The Power of Meeting Plans to Boost Closing Rates

Blog80_PowerofMtgPlans1-1You’ve heard or read these declarations from me a hundred times:  1) Prospects don’t buy products or services per se; they buy what those products and services can do to solve their problems or eliminate their issues; 2) Even though we know not to lead with our products or services, we tend to do without thinking―two reasons why prospects stall the sale.

Ever have a great meeting with lots of positive conversation only to watch the prospect fade away for reasons you can’t explain?  You see the issues and challenges facing him, and you’re even able to quantify the ROI that your product or service will bring, however, no decision is made.

Recently while working with a group of successful sales reps, I asked “why do you lose sales opportunities?”  Listen closely to what they say.

If you listen carefully you’ll hear, “the lack of critical information missing,” . . . “prospect doesn’t see the same urgency as you do,” . . . “your solution becomes too complex for the prospect,” and “other people, like advisors or other decision makers, influence the sale.”  All examples of common reasons why sales stall.

To be more successful with prospects, you must plan for more effective meetings. Watch the discussion below of field practices.

Most good advisors and salespeople are somewhat organized for their prospect meetings. They set up agendas, prepare the right information to discuss the prospect’s issues, and how the product or service matches. You cannot imagine how even small, subtle incremental improvements in meeting preparation can pump up closing ratios.

Let’s review a few valuable techniques we find improves the closing climate of prospect meetings.

“Uh, Why Are We Meeting?”

You arrive at your meeting, pull up a chair when the prospect asks, “Uh . . .why are we meeting today?”  His face tightens and your jaw drops. It’s about the worst question in sales.

You forgot to establish―and communicate—your “single sales objective” around a “valid business reason” for establishing the meeting. This effort enables you to key in on consistent language each and every time you connect to your prospect. You both know where you’re headed. Prospect calls come in all shades of connection. Some are social. Some advance long-term relationships. Some are fact-finding. Most aim to land a specific piece of business.  When the objective is to sell new business, you better be prepared.

Over the years, my sales teams confused “busyness” with getting results. As long as they were out in the field doing something, all would be okay at the home office, or so they thought. One thing they eventually learned from their Conceptual Selling® training was the pivotal need for a “single sales objective” specific to what they were trying to sell to that prospect.

This situation may seem obvious to most, but don’t make the mistake of underestimating it. You really must define what you intend to sell, how much you intend to sell, and by when. This definition is your power of intention, your goal for your sales process, and you need to make it specific. In a wrong-headed attempt to cut to the chase, salespeople try to sell too many solutions at once, hoping one will stick.

“What Does the Prospect Want from this Meeting?”

In my blogging, I’ve continually emphasized that people buy for their own reasons. For a prospect to take valuable time out of her day to meet you, there must be a valid business reason established for why take the meeting. Calling a prospect up and inviting her to a luncheon meeting to discuss how your firm might be able to help is not specific enough. Many times you have an idea of what you would like to sell, however, initially; the prospect can’t see the connection between her issues and your products and services. Listen to how you make that connection.

In my last blog , I discussed the use of triggering events to stimulate discussion and establish a valid business reason to meet. This information will be helpful and worth a quick review.

Blog80_PowerofMtgPlans1-2Define the Prospect’s Vision for a Solution

As conveyed in the video, a common reason for sales opportunities to stall is that the prospect doesn’t see your solution as clearly as you do. Most salespeople define the issue and bring up their solution too quickly in the discussion. They sell too fast. That’s why, in every prospect interaction, you can’t make assumptions about what the prospect is thinking. Until you know what the prospect is buying, you can’t make viable recommendations for the solution.

An effective meeting plan helps you organize the meeting around clarifying the issues, and then helping the prospect shape his vision of the solution. Remember, prospects never buy the product or service; they buy what it does for them.

The prospect vision for a solution stems from some discrepancy in his situation—what we call the value gap—usually a high priority and something they’re attempting to fix, accomplish or avoid.

Your job is to uncover this vision for the solution, and then connect your solution. Resist product or solution conversations until you can clearly articulate the prospect’s vision for the solution.

Missing Information

Top salespeople on the video claimed that pinning down missing information is a real challenge. Effective selling is the ability to engage in meaningful conversations that link your solution with the prospect’s issue. This is how you get your arms around their thinking and vision for your solution.

In my experience, smart advisors and salespeople excel in asking good questions, the questions behind the question, and pulling out the information needed. Good questioning allows you to identify clearly, and to qualify early in the selling process, not only the individual decision makers you deal with but also their company’s process for making a decision. It helps you get a handle at the outset on whether a given prospect is a good fit for your solutions.

Fill the information gap by doing your homework in advance. List out what you know and what information you need to know about the prospect situation to clarify objectives.

For example:

  • Who holds final decision-making authority over your solution?

  • Which person or persons in the organization will be most impacted by your solution?

  • How do they make decisions and who will get involved?

  • What other alternatives have they considered?

  • How big of an issue is this?

  • What does the ultimate solution look like to them?

Acknowledge that prospects often do not see your solution as clearly as you do. Good questioning will help you open up conversations around their issues and stimulate their own thinking on possible solutions.

So, in your meeting plan, write down what information you know and what information you need to know from the meeting. Then craft your questioning process with the goal to fill in your information gaps and verify what you already know.

Establish Your Credibility

For an effective meeting where you engage with the prospect openly and the discussion flows, he/she must trust you. It’s all about credibility. Here are three essential ways to bring upfront credibility to your meeting:

  1. The reputation of the person who referred you.

  2. Your associations with industry influencers that the prospect values.

  3. Your own reputation, knowledge and experience.

In your meeting plan, determine in advance how you will establish credibility; how you will determine if it exists with each buying influence; and how you will communicate it with authenticity. Trust is rarely achieved in one meeting. It takes time to earn lasting trust. By addressing “why trust” at the outset, you lay the right foundation for success.

What Do You Want the Prospect To Do?

Finally, get a commitment from the prospect to move the sales process forward. Too often, we follow-up great meetings by simply promising to deliver more proof that our products and services are ideal matches for the issues our prospects face. That’s treading, not swimming.

As an example, a financial planner may offer to run some additional tax calculations to prove her point on how her solution works.  An insurance agent may offer to provide the prospect with specific illustrations on their products, while the building contractor may offer to send samples of their work. These promises burn up lots of your resources without any commitment from the prospect.  It is too easy for the prospect to say, “Fine, send the samples.” Then nothing.

By securing a commitment from the prospect to take some type of action on his part, you move the process forward. And you know he holds genuine interest. This realization was the biggest game changer in my career and I learned it from Stephen Heiman long ago.

Instead of promising to send work samples, the building contractor can ask the prospect to take an afternoon next week to join him to visit recently completed projects. Once the prospect invests a quick hour on a site visit, you know he’s “in.” Conversely, if not interested, he won’t go but that precisely what you need to know at this stage. It’s part of the qualification process, only animated in real time.

Never leave a sales meeting without asking the prospect to do something on his end. Be specific and put a time limit on it. Example, “Can you send me a copy of your lease agreement by next Wednesday?

Net Takeaway – Write Your Meeting Plan

First, develop your dynamic meeting plan as your work through the following steps. At a minimum, start with a single sheet of paper and build a checklist to include these steps. Fill in the blanks as you go.

Do exhaustive research in advance of the initial prospect contact. What do you really know?

Be clear how you will establish your credibility.

Determine a valid business reason for approaching the prospect from her perspective.

Make certain your prospect knows why you’ve asked for the meeting.

Determine gaps in information; prepare to fill quickly; verify what you know to be true.

At the meeting, work together to define your prospect’s vision for a solution to his issue.

List possible next actions you want the prospect to take to ensure forward movement .

I encourage you to adapt this basic process to your own sales style as you go. Keep your meeting plan on your laptop or in a mobile application so you’re at the ready. Add to it as you learn new information. Just like a physical fitness plan to lose weight, build muscle, or bring your blood pressure in line, your meeting fitness plan will propel you to your goal of closing more business.

See you on the upside, Bill
Welcome your thoughts at [email protected]

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