Closing Time

Sales Prospect Research: Are You Doing Enough?

In a world where personalization and understanding the needs of potential customers can significantly improve close rates, cycle lengths, and deal sizes – you’d think sellers would spend sufficient time researching prospects before reaching out.

The sad reality: Most reps begin their research 15-20 minutes before the initial meeting.

Justin Fite aims to shift this trend and shares a new method for sales prospect research that involves interviewing individuals in the exact roles of your ICP.

Justin also explores how sales and marketing teams can collaborate to identify ideal targets and how sales reps can leverage this knowledge to maximize their opportunities. Ready to level up your prospect research? Join Justin and Chip in this episode of Closing Time!

Watch the video:
Key Moments:
The Current State of Sales Research (or Lack Thereof)

With over two decades of experience in B2B (with a history at IBM, ExactTarget, Salesforce, and Lessonly), it’s safe to say Justin has witnessed the state of B2B sales change and evolve. In the last few years, he’s noticed a common trend: sales reps weren’t researching enough before reaching out to potential customers.

In fact, according to anecdotal evidence shared by Justin, the average seller spends only 15 minutes preparing for a call.

What’s wrong with cutting a few corners and waiting to learn about the prospect once you’re on the phone with them? Going into the call with a limited understanding of the prospect’s specific needs, pain points, industry, etc. – makes it harder for them to tailor their pitch, beat competitors, and expedite the sales cycle. Reps are left to ask generic or irrelevant questions that inevitably slow their ability to build trust and form the foundation for meaningful relationships. 

In an era of data abundance, the information needed to connect with potential customers and learn about their world is at our fingertips – but it’s up to you to dedicate the appropriate time and effort to finding it. Skimming LinkedIn profiles and company websites will no longer cut it – to truly thrive in today’s competitive world of sales, understanding prospects at a deeper level is not an option but a necessity.

The Crucial Need for Deeper Prospect Understanding in Sales

If you’re a frequent Closing Time listener, are active on LinkedIn, or even just have a few years of B2B sales experience under your belt, then chances are you’ve heard of Samantha McKenna’s “Show Me You Know Me” approach to prospecting.

Show Me You Know Me (#SMYKM) goes beyond a mere acknowledgment of a prospect’s location or alma mater; it dives into the heart of their problems, constraints, priorities, and language. The goal is to, you guessed it, show your prospects that you know them.

Instead of focusing on where a prospect went to school or their job history, dig deeper. Consider the challenges they face in their specific role, the type of company they work for, the stage of that company, and the industry they operate in. This understanding can be a deal-maker, turning a conversation that might have otherwise led to a closed door into a fruitful discussion that paves the way for a closed deal.

The more you understand about their unique situation, the better positioned you are to offer a solution that truly resonates.

A New Approach to Conducting Sales Research

How can sales leaders enable their reps with hyper-targeted, specific research about buyers? Justin discusses how he’s applying market research principles to the sales process. Instead of relying solely on traditional prospecting, he’s conducting third-party, in-depth interviews with individuals who closely match the ICP (but who are not prospects).

It’s a forward-thinking strategy that aims to make the sales process more relevant, credible, and efficient, ultimately benefitting both salespeople and their customers.

Conducting prospect research - 3 steps

Orient around the problem: The first and foremost goal of these interviews is to determine whether the interviewees face the same problems that Justin’s solution can solve and how important that problem is in the person’s list of challenges. Through these conversations, Justin explores how these professionals think about the identified problem based on their knowledge, skills, and job roles. He delves into their approaches, strategies, and thought processes – gaining valuable insights that would be impossible to collect from generic market research. 

Aligning on language: Sales and marketing teams are both guilty of inventing their jargon, which is why the next area Justin focuses on is the language used by these individuals. What are common terms used industry-wide? What words do they use when they explain their needs? Are there any terms you’re not familiar with? It’s crucial to align the messaging with the prospect’s terminology. You want your prospects to know, like, and trust you – and speaking their same language will catalyze the relationship.

Feedback on the solution: A unique aspect of this approach is soliciting feedback on the solution itself. Justin asks interviewees if they agree with the three approaches he prioritizes for solving the problem and if there’s anything important he might be missing. This open-ended question allows prospects to explore the edges of their pain, often leading to valuable discovery moments.

At many companies, sales cycles are longer than ever before – with many complex enterprise deals taking up to 12 months to get over the line. In traditional prospecting, it often takes a quarter to process leads and gather data on message resonance or the alignment of priorities. Justin believes engaging with individuals in specific, targeted roles can provide unique, real-time insights and perspectives, eliminating the need to wait months to adjust the sales strategy or marketing message. 

How to Enable Sellers with the Right Research

Sales reps are busy people; in many cases, there isn’t enough time in the day to spend 1-2 hours researching every prospect before contacting them. So, when time isn’t on the rep’s side, how can they make the most of their 15-20-minute research window?

It begins with sales leaders providing sales reps with easily digestible resources. Let’s be real: Reps won’t be sifting through a 50-slide ICP background deck or a 35-page research paper in those few minutes. Instead, they’ll likely glance at notes in the CRM, visit the prospect’s website, glance at their LinkedIn, and check Slack conversations.

The mechanism for effective preparation involves collecting the right data, analyzing it to extract valuable insights, and presenting it in a format that’s easily digestible and skimmable

Since ICPs don’t change overnight, the key is to compile ICP data (ideally from first-hand interviews as discussed earlier) into a summarized format – including personas, major pain points, language, and feedback.

By adopting lightweight and precise research methods, sales teams can avoid the long wait times to determine whether they’re conveying the right messages – helping to accelerate the sales cycle and improve alignment with prospect needs.




If you’re interested in learning more about Justin’s approach to sales research and the services he provides, visit his website


So how much research should a sales person do before he reaches out to a prospect?
We’re going to talk all about it in this episode of Closing Time.
Welcome to Closing Time, the show for. Go to Market Leaders.
My name is Chip House.
I’m the CMO of Insightly CRM and I’m super excited
about today because I’m joined by Justin Fite,
who has a wealth of experience in B2B SaaS, like about 20 years.
And I used to work together with Justin, so I know him pretty well.
And currently he’s the principal and founder of J3
Consulting, an executive advisory firm.
And we had an interesting discussion last week
that really made me think about having him on Closing Time.
And Justin, thanks for joining us.
Yeah, absolutely.
Chip, great to see you again. Happy to be here.
Thanks for the chance to keep our conversation going.
Yeah, for sure.
So you were talking about, like. I mentioned, you have a ton of experience
selling yourself and managing sales teams and the past several years in B2B SaaS.
And you uncovered something that I thought was super interesting.
After talking to a number of different salespeople, you learned that
they actually did very little research before they would reach out to a prospect.
Can you talk about that?
Like why did you ask those questions and what did you learn?
Yeah, for sure.
So this whole thing started when
I kept and
you know this too, from our shared history,
I kept running into symptoms
of lack of velocity in a pipeline, for instance, as an example.
And it was really challenging to determine some of the root causes of that.
So it’s been a nagging issue for quite some time that I’ve struggled
with myself as a sales leader and many others have too.
When I started to dig in to
what were some of the precursors that led to that kind of issue.
What I started to see was a pattern emerge.
This pattern was a lack of understanding.
So you described it as research, and that’s a great term for it,
which is, Do we understand enough about the person
we’re about to get on the phone with or the people that we call our ICP?
And as I started, you know, I’m involved in hiring a bunch of people over the years
and I started asking, what do you do to prep for a call?
Like, what is your research?
And aside from large deal research
where you spend a lot of time on the account strategy,
most of us are involved in average technology
sales of average size.
That prep, it turns out, and this is anecdotal, not scientific yet,
but is about is about 15 minutes prior to the call.
So for many reasons just doesn’t offer the opportunity to do enough,
do a deep enough research and you know, typically
the reps can get their hands on the right data.
So, you know, we’ve had Samantha McKenna on the podcast,
for example, and she talks about Show. Me You Know Me, right?
And has a long demonstrated past of that kind of knowledge
about a prospect, you know, even what makes them tick.
And being able to add that personalization
to discussions can be the difference between a door shut in your face
versus a happy conversation that leads to a closed deal.
And so it sounds like you kind of ran into that
where you were seeing deals stall or maybe deals not close.
And so.
What do you think a typical salesperson should do?
What amount of research is appropriate or engagement with a specific prospect,
and how do they do it before they reach out?
Yeah. So that’s a great characterization.
Show Me You Know Me.
I would say we
as salespeople have probably misunderstood the word me in that statement
because it’s show me you know, my problem,
my constraints, my priorities, my language.
And I think that’s,
and I’ll throw myself in this for sure, but it’s like we’re just shallow.
So what we’re looking at now anecdotally is LinkedIn
and your website and your LinkedIn profile, Chip.
While it tells me where you went to school and the jobs you’ve had probably
I’m not sure that really describes your world at Insightly and
what common understanding would I possibly have about the challenges
of your particular space in the CRM, you know in CRM, so
that we’re typically looking at the wrong sources
and we’re not getting a summary in a time that we can activate it
to a degree that makes us more effective to build a relationship with you.
If I really do know you that I probably know a little bit
about the challenges you face and we have some common ground,
some maybe some common language about the challenges.
That’s everybody says this and our good friend and coworker Todd
Caponi in The Transparency Sale, it’s like you got to build a relationship with
each other and
then you might open up and say,. I’m really stuck on these few issues.
You might, but if I just reference your school,
that might not be enough to have you open up.
Yeah,. I think some attempts at personalization
kind of come off shallow, especially if it was
the research was 15 minutes long on LinkedIn ahead of time.
Because then you don’t seem credible. Right.
And who wants to talk to somebody who does not seem credible?
Yeah. So,
you know, there’s a piece about this that you’re talking about,
which is understanding the pain.
And so there’s understanding the individual person’s pain
because of their role, because of the type of company
they’re in or the stage maybe because of the industry that they’re in.
And all of those things are super valid ways
to best understand the pain.
And, you know, what do you think is most important, Justin,
or are they all important?
I think that’s why salespeople begged marketing and product marketing people to
help us with
like, understand the language of the customer.
Because once you’re a customer, there’s more trust.
Typically there’s more openness, there’s more sharing of what’s really going on
inside the organization that doesn’t isn’t very well shared presales,
that information is so rich with insights
and perspective that is valuable
in the sales process and in the building of those relationships and the trust.
And I think those parts are just hard
to find if you’re trusting, you know,
sometimes high level market research about what people are doing in general.
That comes across as a little too high level.
If I had some insights from somebody exactly in your role
probably as close to exactly as possible, that would be really valuable
because then I would better understand the challenges you might face.
The difficulty
there is the people in that role that salespeople are talking
to, are engaged in an active sales conversation and that’s
kind of a high pressured, salespeople are not very adept,
I think, at cultivating that and sales calls
aren’t the best environments for getting candid,
let’s say thoughtful feedback about do you understand my message?
And so I know that you’re doing some of this on behalf of a couple
brands out there, right?
So you’re actually going to
you’re going out and seeking specific feedback to understand the pain,
you know,. So are you doing like in-depth interviews
with people that kind of match the ICP or what are you doing?
That’s exactly right.
So it was something that I had never applied to a sales
situation, you know, true research, true market research.
I knew of it and as a non marketer
didn’t have a chance to to play around with that as emotion very often.
But I never thought of applying that to sales because it felt very heavy.
There are ways to do research
where I can find people that are in your role as CMO
and in a synchronous or asynchronous
way, engage them to do a couple of things.
One, first and foremost, describe,
make sure that they have the problem that I think I saw as a solution provider.
That’s first and foremost.. Do they have the problems?
If they have the problem, then I can start asking them a lot of questions about
what’s the
how do you think about this problem what are the approaches you’ve taken?
I can go so far as to ask them,. Look at the way
I describe the solution and tell me what you think.
So it’s kind of it’s a modern
take, let’s say, on a classic market research motion,
but it’s applied, we’re applying that,. I wanted to apply that directly to the
in the sales process because as you know,
it takes us a quarter to process
a bunch of leads and prospects
and get data back and to say, hey, our message isn’t resonating or
we’re off on
what we thought were the three priorities,
waiting a quarter to get that data is way too long.
And I think we can what my hope is, is. I can shorten that cycle
by engaging ICP’s that are not prospects.
They’re not,. I’m not prospecting them per se.
I’m learning from them.
I’m trying to find somebody who struggles with the challenges you face.
Chip, as a CMO and better understand what challenges CMOs face
so I can be more credible and more aligned to what it is you need.
Justin, you know what it reminds me of?
It reminds me of the Donald Miller Story. Brand Methodology
where the customer is the hero, right?
So he’s sort of the Luke Skywalker and you as the salesperson
are the guide or like you’re the Yoda, basically, right?
And you’re trying to make them the hero.
You try to understand their problem, you’re trying to lead them towards a
And you know, with that said, you know, when you’re talking to an ICP,
it may not be the exact individual,
so there might be some difference in the pain potentially.
You know, it’s enough direction that it can get you started,
you know, to ideate or at least ask some discovery questions.
Are you experiencing this based on my experience
in this industry or in your role you might be experiencing this?
Is that what you’re seeing?
And so it’s it’s a good chance to get a good clarifying question.
I assume.
You know, one of the things that we talked about is ICP is a bell curve, right?
So nobody is going to be perfect on there.
There’s going to be some better fits, some worse fits,
you know, that are kind of on the margin.
But how do you think about, you know, being able to get alignment
between sales and marketing around ICP and that pain?
Yeah,. I think I loved your characterization,
we talked last time about that. Bell Curves.
I think it’s not a single signal
of who fits or who has these challenges because as we know, when we sell,
there’s multiple roles in these organizations
that are associated with this solving this problem.
So they have a different perspective, each of them.
I think the same challenge applies to marketers.
They share when you think about go to market
as like a combination of those two roles, they share the same challenges,
which is one, what are the ways we want to describe
the problem and the solution, and it’s matching solution in the most effective,
shortest, simplest way
that conveys the value and conveys that we understand.
So any insights from people who represent the audience that were
that were attempting to go after that. I think is valuable.
And I think the cycle time,
the thing that I was intrigued by about this research
loop that we kind of call it a research loop, is it can be incredibly precise.
We can ask someone three questions
and get an answer back and kind of ten days is less than ten days.
So it’s a really kind of quick, lightweight way
to confirm what you think you believe is the number one priority.
So what are those questions, Justin?
It sounds like you’ve tested them out a bit.
What are those questions?
Yeah, I think the first thing is orient yourself around
how important is this problem in the constellation of problems you face?
Because I want to know if I’m the fifth problem on your list
or the second because I may take a different approach.
I may take more of an educational approach if this is something down your list.
So that’s first, orient around the problem.
I think the second is it’s going to sound really simple, but what is the language
that you use to describe this?
And I think that almost sounds like no, no, duh.
But I think we invent our own language.
We you know, sales is bad at this, too.
We come up with all kinds of ways to say things.
And it may not match with it just simply may not match with
how you think about your problem, how you describe it.
So if the language in your messaging
or my message to you is 20% off or you know it’s off, then
it doesn’t resonate as well.
It’s not it doesn’t sound like I understand.
So those are two areas that come right off the top.
And then you get very specific, which is,
look at what I prioritize as the three ways to solve this.
Do you agree and am I missing anything?
And that’s a question that we love to say we answer in sales.
Do you understand the way I describe this problem?
I would love to admit that,. I would love to,
I would love to say that salespeople do that.
I would love to say I did it all the time.
We don’t do that.
We’re pressing as salespeople.
We we don’t listen as much as we should, we’re pressing.
That’s kind of our responsibility.
It’s a poor excuse, but it is a reason.
I love the third question, because it kind of leaves it a little bit
open ended for them to kind of explore the edges of their pain.
Right. Here’s what else we need to think about.
And I’m sure there’s like a huge discovery aha moment
that happens in almost every conversation you have.
Yeah, it is. It’s fantastic. And,
there’s a lot of people
willing to give a lot of thoughtful feedback
to these problems right there in the middle of the problem they own.
They have the problem and they share their opinions on it.
Now, it’s not
the be all, end all source of how to build your marketing plan.
But it’s very informative to reps who in the absence of this
I go back to where’d you go to school,. Chip kind of thing.
And it’s just it’s a little thin, to be honest.
And it also creates a pernicious other effect,
which is if I’m selling technology and I don’t have a lot to say to you,
my default is to let me show you some, let me show you some features.
Let me show you what we got.
And I think that’s kind of a default mode that a lot of salespeople kind
of accidentally trip into because I don’t have enough of meaning to share with you.
Yeah, it makes sense.
And that
might have been a tactic from 2001 maybe, but it’s no longer super effective.
Feature selling is not the way to go.
And so but you kind of put your finger on the challenge,
I think for a lot of sales organizations and a lot of sales leaders is
how can you ensure that their reps activate this in the field?
If, if you believe, and anecdotally,. I do believe it,
I’ve just I’ve seen it over and over again, which is the window
is literally 15 or 20 minutes before I get on the phone with you
like that’s, I really do believe that.
There’s probably
plenty of exceptions to that rule, but I think it’s a pretty good guess.
What could you
possibly put in front of a sales rep
to have something come out of their mouth
that would make sense and, you know,
convey some understanding.
It is not them thinking that they’re going to quickly page
through a 50 slide deck deck of ICP background and pull something out.
They’re not going to pull a research paper
with 35 pages in it out and find some jewel.
They’re going to
look at their prior deals,. They’re going to look at Slack.
They’re going to look at things like that.
So I think the mechanism is. I need to collect the right data.
I need to analyze that enough to pull out the insights.
And I need to present that in a way that a rep can look at it,
just like they’re looking at Slack.
In fact, pinning it to Slack would be great.
I think while these while the ICP alignment changes over time,
it doesn’t change overnight. Probably. So
it’s pretty
consistent for a period of time depending on the circumstances.
But you got to get it into a form that is summarized,
you know, some bulletized things which is here are the three personas,
here are the major points, here’s three quotes from each of them.
We go so far as I want
to put the 30 second video clip of you saying, I don’t understand
why people prioritize these features when these features are more important.
be a great talking point if I got on the phone later
with somebody in your same role and said
I’ve had people say these are higher priorities than these other things.
What do you, how do you prioritize?
It’s just it’s more engaging.
It’s more meaningful to you if I’m talking to you.
I mean, that’s the tough thing,. I think, in all of sales, right?
Because there’s probably, you know, some of the top salespeople out there
do this kind of thing naturally, Right.
Without even thinking about it.
It’s sort of the unconscious competence,. Right.
Versus you as a leader trying to operationalize this skill,
which is it’s truly a learned skill probably that the in
a lot of people don’t even realize if they’re good at it, that they’re doing.
It’s just part of their process. And so
it’s super interesting, you know.
So do you have any final thoughts you want to share with us, Justin?
I got to believe there are there are ways to marry some of the
techniques that Chip you’ve used as a marketer, and namely, research.
You started with that.
Marry that and, you know, move that
more into the sales motion,
where we’re running at a higher speed, we’re running at a higher volume.
We can use some of that technique, some of those marketing
research techniques, if they can be lightweight enough
and precise enough, which, you know,. I’ve definitely found a way to do that
and insert that into the sales motion so we don’t have to wait
as long to figure out that we’re not saying the right things.
And I think that’s what
I’m most interested in helping people try to do.
And, you know, it’s a challenge because there’s a lot of moving parts
in all of that.
Yeah, well,. I love your unique insights about this.
Justin, and thanks so much for joining the show.
Of course. Thank you for having me.
Yeah, it was phenomenal to have you.
And thanks to all of you for joining us on this week’s episode of Closing Time.
And we’ll see you next time.

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