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...