Call Research: When Too Much of a Good Thing Ain’t Such a Good Thing

I had finally gained an audience with a dream client I had pursued for seven years. I had outlasted the obstacle that refused my access to her boss (she was the real power within her organization). Upon finding out she had left, I immediately scheduled an appointment with the decision-maker, and I began doing my homework for our meeting.

This was a large, publicly traded company, and there was no end of material to help me generate a better understanding of this company’s present situation, where it had been, and where it was headed. I downloaded and printed their latest annual report, which was a month or two old, and I studied it.

What You Know

Reading their Chairman and CEO’s letter to the shareholder’s was enlightening. There we three major priorities the company was going to address in the fiscal year, and the Chairman had a clear vision of how this would help his company perform well. I jotted down a few notes, plus some information I had gathered pursuing this dream client over the course of a millennium (at least it felt like that long).

When I sat down with the decision-maker, I launched into a needs-analysis. I had tailored some of the questions based on the information I knew from local sources. My dream client looked at me said: “How do you know how much we spend?” I answered: “I made an educated guess based on what I have learned over the years.” He said: “You just about hit the number perfectly. It is a little bit higher, but not much.”

Clearly, I knew my stuff.

What You Only Think You Know

Deeper into our conversation, I started asking about the company-wide initiatives that the Chairman and CEO had written about in the annual report. Something struck my dream client as funny. Clearly he had heard of some of this before. He stopped me: “Wait. How do you know that these are our company priorities?”  Having done my research, I was able to answer him with a thoughtful, intelligent, and supremely confident response. I said: “These three priorities are outlined in the Chairman’s Letter to the Shareholder in the Annual report that came out about a month ago.”

My dream client smiled. He said: “You read that? Even I haven’t read that.” He had to be impressed, right?

He continued: “Those may be the company’s priorities, but I have a completely different set of priorities here that need to be addressed before I could even dream of dealing with their priorities. I have one major issue I need to solve now, and there is nothing more important here to me or my group.”

Turns out, my preparation did little to help me with an understanding of what my dream client’s most pressing needs were at that time. Fortunately, I listened well, solved his problem and won the deal.

Thanks to the Internet, there is more public information more widely available than ever. But the public information may or may not be helpful in researching and selling to your dream client. In my case, I did not know what I thought I knew.

The Real Research

You should know a little about your prospect before you make a sales call. That is just solid call planning. But the real research, the real intelligence you need to win a deal, is gathered once you have gained access to your dream client. Regardless of what you may pick up through your trigger event alerts, and regardless of what the company releases to the public, your deal is won or lost with the people who are making the decision to buy from you; they have their own priorities and their own initiatives—many of which aren’t public.

You find the Ground Truth when you care enough to call two or three levels deep into the company.

Don’t believe that you have to know everything to win a deal. If you know enough to create value for your dream client, they want to share their priorities, their needs, and their initiatives with you. They don’t expect you to know everything—at least not until you are their partner.

More than anything else, don’t let yourself fall into the trap of feeling as if you are not prepared to pick up the phone to call your dream client until you have done enough research. If you have to know everything you need to know before you are confident in calling, you will never call.


Good call planning includes researching your dream client, their present situation, and any information that may inform your call. It doesn’t mean that you have to know everything in order to feel confident in calling; If you are a value-creator, they will be happy to teach you what you need to know to win their business. You might be surprised by how different their needs are from what you imagined.


    1. How much research do you need to do before you are confident calling your dream client?
    1. How much research is really necessary before you make your face-to-face sales call?
    1. How much of your time is spent researching your dream client because you lack the confidence to make a good needs-analysis sales call?
    1. Where do you find the real priorities and the real dissatisfaction that your dream client needs in order to move forward with you and your company?
  1. Does your call planning research keep you from being more productive prospecting and making more sales call?

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