Five Steps to a Successful Sales Meeting

Blog74a_5Steps_SuccessfulSalesMeeting-1You finally got the meeting!    Now what?

It’s hard to get a meeting with a prospect, especially under favorable conditions. Even more difficult is holding a meaningful conversation that leads to a second meeting.

According to CSO Insights, 53 percent of sales organizations report fewer than half of first meetings ever turn into second meetings. That means you are constantly in the cold market. How exhausting. So why does this occur?  Simple. Poor positioning and prospect sees no value in what you provide. Nearly one-third of buyers claim providers fail to convince them of what value to expect.

Digging deeper, the circumstances under which the meeting was set, as well as the prospect’s original expectations can trigger success or failure.  If you set the meeting, odds are that you used something creative to get the prospect interested in the first place, something that might not have been on his or her radar screen. When you offer a “Valid Business Reason” for the meeting, you set the stage for an effective meeting and the results you seek.

Bring value to your first meeting by following these five essential steps:

1. Bring Your Credibility

Trust is a key element in selling. Because different people will trust you for different reasons, it’s useful to understand the common elements of credibility. There may be dozens of these reasons influencing any given selling situation, but we can break them down into four basic areas:

  • your experience

  • your knowledge

  • your presentation of yourself

  • your association with the prospect

First, the prospect wants to know how experienced you are. When you’re a twenty-year veteran in your field that goes a long way. Even though you haven’t sold the prospect a solution yet, you may still earn her respect with your knowledge. Do your homework. Understand their business and its issues, down to an operational level, if possible.

How you present yourself, not your products, is what creates that critical first impression. And you rarely get a second change to make a first impression. So dress, physical stance, language, voice all factor in when prospects size you up. The prospect my not know you from Adam. But if she knows your company, if she knows about you from one of your other clients, or if she knows about you from friends, or other trusted advisors she trusts, you may earn trust upfront.

According to 2009 Sales Benchmark Report, 79 percent of buyers chose their provider based on a colleague referral; 75 percent because of a referral from another service provider. Trust will get you in the door, but it has to be continuously earned.

2. Review Your Valid Business Reason

Before you walk into a meeting, ask yourself “What is the reason this person has agreed to meet with me?”  Then, get extremely clear on the answer. I don’t mean your reason; I mean your prospect’s reason for agreeing to meet with you. Whenever a person agrees to meet with you, he takes time out of his busy schedule that could be better spent on other priorities.

I’ve seen many meetings go awry when buyers don’t know why they’re there—or think they’re there for different reasons. Suddenly, a deadening silence falls over the room. This scenario can quickly derail the meeting. Setting the purpose of the meeting sounds obvious enough, yet most sales people don’t do a good job of it. Instead of giving a client sound business reason for investing time with them, they focus on their own agenda, the product pitch, or nonproductive social calls and lunch dates. As a result, the sales process falters or stalls. Kick off that meeting with your valid business reason.

3. Ask Questions:  Know What You Need From the Meeting

Since good selling means searching for a fit between your solution and the prospect’s vision for a solution, your approach on the sales call should be that of an interviewer—a specialist in the art of asking questions.

In our Conceptual Selling® workshops, we define five types of questions that should be asked in every sales call interview.  Each type is designed to elicit a unique and specific kind of information. Each type is phrased in a specific manner, using distinctive key words. And as you put the five types of questions together into an effective interviewing process, you should also give some attention to their sequence.

You will find it useful to begin with a meeting plan. Identify your objective and the valid business reason you’ll share with the prospect to set the meeting. Then plan for the interview with these five types of questions:

  1. Confirmation Questions
    This confirms information to be gathered:

    “Do you still have 300 employees?” or “Are you still having the issue with your pension plan?”

    The answer usually offers a yes or no response. While we want information confirmed, we also want prospect to participate in a dialogue.

  1. New Information Questions
    This type of question secures the information I am lacking:

    “What is your decision making process for this solution, and who will be making the final decision?” or “Can you explain to me how your current program works?”

    It is important to follow this sequence and use these questions to get information. The phasing will open up a broader discussion and encourage the prospect to talk more.

  1. Attitude Questions
    This type of question probes for emotional attitudes that could influence the sale:

    “How do you feel about making changes to you pension plan?” or “How do you personally feel about my proposal for making these changes?”

    Most sales people shy away from these questions because they seem too personal. But it’s the only way you can understand how each decision maker wins personally with your proposal.

  1. Commitment Questions
    This type of question helps you involve the prospect in your sales process:

    Rather than leave the meeting with you doing the work, get them involved in doing something to show their commitment. When I learned how to secure a commitment through Conceptual Selling, it was a major game changer for me personally.

    “Based on what we discussed today, can you send me a copy of your plan documents by next Tuesday?” or “Can we arrange a meeting for next Tuesday to include your CFO?”

  1. Basic Issue Questions
    This type of question narrows down issues that are beyond typical objections and could result in the loss of a sale:

    Say you sense the prospect has an agenda and will try to derail your sale― “I sense some hesitation in wanting to continue our discussion on solving the issues with your pension plan. I am puzzled why you don’t feel this is a good solution, can you explain?”

    Simply put, this question places the issue squarely on the table.

4. Uncover the Decision Makers for Your Solution

As we discussed above, we need to uncover information that will be helpful in connecting our solution to the prospect’s needs. One of the critical pieces of information in your quest—how the decision is made, and who signs off on the final recommendation.

Too many sales people assume they know. As a result, they meet with and spend valuable selling time with people who can’t make a decision. You must understand the characteristics of how decisions are reached within the prospect organization and who participates in order to build your sales strategy. I know this sounds obvious. But again, you’d be surprised how many salespeople jump in feet first.

Recently I asked the head of human resources in a prospective client company, “If you like my solution, who will have the final say in approving it?” He said, “I do.” Knowing he wasn’t the final decision maker, or at least I assumed he wasn’t, I then asked. “Once you make the final decision, who could veto the decision?” He said, “My boss, the CFO.”

Besides knowing who could influence the sale, determine what your solution means to each of those influencers on a personal level. At this point, good attitude questions pay off. In one of my workshops, an insurance sales organization was trying to put in a payroll-deduction program. The head of payroll, the person to administer the payroll deductions, was an unknown obstacle. Find these human obstacles on your path to the sale, and then see what you can do to allay their concerns.

5. Get Your Prospect Involved in the Sales Process

Assume your meeting is going well. Before you finish, set up a concrete next step that advances you toward the sale. Too many salespeople leave a seemingly successful meeting without a next step. Or worse, they leave weighted down by all the work on their shoulders. Not wanting to lose a good situation, they hesitate to ask anything of the prospect; it may signal to the prospect the close has begun.

Please don’t ever end a sales call without getting from the prospect a specific kind of promise to act. In our Conceptual Selling® workshops, we call them Action Commitments. By the prospect committing to an action, he or she demonstrates belief in a win-win relationship.

Asking the prospect to do something on their end, and with a time frame, demonstrates commitment to continue the sales process on their end. This seems eminently logical once you spell it out, but it’s amazing how rarely it is done in practice. If you want to close more opportunities faster, adopt this tactic into your meeting plans.

Ask for something reasonable given your stage in the process. This ask may take the form of key data, a copy of a document, permission to set up a demo, agreement to a second meeting, or agreement to schedule a call with other decision makers or advisors. Think Nike. Just do it.

When you follow these five steps to a successful sales meeting, you build valuable relationships, real pipeline opportunities, and set the table for lasting collaboration. Best of all, you move closer to winning the sale. Now, who wouldn’t want that?

See you on the upside, Bill

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