How to Use a 10-K Report to Find Gold and Make More Sales


If you’ve yet to add the 10-K to your sales arsenal, you’re missing out.

A 10-K is a document filed annually by public companies that outlines their financial performance. This report is more detailed than an annual report and is required by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

It’s all there. Financial reports, mergers, acquisitions, risks, deals, and more. And for that reason, it might just be your most valuable research tool.

Below, I dive into the four main areas of a 10-K and how you can read and use each one to your advantage.

1. Business Section

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sales over the years, it’s this — it’s a front-loaded effort.

The work that you put in upfront will pay off in the long run.

Early in my sales career, I was more of an in the moment sales professional. I assumed that knowledge of my product and a prospect list was all I needed to succeed.

But as the years went by, I came to find that the more I knew about the customer, their situation, and their people, the easier it was to sell to them.

That’s where the business section of a 10-K comes into play.

Knowledge is power, and that’s exactly what you get when you carefully review this section.

I like to think of it as the distilled version of what a company does. It’s super concise, direct, and it focuses on the foundation on which the company is built.

A white paper or company’s about page won’t give you nearly as much useful information as the business section of a 10-K.

It’ll help you answer questions such as:

  • What does the company do?
  • Do you have any customers like them?
  • What industry or industries are they a part of?
  • How many business units does it have?

Once you have this information, you can put yourself in position for success by identifying where you fit into their strategy.

2. Risk Factors

There’s no such thing as a company with no risk. And that’s especially true of public companies that are in the spotlight.

Fortunately, you don’t have to guess as to the risk factors associated with a particular company.

Companies don’t normally like to talk about risks, but the SEC requires that every company filing a 10-K includes a section on risk factors. And for that reason, you can gain insight into the company’s primary concerns, which may lead you to the perfect solution for them.

As you work this into the sales process, consider who you’re speaking with. An executive? Middle management? Someone who understands the finer details of the problem?

Once you know your audience, you know what they can cover. And when you know what they can cover, you know which approach to take.

Start with a basic question regarding the risk factor to get the ball rolling. As you proceed, focus on questions that land and quickly move past those that don’t have the potential to move the conversation forward.

This person may not be the decision-maker, but every question you ask and every conversation you have will move you closer to the person who has the power to make decisions that address the risk factors included in the 10-K.

3. Management Discussion

Yes, this section is long. And no, you won’t understand everything. However, don’t make the mistake of passing over this section because of its size. This is where you’ll learn more about how the management team thinks, which is invaluable to a salesperson.

Review this section with the idea of answering questions such as:

  • What’s happening in the company’s industry?
  • What approach is the company taking to stay relevant?
  • How does the company stack up against the competition?
  • How is the company performing as compared to projections?

The management team won’t include everything in this section, as there are things they don’t want to share with customers and competitors, but it will include a thorough breakdown of what the executive team wants the public to know.

I urge you to overcome the wall of text and carefully move through every line of the management discussion.

When you know what the management team is thinking, you can craft your sales pitch to appeal to those decision makers.

4. Financial Statements and Analyst Calls

Knowing the company’s financial condition provides insight into how they do business, their stability, and their willingness to invest in new products and services. This is vital to identifying strong opportunities.

You don’t want to waste too much time on the complex numbers in a 10-K, but they definitely deserve a strong look.

If you really want to find relevant numbers, spend some time reviewing analyst calls.

These calls are my go-to because this is where you’ll find numbers regarding the revenue for each business unit.

You can find some of this information within the financial statements, but for more detailed numbers, it’s the analyst calls that’ll satisfy you.

Get into the habit of listening to as many analyst calls as time allows. Combine this information with what you find in the 10-K, and use all of it to improve your sales strategy.

Take, for example, a company that’s showing strong growth within the business unit you want to target. Cash flow and revenue are on the rise, giving you a reason to believe they have money to spend on new products and services.

You don’t know what’ll happen until you reach out, but you can be confident that you’re chasing a qualified lead.

Keep Digging, and You’ll Find Gold

All 10-Ks are structured the same way, but not all 10-Ks are created equal.

Some of them use a lot of words to say virtually nothing, but others are packed full of useful information.

Put in the work to dig through them, and you’ll eventually find gold.

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