Accessing Intelligence on Your Customers and Prospects


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In sales today we all say we are customer-centric. That would imply that we have access to the right quantity and quality of Customer Intelligence, to be in a position to know what challenges our customers are facing, what is causing those problems to exist, how our solution might align with their needs in order to help them achieve gain or remove pain, etc.

Yet CSO Insights’ sales performance study data shows that is often not the case. Of the 1,600+ companies surveyed in our 2008 study, 49.5% of the participating firms reported that they needed improvement at thoroughly researching their customers and prospects.

Is that a real problem though, does being ineffective at this aspect of selling have real cost associated with it? Considering that the ability of reps to convert leads to first conversations (in person or on the phone)and the ability to close forecast deals (not pipeline, deals reps said for sure would close) are both at all time lows this year compared to our past annual surveys, the answer is yes.

But this problem doesn’t need to exist. In addition to advances in search capabilities of the Internet via Google, Yahoo, etc., over the last few years there has been an explosion of new customer intelligence resources sales and marketing can turn to. Let’s look at a few of these starting with the traditional contact list vendors.

For decades there have been companies marketing information on contacts within companies to sales and marketing teams: Hoovers, Dun and Bradsteet, InfoUSA, Harte Hanks, Onesource, etc. Initially these lists focused focused on top executives mostly within large firms. Today these customer intelligence providers have gone far deeper into the companies they track, going down to the vice president, director and manager levels within accounts, and also going from covering the Fortune 100, to the Fortune 10,000 and even many SMBs as part of their subscriptions.

Another advance has been the emergence of social networking players; Jigsaw, LinlkedIn, Plaxco, Spoke, etc., which offer even individual reps access to customer intelligence on their own, without their company signing up for the subscription service. This allows a sales person to search for contacts within the specific accounts they are currently selling to in order to supplement the information they already have about the prospect firm with additional information available through the business social network community.

Web crawling services are also making deeper levels of customer intelligence available to sales and marketing. Firms like Dow Jones BRI, Stratascope, ZoomInfo, Inside View, etc. have technologies that not only surface who the players are within a prospect account, but also provide details about those people and those companies. You can find what articles your contacts have been quoted in, which conferences they have presented at, their past employment histories, etc.; as well as providing access to analysis of system-generated details such as the financial health of a company compared to their peers in the marketplace. All of these can give reps the insights that can give them the ability to effectively sell from the first contact to the final contract negotiation.

And let’s not forget to look at improvements that are being made in mining the gold we already have about our customers and prospects. For decades now we have been badgering sales and marketing to put information into CRM systems. Now the emergence of new analytics capabilities inside of our core CRM systems (Microsoft,, Oracle, SAP, Frontrange, etc.), along with tools that integrate with these systems (Cloud9 Analytics, LucidEra, Right90, Xactly, etc. ), are allowing sales and marketing teams to get insights out of CRM.

The net of all this is that if a vendor doesn’t have access to the customer intelligence they need for their sales and marketing teams to work more effectively, it is not because it doesn’t exist, it is because they haven’t gone looking for it. And if their competition has acquired that knowledge, they may find themselves at a severe competitive disadvantage.

Jim Dickie
CSO Insights
Jim Dickie is a partner with CSO Insights, a research firm that specializes in benchmarking how companies are leveraging people, process, technology and knowledge to optimize sales.


  1. Over the past 18 months we’ve made significant progress in this area. Here are some of the tools our sales people use:

    Landslide — this is our basic selling environment which provides the essential contact information but more importantly, great tools to manage our selling process, activity notes, private individual portals, and great reporting and dashboards.

    Inside View — is integrated right into Landslide, so when working on an account or opportunity we see, with one click, summary company information, key people, key news, even job openings.

    Stratascope — for in-depth company research and simple, visual reporting on key business issues and financial realities along with competitive comparisons.

    ZoomInfo — for looking up contacts at target companies.

    Linked-in — getting better and better not just as a network and referral tool (VERY important), but for searching contacts at specific companies, and joining affinity groups to make referrals and company research even easier and faster.

    Genius — for allowing sales to generate email campaigns quickly and easily to groups as well as individuals, and to track viewing of emails and links to programs and our websites. This helps us know who is really interested, and who (for whatever reason), never even viewed our communication.

    Leadlander — notifies sales reps when customers and prospects visit our website, and which pages they viewed. This helps us better understand areas of interest, but especially timing.

    iCentera — to manage all our documents in one central repository, and create customer and campaign portals to deploy relevant content to prospects and customers. Makes it easier than embedding content into emails, and convenient for customers to view content when they are interested. Tracks individual viewing and provides marketing aggregate data on how our content is used. Supports our “drip marketing” campaigns, and quick emails (with links to content) to individuals and groups.

    These are primarily the research tools used by our selling organization. This doesn’t include our outbound communication tools or those used by our marketing department.

    Jim Burns, Avitage


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