Google Alerts for Companies, AI and Other Basic B2B Sales Research

Ed Marsh | Mar 15, 2024

Tl;dr—Tactical excellence in sales requires research and awareness. Too many reps cut corners on research to maximize volume or because they lack awareness. Numerous free and low-cost research tools, from Google Alerts for Companies to paid AI LLMs, are available. Let's look at the tools and how to use them for maximum sales benefit.

Blocking & Tackling in B2B Industrial Sales

Industrial sales reps must be held accountable for certain levels of prospecting and agreed standards for lead follow-up.

Even great reps....although they'll hold themselves accountable.

There are two debates about this.

First, the "our industry is different" mindset argues that cold calling won't work, email outreach is fruitless, referrals are limited because of competitive caution, etc. In that world, new logo business only comes from inquiries at trade shows and online.

This is a load of crap.

Yes, even in your industry. Prospecting works when it's done well and consistently. It's an essential building block of revenue growth.

Second is the debate regarding quantity vs. quality. Is it about "dialing for dollars"? Or instead carefully researching every prospect for an individualized outreach? This is actually related to the first, and I hear it most commonly among people who believe that prospecting doesn't work for their industry. 

This is a false binary. "Spray and pray" prospecting that calls and emails indiscriminately to hit arbitrary activity numbers is ineffective and counterproductive. Technique, email templates, call scripts, tone of voice, pacing, and messaging all matter. This applies whether you're using a dialer to hit 500 calls/day or your target market is only 500 companies.

The alternative is cast as a process of great deliberation, deep research, and fully enriched and personalized outreach. Perfection being unattainable, excuses lack of action. There's often no prospecting.

The reality is that we need to prospect effectively as one approach to business development. Trade shows, purchased media, content marketing, PR, and other tools in an integrated revenue growth program (like the Overall Revenue Effectiveness™ Framework) are all necessary. To succeed today, companies need to do everything.

So, finding the sweet spot along that continuum of volume vs. personalized perfection in prospecting is an important business goal.

The good news is that creative companies and sales reps are using various passive and active research tools and techniques to conduct detailed and expansive prospect research very efficiently. 

This is quickly becoming a differentiator.

Setting an Appropriate Tone with Prospects

industrial sales reps should use various research tools for effective buyer research. this includes google alerts for companies, ai and other toolsWe'll talk about various AI tools, but let's start with something really powerful but basic. Google Alerts for companies, contacts, and topics aren't new. The method has been available for years and takes no money and virtually no time to set up and monitor. It may seem like a mundane and incredibly granular topic - but it's a perfect fulcrum for us to pry open the issues of better sales management, and execution, as well as marketing and sales integration and sales enablement.

Every rep should have Google Alerts set up for:

  • key contacts
  • target accounts
  • accounts with pending opportunities
  • current customers
  • industry topics of interest
  • competitors
  • qualified leads you're working

The premise of a Google Alert is to passively scan the web, monitoring for any new activity around your terms and notifying you when new activity is discovered. In some cases, you'll want immediate and detailed information. In others, a weekly digest will be adequate.

This helps in a couple of ways. First, it provides a flow of information that can be helpful. You'll stay ahead of industry trends, issues of importance to your buyers, and new developments. You'll curate much of this info, using it selectively to add value and relevance to interactions. Second, it provides triggers for activity. Perhaps you know that M&A activity creates a specific opportunity for you, so learning of a possible transaction with one of your target accounts would immediately prioritize that over others on your list.

You can create similar passive research screens with LinkedIn Sales Navigator around personnel changes. For instance, new hires in critical buying roles in accounts where competitive incumbents are thoroughly entrenched can signal an opportune time to focus outreach.

But why are Google Alerts and the other tools we'll explore important?

They make your outreach more effective, and they send a clear message. "I'm professional enough to care, to research, to not waste either of our time, and to contact you with a reasonable and relevant approach."

After all, what's a prospect to suspect about working with you if your initial outreach, when you'd likely strive to be at your best, is slipshod and irrelevant?

Let's look at everyday sales situations in which research increases effectiveness.

Basic Industrial Salesmanship

Outbound Prospecting That Works

Effective outbound prospecting resonates with the recipient. It incorporates details that indicate some familiarity. In most cases they signal that the rep is credible. In some cases they share information that might be unknown by the prospect and helpful to them personally and/or professionally.

Ultimately, the goal is to tie potential outcomes to priority issues in their current situation. Research can help uncover those priorities.

Lead Follow Up That Resonates

Companies invest significant money in generating leads from trade shows, inbound marketing, referrals, trade journal ads, etc.

A shocking number are never followed up on.

Simply making sure they're contacted (timeliness, number of attempts, quality of message, omnichannel) is an important first step. Check out my lead follow up audit if you're wondering how much you're leaving on the table!

But put yourself in the prospect's shoes. If the lead is from a trade show, they've missed several days in the office and are already buried. Then, multiple exhibitors follow up with similar, often inane messages. You need to do enough research to complement brief show conversations so that your outreach is meaningful and effective.

Inbound leads can be particularly frustrating since many never convert to meetings. It's important to recognize that many of these are pre-awareness (not opportunity leads and not interested in follow up) but others are active, until the form is submitted, the contact walks away, and other priorities overwhelm their interest.

Effective research can improve connect rates on leads.

Target Account Selection & Prioritization

What companies belong on your target account list? Which should be prioritized for outreach? When is the right time? What trigger events should influence that?

Establishing the parameters is an essential shared task of marketing and sales. But then identifying the accounts, stack ranking them, and monitoring for trigger conditions requires active and passive research.

Complex Sales Opportunity Management

Long sales cycle, big ticket, complex sales like capital equipment involve chaotic buyer journeys. Many circumstances beyond a sales rep's control can dramatically change the likelihood of advancing and closing a deal.

You'll miss key warnings and opportunities if you wait to learn of those through your primary contact. Instead, consistent research will help to identify threats and opportunities within ongoing opportunities, and provide a chance to adjust the pipeline, capitalize on events, and implement damage control proactively.

The B2B Sales Toolkit for Contact and Account Research

Enough theory. What tools belong in the complex sales toolkit?

First, a quick note: Industrial sales reps can do most of this on their own. Most involve no or only small expenditures. Group brainstorming and business planning can help inform the research, but a competent rep can begin immediately.

Lead Databases

More on sales lead databases here. Reps need access to emails and mobile numbers, and contacts to round out the buying team. 

LinkedIn and LinkedIn Sales Navigator

Basic research on prospect contacts (professional and educational history, recent posts/current topics of interest) and mutual contacts are quickly ascertained via LinkedIn.

Mapping the buying team, monitoring changes in crucial buying roles, and noting relevant changes in leadership and management are all easily done via Sales Navigator. Further activity alerts provide an efficient way to engage with prospects around their posting activity.

Don't overlook advanced search using boolean operators and LinkedIn database features. For instance, you can use LinkedIn search to find specific instances of certain job titles from certain company profiles using specific key terms. You'll need to experiment and build a schedule (perhaps once per week) when you run a set of advanced searches.

Google Alerts for Companies, Contacts, Topics, Industries

As discussed above, these are basically "set and forget" passive monitoring research tools. They should be updated as customer, opportunity, and lead lists change. It's vital to track a range of alerts for companies, specific individuals, job title + company combos, industry topics, and strategic topics for specific accounts.

In some cases, simple alerts are adequate. But don't overlook the power of boolean operators and Google search operators in building alerts. Simple examples include specific terms only on a specific website or combinations of search terms.

SearchEngineJournal offers a helpful guide here. While it's focused on marketing, the sales applications should be obvious.

Google Trends and Google Patent Search can also provide interesting angles for information and outreach.

Intent Data

Intent data broadly is information that indicates someone is interested in a topic, product, service, competitor, or business problem. The goal is to understand which of those are most likely to indicate that, therefore, they are actively or potentially in market for what you sell. More on intent data here.

That's what we're doing with tools discussed above.

There are third-party intent data providers (don't skip due diligence—there's a lot of smoke and mirrors) that will feed you a stream of signals that they collect from sources that may not be available to you. This is passive research, like Google Alerts for Companies, that will help you react to certain circumstances.

Partners, Sales Channel, Partnership Ecosystem

As industrial sales starts to reembrace sales channel (after an initial disintermediation trend early in the evolution of the internet), that creates research opportunities. Collaborating with partners, resellers, and companies with adjacent focus, helps to identify prospects efficiently, as well as how to most effectively reach them.

That's the premise of the Nearbound movement.

Conversations built on relationships (even informal rep-to-rep) can help, and technology that anonymously matches your prospect and customer databases (like Reveal) to partners automates and refines the process.

And, of course, AI

I'm consistently surprised by the number of leaders, managers, and reps in mid-size industrial manufacturing businesses who aren't even aware of AI capabilities, much less using it for research. (There's a lot of use for creating crappy email content, but not research.)

If you haven't started experimenting, here's an important bit of context.

This is different from traditional search, which required you to experiment with the search query, review results, dig into relevant results, spend time digesting the information, and then aggregate the highlights of information from various sources into your own consolidated recap. That was time-consuming.

AI can do that entire process for you. It's like a research assistant, personal assistant, or intern on call.

Now, there are considerations.

  • AI can produce "hallucinations" or made-up data.
  • Structuring the "prompts" or queries requires thought and experimentation. They are often much more extensive than normal Google search queries. Effective prompts provide context, including who you are, why you want the information, how you'll use it, what format you want it delivered in, and other details. 
  • There are many different tools available, each with different levels of service (free, paid) and each evolving very quickly. 

It's going to take work to get good at it, and different approaches will be needed depending on your purpose.

You can use AI to create target account lists that meet certain criteria; to develop biographical info on a prospect you'll reach out to; or to research company priorities and performance to identify effective angles of outreach.

One really interesting example for capital equipment manufacturers is using AI to research shareholder communications to mine them for insights into capital investment plans. There's an example below in John Barrows' conversation with Ryan Barretto, and this paper explores the application of those insights to investment decisions (based on an inverse correlation between capital investment and stock performance.) The concept could be applied to prospecting for companies with plans to invest. Combine that with other prompts that generate lists of companies with plant expansion, greenfield project, product line extension and similar plans, and you potentially create a matrix of fruitful targets.

Reps can then take that list, use LI Sales Navigator to map the likely buying team, and more LLM (the large language models upon which artificial intelligence is built) prompts to help construct the optimal understanding of each company's strategic priorities and desired outcomes to inform the prospecting outreach. (Marketing should be involved here to support the efforts from an ABM - Account Based Marketing - perspective.)

What tools work best here?

This answer will be outdated as soon as it's published. What I find currently compelling for research includes:

  • ChatGPT (I have the paid subscription)
  • - this helps to guard against hallucinations since it provides source data references for the aggregate answer
  • Bing chat - seems to capture the most up-to-date web info
  • - if you're selling technical products to technical buyers, papers may provide context for your pitch, or, if written by your prospect, context for how you personalize

Note that most require registration. That's different than requiring a paid subscription. Subscription may make sense, but don't shy away from registering.

The priority is to start experimenting - with tools, prompts, and outputs - to improve your technique and start to find what works best.

Marketing Sales Enablement

Great sales reps will figure out how to build many of these capabilities independently. Some, however, require company investment and configuration that generally falls to marketing.

All will benefit from thoughtful collaboration. Structuring the best boolean searches and writing the most effective AI research prompts is a process of experimentation and refinement. Some folks will have more natural curiosity and ability. Companies need to create a knowledge management and sharing framework that incorporates the toolkit and marketing skill set to support the sales efforts.

This will take management emphasis and participation.

Don't leave it to chance.

Practical Implementation

To wrap up and make the conversation practical, here are a couple of informative conversations that John Barrows has had recently that talk about how reps can use AI in their sales efforts.