Abraham Lincoln said if he had six hours to chop down a tree, he’d “spend the first four hours sharpening the saw”.Zig Ziglar says, “You can’t be too busy chopping wood to sharpen the axe”.Tom Peters, while at McKinsey and Company, said “we prepared one hour for each one minute of anticipated meeting time with a prospect”. (30 minute meeting, 30 hours of pay)Today, sales people have more opportunity than ever to prepare for their sales calls. Yet over and over I see sales people arrive on the call without as much preparation as possible. Technology, social media and the glut of general information available allows us to be very prepared for every call.When we are calling on a new prospect, we should know everything we possibly can. You never know when some bit of information will help you communicate more effectively.Many companies I’ve been associated with lately have had a great deal of success with LinkedIn. This source of information gives you information about your prospect, their co-workers, their supervisors, their circle of influence and even details of your prospects performance. If you aren’t using this resource, you are still living in the 20th century.Of course it goes without saying you should use Facebook and Google. We make it a policy to google every prospect before we go on the call. I was shocked recently when a sales person called on me and knew nothing about me and very little about my company.Facebook and Google can give you details of prosepcts’ personal life and professional information. You can also get company information by googling the company too. Every bit of information is helpful.Can you believe sales people go on calls without even looking at the prospects web-site? The web-site should be the first stop in your information gathering journey. It is not a bad idea to print a few pages of the web-site and also look at your prospects competitors web-sites. Knowing about your prospects industry and competitors is always a great idea.Other ideas are to look at industry web-sites, association web-sites and general information web-sites like Hoovers. Hoovers gives you proprietary company profiles and industry information. Another source is Dunn & Bradstreet. It gives credit & vendor information that can be helpful. Finally, try Standard & Poors if the company you’re calling on is public.Now, you have all this information, how do you use it? I may be old fashion, but I still keep a paper file on each prospect as I begin the sales process. I am informed and it’s easy to start a conversation about their business. I dare say, if you do your homework, you will know more than some of your prospects employees do about their company.Furthermore, if you believe (as I do) that a salesperson’s primary job is to find or create a need then this goes a long way towards helping you find or create a need. It also allows you to separate yourself from other sales people that don’t do their homework. We’re all looking for ways to look better than our competition. This preparation allows us to show our prospect we’re serious about their business.Remember, the common denominator of success. “Successful people form the habit of doing the things that successful people don’t want to do or know how to do.” Now, you know how.