The complete guide to researching sales prospects: 13 tools to help you understand your buyers

Content Marketing Associate, Nutshell

Your goal as an effective salesperson is to position yourself as a trusted advisor rather than a seller.

Getting to know your potential buyers is a huge factor in bridging that gap, and the best way to accomplish that is by doing personal research on each prospect before you reach out to them.

Fortunately, there are numerous steps you can take to bridge the “stranger gap” and learn more about who you’re selling to. If you understand the people you’re dealing with on an individual level, it’ll be easier for them to trust you, which will improve your connect rates and your chances of establishing a meaningful connection.

Prospect research tools:

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Tools for researching companies:

Google

The first thing you should do when you’ve got a company in your crosshairs is type them into Google and see what comes up. A search engine will aggregate pertinent information about the company in “rich snippet” on the side of the screen. Read the snippet, visit their website, do whatever you need to do to get a clear understanding of the prospect company. Keep your eyes peeled for “trigger events” which indicate that the prospect company has a need for your solution, like hiring sprees, new office openings, and investment announcements. This is crucial for determining the applicability of your product, and the easiest way to drop a company that might not be a fit.

Google News is also great for determining if your prospect company has recently been featured in any news stories. If it’s good news, a congratulatory email is often a great way to break the ice. Be sure to use your best judgment about referencing news articles in your outreach, because not every news story is worth mentioning.

If you’ve already got a specific person in mind, you might consider doing a direct Google search for them (full name + company name) to make sure you’ve got the right person. If they have news articles, blog posts, or relevant info published anywhere, this is the quickest way to find them.

Owler

Owler is a handy tool (with a neat free version) that pulls together public data from various sources and combines it with crowdsourced information to present a summarized company profile. It’s useful and light with no downloads required. Some features (like estimated revenue) are often inaccurate, especially with smaller businesses, but it’s still a great free tool for getting ballpark estimates.

Glassdoor

When you’re trying to get social feedback about a company, Glassdoor is the place to go. A visit to Glassdoor can reveal a lot about a company, including reviews written by employees and applicants, as well as overall company approval ratings. Glassdoor does a great job at helping you figure out just what’s going on inside that organization.

AngelList

If your prospect company is a startup, they most likely have a profile on AngelList. AngelList is a platform for job-seekers and angel investors to browse startups and either apply or invest. AngelList will show you who the founders, leadership, and investors are, which is great when you’re still figuring out who to target.

AngelList also provides information about the company’s funding history, which provides good insight into things like company size, and shows the other companies that founders are associated with, which means you might discover a shared connection or two.

Siftery

Siftery is a great tool for SaaS salespeople, as it allows you to view the software tools being used by your prospect company. If you can identify that the company is using a competitor’s software, you have a much better idea of the type of conversation you’d like to have with them. Siftery allows you to filter companies’ softwares by department, which is useful if you’re researching a huge company with lots of different tools.

CrunchBase

CrunchBase is a data aggregation platform that specializes in compiling data about public and private companies. They also offer services which allow your CRM to import data directly from them if you’re interested in using their API. Some CRMs gather data all by themselves, but if yours doesn’t, you may consider integrating with a data source like CrunchBase.

Get to know the people

By now, you have a working understanding of what the company is about. Your next step is to do prospect research “inside” and see who’s making those gears spin. Beyond the basic names and contact info you’ll need for your CRM, it’s very beneficial during your research to understand who the key players are and what they do.

It’s hard to understand Stark Industries without understanding Tony Stark.

Tools for researching people:

Previous Interactions

Before you start hunting someone down across the internet, it’s worth it to check your CRM or marketing automation systems for previous interactions. This person might already be a newsletter subscriber, or have tried your product in the past. If they’ve already been in your company’s sales pipeline, your outreach should change drastically.

When reaching out to someone with previous interactions, your conversation should reference whatever those interactions were. For example: “How did you like the product trial? Is there anything we can change to make it better? Have your needs changed since the last time you were in touch with my team?” Furthermore, if they’ve already progressed through your pipeline but ended up not buying, you need to figure out why. Your product might not be a good fit for them, they might not have the funding, or they could just be wasting your time.

Company Website

Checking out a company’s website is a phenomenal way to get the inside scoop on the people who work there. A lot of companies have team pages that list their employees, and if you’re in luck, they might include direct contact information for those employees as well. Companies often list their partner companies, their headquarter addresses, their press releases, and lots of other useful info on their website. You may still need to track down the employees on LinkedIn, but a website visit beforehand can help you figure out who to target.

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LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a social networking platform that allows professionals to connect with one another. It has features that enhance its professional networking capabilities, such as the ability for users to add their skills to their profiles, and give and receive endorsements and recommendations to and from other users. You can search for a company, view its employees in a list, and perform advanced filtered searches that make it easy to find exactly who you’re looking for, which is important because you want to focus your outreach on people who have some relevance to what you’re selling and/or some authority to make a buying decision.

Be warned that LinkedIn tells users when you’ve viewed their profile. If you use LinkedIn to look somebody up, they’ll know, and they’ll be given the option to view your profile as well.


Pro tip: If you’re going to be connecting with sales prospects on LinkedIn, read 6 tips for writing the perfect LinkedIn cold outreach message.

Hunter

The one thing LinkedIn doesn’t always provide is direct contact info. If you’re looking for an easy way to grab this info, Hunter is one of the best tools for the job. You can search for a person’s name within a domain, and Hunter will use the magic of the internet to find that person’s email address. If that email address doesn’t appear anywhere on the web, Hunter will give you the best guess as to what it might be, based on the format of other email addresses at that organization. If your CRM doesn’t already research prospects for you, Hunter is the tool for the job.

Email Checker

If Hunter is unable to match the target email address on the web, you’ll need to run its best guess through an email verifier to make sure that the address is valid. An email verifier will ping the target address to ensure that it is active and can receive emails. Email-Checker.net is simple and fast, and doesn’t require any signup, which makes it a great tool for performing quick email checks.

Get to know the company culture

You’ve done research about the company, and you’ve gotten to know the people within it. Be sure to close the door behind you, because you have just entered the building. It’s time to don your detective shades and do some snooping, because you’re about to get to the bottom of this company’s culture.

Tools for researching company culture:

Social Media

Your first stop on the culture express should be social media. You’ll notice huge differences in content and messaging between a law firm, for instance, and a tech startup. These snippets are little clues that will help you determine the culture and ethos of a company, which will thus help you speak the language.

Social media is also a good cheat sheet for ice-breakers you can use in your initial outreach emails. A company’s social accounts should show any recent accomplishments, partnerships, and achievements they’ve announced, which you can casually mention in cold emails to show that you’ve been paying attention.

Blogs

If the prospect company has a blog, you’ve struck a goldmine. Company blogs are full of useful information, and can be used to infer what the company values in terms of content, culture, and thought leadership. You can incorporate these into your message, perhaps by referencing content from a blog post, or asking for elaboration on a specific topic. If you’re lucky enough to find an article authored by one of your target contacts at the company, you now have an additional point of entry to start a conversation about a topic that they have expertise and passion about.

Including a bit of relevant company information in your outreach will let them know that you’ve taken the time to get to know what they’re about. You’ve essentially already completed the first step of qualifying a lead, which goes a long way in enhancing your reputation with them.

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What to do next

Now you’ve done your research and you’re very familiar with your prospect. You’ve learned a lot about the company, the people who work there, and the culture within it. If they met all of your qualification requirements, it’s time to send that message.

When creating your draft, try to find a way to tie in some of the things you’ve learned without seeming creepy. Make it clear that you’ve done your homework, you know who they are, and you’re emailing them for a specific purpose. The fact that you’ve gone through the first qualification steps on your own will set your message apart from the other messages they receive. If you still don’t know what to say, use one of our 16 B2B templates.

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