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Click Your Way to a Sale

By Michelle Nichols Connect! Connect! Connect! Sometimes I feel like a broken record as I go around and teach the importance of building connections when selling.

It's a good message. It's easy to understand, makes sense, and gets through to people of all different personality types: If you want to sell more, you need to connect to more people, in more ways, more often. This idea will help you close more deals -- and bigger ones, too.

USE YOUR MOUSE. When I speak, people often ask me, "O.K., Michelle, exactly how do you connect?" While there are hundreds of ways, let's explore one: Using the Internet to learn more about prospective clients.

When I hear about a new lead, the first thing I do is jump online. Besides the obvious task of learning what this potential customer does, I'm curious about their culture, lingo, and hot issues. Basically, I'm looking for ways to connect my offering to their needs so it'll be eagerly accepted.

Let's start at the very beginning -- on their home page. Is it oriented toward their current customers or to sell to new ones? That tells you about their culture. By the look and content, notice what kind of brand they convey -- upscale, low-priced, data-oriented, cutting edge, or even playful.

But don't judge the whole company simply by the look of its Web site. Remember, a Web site is the marketing department's ideas translated by their Web folks and approved by upper management.

BE A NET JUNKIE. Explore each of the major tabs on the site. Personally, I'm an information junkie, so I read everything. If there's a 28-page PDF report, I print it out and read the whole thing. I'm looking for the hot issues that the business is planning to address by investing significant time and money.

Speed hint: If there's a big report, read the table of contents and the first few pages. Then use the "find" button to look for keywords, like the decision-maker's name or the product category you represent. You can cover a lot of ground quickly that way.

But don't just focus on the key decision-makers. Study those around them by researching the board of directors and all the management folks you can find. Read their bios and find out who really steers this boat -- and what may rock it. Notice the ratio of women to men and the mix of ethnicities, ages, and employee longevity. That may tell you how receptive they are to new ideas.

Learn as much as you can about their customers. Is it a narrowly defined group -- male hairdressers in Saginaw -- or a wide variety? Likewise, research their vendors. Do they buy the cheapest, the top of the line, or are their choices based on some other obvious criteria?

LEARN THE LINGO. Read all the press releases. The trick is to read them chronologically, from the oldest to the just announced. Just like reading a résumé, you'll notice some patterns that you may miss if you read them from the most recent backwards. I'm looking for key players that have left, or vital programs that were launched but never mentioned again. This gives me some clues as to what's really going on.

It's important to be familiar with their current advertising campaigns, especially if they're new or novel. Find out what they're saying in print, radio, and TV. If you can make your pitch using a variation of their new slogan, you'll definitely connect.

Check out their calendar. This area is especially helpful for adding urgency to your selling process. You show savvy when you can suggest you meet with them before their annual board of directors meeting on Mar. 31 so if you come to a tentative agreement, they can present it to their board. They'll know you did your homework, and you may have just moved your buy decision up by three months or more.

As you read through their site, look for their lingo, because using it yourself can be very powerful. They'll subconsciously see you as one of them, which raises their trust level. For instance, do they prefer District Sales Managers, DSMs, or Regional Sales Team Leaders? Do they use the word clients, customers, or even guests? Some companies call each branch manager the president of their branch. Be on the lookout for their standard acronyms to sprinkle back into your sales pitch, especially if your prospect is in a technical field.

SEEK OUT PRAISE. Customer testimonials are very revealing. What do they praise? What's never mentioned? If they all praise the reliability of the product, make sure you stress how your offering increases reliability.

Once you've fully explored what the company has to offer, see what else you can dig up. Use your favorite search engine, like Google or Yahoo!, and check out the key decision-maker as well as the whole company. You'll learn things you won't find on the company site. Because I do a lot of charity work, I like to look for charities they support either personally or as a corporation. For me, that's a great point of connection.

One of the biggest payoffs of researching a client on the Internet is the ideas and questions that pop up in your head when you're digging around. Write them down, and review them carefully.

No match is a perfect one right away. You've got to work to build that connection, and the Internet provides a treasure trove of information, if you know what to look for. A little research will help you close deals faster, better, and easier -- and that will put more money in your pocket. Happy selling! Nichols is a sales speaker, trainer, and consultant based in Houston. She welcomes your questions and comments. Visit her Web site at

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