does care about any insights you can bring to help her manage her operations more effectively. When it comes to making a business purchasing decision, it’s irrelevant to your customer if you know his birthday, have also vacationed in Corsica, are also a member of the Northern Virginia Chamber, used to go to the same college or support the same football team. But he will see it as extremely relevant if you can leverage your research to ask Problem questions that will help him see his business problems in a different light.
What are your thoughts on the use of available media to learn about your prospects and customers? Is there a place for this and where is the line that can be crossed?