Use customer intelligence to elevate sales in a down economy

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The financial mess is hurting everyone, and sales professionals are no exception. They're finding clients reining in costs and advocates of their company being given a pink slip. So how can sales representatives continue to hit their quotas in this environment?

Don't target everyone. Many sales professionals make the mistake of trying to win over their entire territory. Instead, identify the most lucrative and most likely-to-buy set of prospects and focus your efforts on those, while understanding that key timing is important for all potential clients. It is important to prioritize opportunities within the territory so that you're engaged in the right strategic activities.

Be the first to know. Use sales dashboards to automatically gather intelligence about the prospective clients, enabling you to capitalize on the best opportunities in the pipeline or manage threats to your business. An example is learning about key management changes or new profit numbers ahead of time. 

Widen your circle of contacts. It's easy to get sidelined when our best allies get laid off or are moved elsewhere within the organization. Expand your network of alliances within the company. It is also a good idea to broaden your targets, as the decision-maker isn't always the person you think it is.   

Learn your prospects' ‘hot button' issues. Every decent sales professional will search online and read the business news to learn about their clients.  Go a step further, and use intelligence-gathering mechanisms to capture essential data about your prospects' organizational structure, political underpinnings, areas of growth and more. This arms you with the knowledge to prepare a relevant pitch that will resonate with their needs.

There is a surprising amount of information out there that you can tap into — from prospects' professional backgrounds to their political contributions. These cues can help you make an indelible impression by understanding what message is most likely to connect with that person. 

Sell more than just a product. Put yourself in the shoes of the decision-maker. Like most of us, she isn't interested in hearing a sales pitch; she wants to know how you can help them solve a problem. Show that you can bring strategic value. By gathering knowledge about the inner workings of the business, you'll gain invaluable insights to help counsel the client, and elevate the conversation to a higher level.

In today's cutthroat business environment, there is no room for mediocrity. Each sales professional is fighting for his or her job. With a wealth of knowledge at their fingertips, sales professionals can move from pitch-men to trusted counsel — yielding stronger customer relationships, higher value deals and a more sustainable pipeline of business.

Tom Aley is the SVP and managing director for Dow Jones Business & Relationship Intelligence, Enterprise Media Group. Reach him via Ashley Thomas: athomas@pancomm.com.

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