You already know the more you can find out about the customer executives you’re targeting, the better. But how do you gain insight on privately held companies when they make so little information publicly available?
Sales teams can gain sizable advantage against competitors by researching privately held accounts. Many sales professionals assume the information isn’t available and give up. Researching private corporations can unearth valuable information –if you know where to find it.
Get ready to put your sales sleuthing skills to the test! Use these three sales strategies and gain insight into private companies:
1. Go Public
2. Follow the Transparency Trend
3. Play Detective
1. Go public: Research publicly traded companies in your customer’s industry
Need insight into a privately held company? Research the competition! Public and private, all companies are subject to the same market and economic drivers when competing in the same space.
Researching your customer’s publicly held competitors can help you build business alignment, engage at the executive level and develop into a true business partner rather than joining the long list of vendors.
Examine your customer’s industry and its top two competitors. Use information you gather to demonstrate you understand your customer’s business. Additionally, recognize that:
• External factors will be the same for your customer and your customer’s competitors. For example, rising interest rates impact all banks, large or small, public or private.
• Business metrics will also likely overlap. For example, every retailer focuses on increasing inventory turns, sales per square foot and repeat customers.
• Business initiatives adopted by your customer’s competitors may provide valuable insight into your customer’s plans, since companies in the same space typically use similar business strategies.
Information about your customer’s industry and publicly held competitors will shed light on what your customer cares about and the market forces in play.
2. Follow the transparency trend: Public companies aren’t the only ones baring it all
In the past, “getting the dirt” on private companies meant gaining information through firsthand effort (not to mention surreptitious sleuthing). Good news: Driven by the surge of corporate scandals and regulatory issues, corporate financial transparency is a growing trend even in the private sector.
Based on their business, privately held companies are required to comply with regulatory authorities and many of these filings are publicly available. While usually only publicly traded companies are subject to compliance mandates such as Sarbanes-Oxley, it’s more common for private companies to make hitherto proprietary documents accessible to the public.
Privately held companies aren’t usually required to file documents with government bodies like the SEC, so you won’t find a 10-K or annual report per se, but you may find the following on your customer’s Web site:
• President’s or Chairman’s Message
Leaders of privately held companies often publish quarterly or annual communications, akin to a Letter to Shareholders, that identify business initiatives, key objectives and the company’s overall mission – information you can use to link your solution’s value to customer goals.
• Financial Information
Privately held companies produce financial statements on a regular basis. Many will make high-level financial data publicly available and some even disclose executive compensation and other details.
• Management Team
Who makes up the management team? Utilize those executive biographies of corporate officers and identify who’s likely to be responsible for the initiatives your solution can positively impact.
• Board of Directors
In addition to listing members, you may find a summary of meeting minutes and other information useful for building business alignment, such as governance principles or committee charters.
• Company Fact Sheet
If not available online, your customer’s marketing/PR department may maintain a company overview including annual revenue, number of employees, company history, locations, core values and goals.
3. Play sales detective: You’ll be surprised what a little digging will unearth
The way the Web has transformed communications and research means you can play detective from the comfort of your computer. Start digging for clues:
• Do an Internet search of your account’s executives to find public statements and quotes you can leverage into informed conversation. No matter which company officer you speak with, referencing an executive’s own words will boost your credibility.
• Attend conferences where industry experts speak. Listen to the executive from your customer’s company if he or she is on the panel, or note how other execs talk about the industry and your client’s firm.
• If possible, stop in and pick up a company newsletter or subscribe to it by e-mail. Often you’ll get the scoop on current business plans, company performance and product development, helping you validate that your business proposal is aligned with the customer’s needs.
• Review company and product literature. Many times you can simply request information over the phone. Or, if a friend works for one of your customer’s customers, ask him or her to request the collateral for you.
• Consider subscribing to fee-based online resources such as OneSource, D&B, Guidestar, Bureau van Dijk and Companies House. Each offers business data on privately held companies and the time you’ll save may easily justify the expense.
• Analyst reports may contain useful insights on your privately held customer. . Analyst reports about competitors or the industry in general are also an excellent source of information that will boost your confidence when speaking with CXOs, help you refine your proposal and identify other accounts worth investigating.
• Check dedicated surveys and reports, such as Forbes’ annual ranking of the largest private companies in the U.S., for high-level metrics to help you understand the competitive landscape.
What’s at Stake? Precious Selling Time and Money
Although it is decidedly more difficult to find information about private companies than publicly held, there are many avenues you can pursue to get the facts you need. It takes Internet research, analysis of the industry and competitive market, as well as some good old-fashioned sleuthing!
If this seems like a lot of work, it is. The fact that so few of your competitors want to make the effort means you’ll reap the rewards of a well-designed sales plan. In other words, if you make the time, you’ll almost surely make the money.