How much research should I do before phoning a prospect?

(From January 20, 2009 newsletter)

The real research is done in selecting your list, not in conducting comprehensive research on each corporate prospect in order to strategize a simple call.

Evaluate your phone list

If you are working from a high-quality list, you’ll have the individual’s name, job title, direct phone number and direct email address. Oh, and not coincidentally, the list will consist of individuals who are highly likely to need your work.

That’s all you need to start phoning. If you are curious about the company as a whole, you can indulge in a glance at the home page while waiting for your person to answer.

Remember that most calls will result only in your leaving a voice mail message. Even if you reach a live person, they won’t grant you enough time to show off your exhaustive research on their firm.

If you happen to have a factoid of interest (for instance, that you have worked with the same client or process as them), slide this into your message in as few words as possible: “I was just looking at your website and I see you use the XYZ patented process, just as I have been doing for years.”

Why over-researching is bad

Over-researching is a time waster that prevents you from completing a day’s worth of calls. Even worse, it may enable you to feel noble about your hard work while shirking your primary task: phoning.

There’s no reason you have to be an expert when they pick up the phone on your first contact with them. If they want to talk awhile, start implementing your process.

“Eeek, a process? I need at least a month to roll out my process,” you may say.

Not really. Everyone has the same process: collect information, propose plan, finalize plan with client, implement, obtain feedback, tweak, and so it goes. So start the fact-finding process. That’s what makes you a true consultant, i.e., a problem solver, rather than a mere worker bee.

Freelancers and consultants who value their time are not embarrassed to start with questions rather than rattling off in-depth research findings or even ground-breaking solutions. Fact finding is a key part of the process, not a pre-assignment giveaway (beyond what is necessary to negotiate the go-ahead).

If they want specifics about how you will solve their problem, tell them you need time for preliminary research and analysis. And certainly don’t quote a project fee in your first conversation–that’s a sure way to under price.

Expect the prospect’s research assistance

It is totally appropriate to ask the prospect to help you conduct research. Request that they email and/or overnight to you anything that will help you understand their company and the problem or assignment at hand. They may provide print publications, internal emails, contact information for internal experts, competitor web links, etc.

Don’t over think your preparation for the initial call. Save your analysis for prospects who are interested in hearing it!

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