“Know Everything You Can About Your Prospects!” – An Exercise in Futility


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In an earlier blog, Did You Get the Order? . . . , Jeffrey Gitomer wrote “Your job is to know everything you can about your prospect’s business—their market, their needs, their customers, and their people. Know their buying motives, how they profit, and how they produce.”

Great idea—until you attempt to do it. Where to begin? What matters? What should be remembered? What should be ignored? How much knowing is enough? Quit fussing and give it a try, you say! Fair enough. Here’s my top-of-mind list of everything to know about prospects:

Problems. Pains. Strategic objectives. Tactical objectives. Competitors. SWOT. BANT. Decision history. Desired outcomes. Needed capabilities. Limitations. What’s working. What’s not working. Gaps. Shortfalls. Operational headaches. Budgets. Preferences. Biases. Technical specifications. Operational KPI’s. Financial KPI’s. More gaps. Decision makers. Influencers. Anomalies. People, process, and technology. Market forces. Industry best practices. Recent trends. “As-is” state. “To-be” state. Implementation concerns. Buying process. Purchase time frame. The Truth.

Did I leave anything out? Oh yeah! The list goes on. An easier exercise would be listing the ways European governments can avoid financial collapse.

Without gaining knowledge, we humans would still be writing on clay tablets instead of on computer tablets. But for salespeople, know everything you can frustrates our learning efforts, because there are no boundaries, and the uncaring physics of earth’s orbit partitions our sales days into limited 24-hour periods, and our quarters into three short months. Harshness that puts a kibosh on panoramic learning, admirable as the pursuit might be.

Chasing down knowledge and insight stretches us in more ways than the Federal budget. But chase we must. Our competitive edges depend on bringing knowledge to every meeting and conversation. The rarer the knowledge, the edgier our edges. Yet, a torrent of disorganized information smothers us every day. RSS. Newsfeeds. Tweets. Blogs. LinkedIn updates. Company profiles on Facebook. Annual reports. And gobs upon gobs of data and analytics . . . Anytime, everywhere.

Knowledge work—such as sales—requires the ability to distinguish between needed knowledge, and everything else. Know everything you can fails to consider that reality, and salespeople can become servile to such mythologized knowledge standards. With learning, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there. Who can afford the time?

What are the right things to know? What is the raw meat—or brussel sprouts, if you’re a vegetarian—for sales information? Information that provides knowledge toward these four essential insights:

1. Sales risks
2. Sales opportunities
3. Prospect risks
4. Prospect opportunities

Manage risks, capitalize on opportunities. Perceptions of risks and opportunities shape everything that sales executives do, from lead qualification to proposal writing to pitching to sealing an order. By seeking information that exposes and explains risks and opportunities, salespeople can develop keener senses for needed knowledge.

They can better recognize valuable information when they encounter it. They can create better questions to ask and more relevant ways frame future discussions. You can’t know every risk and opportunity, but viewing information through a risk-opportunity lens demands the ability to distinguish between what’s consequential, and what’s not. Knowing everything doesn’t provide that focus.

Remember that back in college you understood that course mastery didn’t require knowing everything about a subject. “What you need to know to pass Principals and Applications of Operations Research is listed in the syllabus.” A convenient practicality that enabled me to hone my Frisbee throwing and catching skills when the weather turned warm in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Know everything? Not on a bet! With selling, the important thing is knowing the right things. Ask any eighth grader who just aced his math final. He’ll tell you. Duh.

In my next post, I’ll discuss categories of key questions to ask when assessing selling risks and opportunities.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Andrew,

    Good post.

    If you win a deal, no one cares how you did it. However, if you lose, then you better show that you did not lose because you missed something about the prospect. You could be put in the dog house.

    You need info about prospects to CYA, since managers need this info so they can do the same by passing it up to their bosses, so you do have to go through this “exercise in futility” to satisfy the big guy.

  2. I really enjoyed so much the insight of the comments specially regarding “Know everything you can fails to consider” THE reality, I belive is not possible for a minute to think about processing all data that prospects leave while they walk just to find they were not really interested in your product/services, thats why understanding what to know before knowing everything you can becomes an interesting proposal.
    May be you will want to know everything you can about some categorized questions that adds value to the prospects relationship.

  3. Jay: I liked your point about what happens when a key piece of information is missed. This is one of the reasons salespeople need to be especially aware about what they are looking for. Too many depend on memorizing lists of questions, or worry about whether open-ended or closed-ended questions work best. How questions are asked is important, but the concerns should not override the benefits of knowing what information is most prized. This is why some sales calls devolve into aimless conversational meanders, and fail to bring out the most compelling issues.

    Wladimer: the categorized questions you mentioned will be included in my follow-on blog. My main caution is not to use anyone’s recommended questions in a formulaic fashion. They must always be adapted to your personal style and selling situation.


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