Let’s call this the “Research Question.” Surely it is obvious to everyone that without “research” a rep is reduced to some rote pitch, or worse. Surely a sales rep can spare 3 minutes for a little research before making a call. Three minutes isn’t so long, is it? And what’s the alternative? Show up and throw up?
Like almost everything in life and business, the answer to these questions requires doing a little trade-off math. Here are the alternatives:
Scenario 1: Do the research! The workflow looks like this:
- Do research. Let’s say 3 minutes.
- Make the call — manually or with a dialer, doesn’t much matter. Navigate the phone system. This will probably take about 1 minute.
- Now, for the key step: either hang up on the voicemail you will get, on average, about 19 out of 20 times; or overcome your surprise at finding yourself talking to your actual target and then try to get the conversation going based on your research (remembering you just interrupted this important person, and they are not listening very carefully to you at first).
- Log the call in your CRM or your dialer software. This will probably take about 1 minute as well, unless you get interrupted or distracted or worn out from repeatedly dialing and navigating to nowhere — in which case it could take minutes to hours while you get yourself back on track.
- Return to step 1.
Notice in Scenario 1 that your 3 minutes of research was perfectly wasted 19 out of 20 times. You may protest that your information is so good that this ratio is really only 9 out of 10 times. It is true that my numbers are mere averages based on the actual outcomes of tens of millions of dial, but even at 9 out of 10, the math is daunting.
Why? Because even at 9 out of 10 dials going to the “nowhere” of voicemail or worse you have wasted 9 x 3 minutes of research — 27 minutes of your precious time — for the advantage of “knowing” something relevant for that 1 dial attempt that leads to a conversation. So even if every one of those conversations is perfect — not a “Busy— Call Back” or “Incorrect Contact” or “Not Interested” (what fantasy world are we living in at this point?) — each dial attempt is taking about 4 to 5 minutes (mostly research, plus disposing of wasted dials to nowhere). So you are talking to just north of 1 targeted person per hour.
- Make a list of contacts that share a theme sufficient to start a conversation. This theme aggregates the relevant research sufficiently to start a conversation coherently.
- Load that list into a magic conversation-connection system.
- Push a button and talk to someone on the list. The system will take care of all the dialing, navigation of phone systems, asking gatekeepers for transfers, and hanging up on voicemail — and will update your CRM for you to log all the dial attempts, if that’s important to you.
- Wait — about 3 minutes — the same amount of time you would have spent in Scenario 1 doing research on just one contact that, usually, you ended up NOT talking to. Get connected to a target: not to voicemail or a gatekeeper or a phone system.
- Have a conversation that starts based on the theme of the list. Learn things you cannot possibly learn from public information: private things that give you an advantage over every competitor who is busy doing research instead of talking to people. This takes an average of about 1 minute: many people are busy.
- Take notes, choose a disposition that describes the outcome of the call, and set a follow-up call as a task for later, if appropriate — with a teleprompter to help you continue the conversation later. The system will update your CRM for you. This takes about 1 minute.
- Return to step 3.
If you choose the right system — one that can take care of everything in steps 3 and 4 and the CRM update in step 6 — each conversation will take about 5–10 minutes, depending on how hard your targets are to reach. So, instead of 1 or 2 conversations in an hour, and almost 30 minutes spent on wasted research, you will have 5–12 conversations in an hour, with some time spent assembling a reasonably good list with a reasonably coherent theme. Oddly, you will also be more coherent yourself, because conversations will be routine instead of surprising, allowing you to get good at the part that must be done well — engaging.
Scenario 2 feels funny in prospect, because it is missing the security blanket of doing detailed research on each target. But it feels great in reality, because you are having lots of conversations in which you are doing the real research that your competitors are failing to do — finding out what’s what and who’s who in live conversations. You will be prepared to do what you would do if you found yourself standing in the Starbucks’ line next to your perfect prospect: learn by interacting, not by running off to the corner to look them up on LinkedIn.
The math is compelling. It is not only possible to survive without doing pre-call research, but — assuming you can get access to a magic system that connects you to someone on your list — in about the same time as you would have spent in research — 3 or 4 minutes — you can save 30 minutes of research per hour, 10 minutes of dialing and navigating phone systems (usually to nowhere), 10 minutes of logging dial attempts that mean exactly nothing, and 5 minutes of logging actual conversations. That’s 55 out of 60 minutes saved, returned to you in the form of time waiting for conversations (during which you can catch up on emails, proposals, or whatever) and time spent in conversations.
And conversations are really the most reliable form of research, aren’t they?