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Why Salespeople Need to be Able to Read a Set of Company Accounts

By Tim Hughes | @Timothy_Hughes

After leaving university I joined a company called International Computers Ltd (ICL), which has long been absorbed into Fujitsu, on their graduate scheme.

Certainly changed my life.  They trained all their graduates on how to give a presentation, something that stuck with me for life.  They also did a week long “business” course.  For somebody like me that had come from a technical background (electrical and electronic engineering) this was a revelation. 

The course taught me two things that I used throughout my sales life and I certainly recommend you learn them too.

The first thing they taught me was how to read the Financial Times (FT), that funny orange paper they sell in the UK.  Not the front, but the back.  All those odd charts and indexes: What that means about a company; is it on the way up or the way down?  (As we know, people are just as likely to spend their way out of a problem, you just have to know!).

It was using this knowledge that I researched and sold my first £1.2m ($1.9m) order.

The second thing they taught me was to read a set of annual accounts.  This skill I’ve used countless times and has made me significant chunks of commission over the last 25 years.

History lesson

25 years ago, the internet was minor-interest topic. So the annual accounts were the only place you could find out about a company (and the summary data published in the FT newspaper).

(To understand how far we’ve moved on, these were also the days when if you wanted to buy something you called them up and three days later a brochure arrived.)

Back in the internet age

Fast forward to 2018.  There is now an abundance of data on a company on many apps. But for me, downloading the annual accounts is still critical to get a feel for a company from a strategic sales prospective.

Why do you need to do this?

A laziness has crept into sales, often perpetrated by “Cold calling Gurus”. Quality is sacrificed for quantity.  I’ve heard of companies where you need to make 100 cold calls and send 50 cold emails a day.  This is fine in a low value commodity market, but for the greater number of us, we need to make one call.  Throwing mud at the wall and hoping it will stick isn’t a strategy. It’s a road to nowhere.

The hot call

I’m the CEO of a company.  I was called last week about a super brilliant video feature for my website.  Simple answer, I have no budget (sales people never like hearing that).  The real answer is, I’m the CEO, I employ the best people in the world to look after my website. If they wanted video on it, they would come to me with a proposal and a business case.

By reading a set of accounts I can read the Chairman’s statement and get a view of the strategy of the company.  The accounts will also tell you what the company strategy is.  If the directors own shares (if the share price goes up, they make money).  How much debt the company has (the likelihood your company will get paid).  Or better still, maybe you can help them reduce that debt.

Getting meetings: first principles first

Everything you do in that account, from cold calling and cold emailing to getting that meeting needs to align with those documents and strategies – and how your solution can help them.  From answering RFPs, ITTs, to writing those cold emails or making those cold calls.

(NB:  Personal wins are still important, but this is about how you get those first meetings, not what you do at those meetings)

And the proof? Using social and the techniques above I contacted the CEO of a multi-billion multinational company on the Thursday. I had a meeting with him, his Marketing Director and head of PR the following Tuesday.  No cold call and no cold email. Just the right research and the latest smart social selling techniques. Don’t let anyone tell you it can’t be done!

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