We emphasize time and again the importance of having a deep understanding of your customers' business to be successful in account planning and execution. But how can you efficiently stay up to date on your customer's goings on? Sales Source columnist Geoffrey James recommends setting up a regular schedule for keeping tabs on your customers. Here's how:
1. Check major news about your major customers. (real-time)
You want to be among the first to know if something big comes down so that you can figure out what it means to your relationship to that customer. Set up a news feed (like Google Alerts) that sends you a warning when your customer's firm pops up on the "Internet radar." To filter out the day-to-day activity and get a heads-up when something really important happens, set the feed to search for the corporate name in article titles rather than in the contents.
2. Check your customers' press releases (daily).
Press releases are your basic tracking mechanism for every customer account because they document and briefly describe new products, new initiatives, personnel shifts, and financial milestones. By reading between the lines, you might see trends that your competitors miss.
3. Check your customers' "jobs available" page (weekly).
A customer's "jobs available" page gives you insight into both what a company needs and where it's headed. Increasing job postings usually signal expansion while a decreasing number signals the opposite. The nature of the jobs also might indicate where where the customer feels a weakness. More importantly, job descriptions often describe specific skills that imply future product strategy.
4. Call your customer contacts to "touch bases" (monthly).
If steps one or two signal a big change, you immediately contact the people you know at that account and find out the details. However, even if nothing leaps out at you, you should have regular contact to catch up on the news. Pay attention to personnel changes. Such shakeups may change the way that the customer's firm make decisions, or that your contacts are losing or gaining internal clout. Personnel changes may also reflect an alteration to the customer's business model, in which case your offering may become more (or less) valuable.
5. Check your customers' SEC filings (quarterly).
If your customer is publicly-held, glance through any new 10K or 10Q document that your customer files at SEC.gov. These documents contain far more financial details than "earnings announcement" press releases. Comparing the official document to the press release reveals the "spin" that the customer's management wants to put on their performance. When you see "spin," try to figure out why that's important; you might find a "hook" that opens up new doors. One more thing, the "Risk Factors" section provides a high-level description of everything that keeps the customer's top management awake at night. That's useful to know when you're positioning your offering.