NVTC is inviting members and industry leaders to serve as guest bloggers, sharing insights and information on trends or business issues relevant to other members. In the second of a five part series on “Building Relationships,” Matthew Falls of BusinessUSA shares his insights on using the web to research those companies that offer the best opportunities for you.
Your SWOT analysis has given you valuable information about your company, its products and services and where its opportunities may lie. Now, use the web to research those companies that offer the best opportunities for you. This should give you a list of companies and organizations that offer the most promise – those that are most likely to use your product or service.
Seek to answer the following questions about your target companies and prospects. You may need to rework and modify your behavior as you gain answers to these questions and you uncover more information through the preparation process.
- Where is the prospect in their decision-making process?
- Where are you in your selling process?
- What are your objectives for your call?
- What information, support, or decisions do you need to achieve your objectives?
Research the companies carefully. Better early research = higher conversion rate. Go beyond the web site and look for information from other sources. Google the company’s name and click on a few links to see what’s going on. Have there been any noteworthy, positive or negative, events? Google the phrases “<company name> problems” and “<company name> strategy”.
If you want to be successful selling to sophisticated prospects, develop expertise in the buyer’s industry. Staying current on industry trends should be a continuous process. Google the following topics:
- “Recent challenges in the <insert potential customer’s industry> industry”
- “Top challenges facing <enter contact’s role>”
- “New trends facing <enter contact’s role> in the < insert potential customer’s industry> industry”
- “<insert target industry> industry associations”
- “<insert target industry> industry study”
- “<McKinsey, Booz-Allen…> target industry report”
Use this information to show potential customers that you are interested in solving challenges, are informed about them and you know what’s going on in the customer’s industry.
Find out what’s going on in your target companies. Whenever you can tie your capabilities to a company’s strategic initiatives, you stand a better chance of getting a response. Focus your preparation on creating relevance.
Read their press releases and blogs and what other bloggers are saying about the company. Ask associates about the organization. Look at the products, programs and services that the company offers and where the money is being spent.
Financial and budget information about privately-held companies is difficult to find. Search news articles and social media sites. There could be valuable information there. Publically held companies do not publish budgets, but review their quarterly 10k filings to get an idea of where they spend their money. You can find links to this information in the investor relations section of their web site. Watch recordings of recent CEO’s analyst presentations. If the company is private equity owned, visit the private equity firm’s website to learn about their investment strategy and philosophy. Identify the principal at the private equity firm responsible for your target company.
Budgets for public organizations are published on their web sites. Their budgets and the new spending programs will tell you their priorities and their most important initiatives as of late.
In the About Us web page, companies will list the officers of the company or the senior leadership team. Public agencies and non-profits will often publish an organization chart listing program offices and sometimes the personnel in charge of these offices. Research the leadership and search the web for new stories about them.
Don’t forget the human side of relationships. It is always better to relate to your customer or prospect on a personal level. We live in a world of information overload, spam email, and automated messaging. Mass messaging falls on deaf ears, so craft your message to appeal to your prospect’s needs. You can find information on your customer’s needs by:
- Link to your customer or prospect on LinkedIn and follow them if they are active on Twitter
- Google “<contact’s name, title and company>”, and pay attention not only to what is happening in their business life but also their personal life
- See if the buyer has spoken on YouTube or shared presentations on the Web
- See if the buyer is active in associations or has presented at conferences
- See if you have any mutual connections on LinkedIn, and reach out to any connections you believe would be willing to share insight to help you understand the buyer better
Search the web for news stories, articles, white papers and press releases. This will again give you an idea of the most relevant issues facing your prospect and their organization. This information also provides discussion topics for your initial phone call. Together, they may indicate pain points that the organization is facing.
Large businesses will often have a schedule of events where a senior person for the company might be speaking, serving on a panel, exhibiting at a trade show or conducting a seminar. Attend these events, or find out who the sponsor is and volunteer to help organize the event. Find opportunities like this that give you a more relaxed setting to make contact and start the relationship.
A way to smaller business might be through a chamber of commerce, business associations or state associations of like businesses, such as manufacturers or contractors. Look for those associations that match your company’s capabilities. Members of these organizations are more likely to be established businesses that have the ability to purchase your products.
Get involved with your local Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), SBA Small Business Development Center (SBDC), Minority or Native American Business Center (MBC or NABC) and regional economic development organizations. These organizations are advocates for small business. They offer low or no cost seminars and services and will know of local small business incentives. They sometimes hold matchmaking and procurement events. Their counselors are also a great source of introductions to small business offices of large businesses and federal program managers.
For federal government contractors, the Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization are small business advocates. All federal agencies have an office like this and their mission is to connect small businesses with federal contracts. Here is a link to all the small business contracting offices-http://osdbu.gov/members.html . Click on the office you want and contact information loads.
The Offices of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization are a great resource to learn of procurement events, upcoming bid opportunities, to find out the names of program managers that may have a need for your services, or potential teaming partners for an opportunity.
Develop relationships with the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization for each Federal agency that you have targeted. Be active with them, stay in touch, talk about your credentials and capabilities to them; you want them to know your company and your name.
Your web research will also tell you the names of the top 10, 25, or 50 prime contractors with the agency. All of these companies have offices of Small Business Contracting. Their job is to match small businesses to teaming opportunities with the company. Get to know them, attend their events; find out the trade organizations to which they belong. Talk to them about upcoming opportunities. Develop relationships with them, become a resource, talk about your credentials and capabilities with them; you want them to know your company and your name.
Look here for acquisition forecasts from those agencies you have targeted. Look at past awards and upcoming re-competes. These will all indicate the direction and priorities of the agency and any specific opportunities that may be released. Agencies will often hold Industry Days that focus on a particular opportunity. These events offer an opportunity to get to know others in this space – prime contractors, program managers and the Office of Small and Disadvantaged Business Utilization.
There are also private sector paid sources of business intelligence regarding your targeted companies, agencies and program offices. Evaluate these carefully. Are you getting information only, someone else’s analysis, introductions for your business, or someone who will not only introduce you, but become an advocate for your company?
Make certain you have exhausted and used all of the free resources out there before paying a subscription. You can do this yourself. Contact me, I’ll show you how. Oftentimes, such services are a collection of publically available information from the sources I’ve listed above. It is my belief that you can obtain this kind of information from targeted research. At that point, you will be in position to determine how best to use the information going forward.
Matthew Falls works for the federal initiative BusinessUSA, focusing on outreach to the state and local partners and the business community. He collaborates with state and local economic development organizations to feature their program content on BusinessUSA and to introduce BusinessUSA as a resource to small businesses.