I have been participating in a "sales training" program. One of the key tenets is to make sure that rather than "selling" you first always try to understand the "pain" of the person you are trying to help - what makes them frustrated, angry, disappointed, concerned, or keeps them awake at night.
On the other hand, I'm still astonished in this easy-information era at how sellers (myself included) make calls without doing due diligence on who they are calling so that they have relevant conversations, ask questions close to the "pain", and have key facts about the industry, company, person.
The wrong way: Headhunter staff make up to 120 calls/day (< 4 minutes/call and prep for same!)....I've recently disconnected on several who haven't read my CV on line or my Linkedin profile. Told them to call me back when they had. When I lived the corporate world, I received an endless set of calls from information vendors and consultants trying to sell me things I didn't need. I usually handled it by describing specific problems I was working on, asking them to demonstrate how their product or service would help me with that, and how it was better or different from what I was already using. Most couldn't and didn't know respectively. Even ones dedicated to my industry. Short conversations!
You have to ultimately and early on bring to the table the honest admission that you really don't know if/how you can help them though your 45 second pitch will likely include the fact that you often help companies/clients who are feeling pain over x,y,z. Kill the slides. Inquire. Listen. Empathize.
The theory is that none of the following will help you if you don't find the pain. I see truth here, but am with-holding judgment believing that CI is always helpful in engaging highly desired customers.
Your advance CI can help by prepping you to understand (listen to) the context more accurately ahead of time.
1) Have you been to their web site and read it "cover to cover"
2) Have you researched macro trends in their industry from industry pubs, research on industry association web sites, Department of Commerce reports, Bureau of Labor Statistics data on their part of the economy
3) If large enough have you listened to their latest updates to Wall Street (slides, audio, and esp. Q&A)
4) Have you looked up significant profiles on Linkedin, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
5) Have you tracked their recent press releases, strategy changes, exec changes, results announcements...not just national, but very local press
6) Are their people in their networks you also know and can touch base with ahead of time
7) If it's a small business have you mapped out who their competition is on Yellow Pages, Whitepages.com or equivalent.
8) Are their customers or consumers ones you can easily touch base with (mall intercept, SurveyMonkey)
9) Read some case studies about their industry to fill in the blanks on key dynamics.
There are numerous collections of these on-line.
10) Etc, etc.
Are you close to your selling and business development organizations if you are a CI professional? Shouldn't you be? (esp. in this economy where it's often about market share not growing markets).