Don’t Blow Your Initial Prospect Meeting—5 Smart Actions to Take
Recently I asked a group of top-performing sales people how they prepare for an effective prospect meeting. The group listed some good techniques, but few identified the number one must-do: Carving out a valid business reason for the prospect to see them in the first place.
The culprit? No meeting plan.
1. Anchor with Valid Business Reason
Your meeting plan begins with a strong opening by restating the purpose of the meeting (which you may have already done by phone) and offers what we refer to in Strategic Selling® as a valid business reason— why your prospect set aside valuable time to meet.
Ideally, the valid business reason weighs heavily on the prospect’s situation. It’s a high priority for their organization, and it zeros in on the prospect’s concerns, rather than on your products or services.
When you start off the meeting by restating the valid business reason, you clarify that it is still the key topic; if not, you have a chance to address the prospect’s situation as he now sees it.
Valid business reasons run the gamut. Let’s say, you uncovered a method to save the prospect manufacturing costs, or you created a cost-saving alternative to solve the prospect’s executive benefits program, or you identified a strategic partner who can open up new markets. Whichever the reason, use your valid business reason to anchor your meeting. Just be sure your prospect sees it as valid, too.
You’ll soon discover that the valid business reason plays a dual role: first, when you open the meeting, as we’ve just discussed, and when you close the meeting.
2. Cut the Personal Hype
Although you need to communicate who you are, why you’re qualified, and establish a basis for asking questions, it’s critical to stay focused on the prospect’s concerns, not your own needs.
That means no dog and pony show. No long-winded A to Z monologue about you. No Powerpoint, if you can avoid it.
In most cases, the prospect has already checked out your website, LinkedIn profile or asked others about you and your firm. When you focus exclusively on the prospect, it builds your credibility. He’s more receptive. He begins to experience trust.
As a courtesy, I have found it effective to establish how much time is allotted to the meeting by stating something like, “It is my understanding that we have one hour today, is that correct?”
You will find people appreciate respect their time. Better yet, tighten up the meeting and give him back 15 minutes, even more points.
3. Get Needed Information
A good meeting plan aims to gather as much information as needed (90%) and provide some time to demonstrate your capabilities (10%).
Questions and answers are matchsticks to in a warm meeting. Plan for them. I suggest you take a blank piece of paper and do a type of Ben Franklin, writing down on the left side what you already know about the prospect. On the right side now write down what you need to learn to match your solution to prospect needs. It’ll look something like this:
The questioning stage will have the most impact on the prospect’s decision to purchase your products or services, however, few sales people plan this stage effectively. Questioning is an art, and you can never be creative enough. For a little help, read Spin Selling by Neil Rackman and Power Questions by Andrew Sobel.
Sales are more complex than ever. Knowing why a prospect buys can be as mysterious as David Blaine working his streetside magic. Products today are more complicated. Buyers are more independent. Sellers more hard-pressed to decode the buying process.
What’s more, we now must engage with more buying team members uninvolved in similar decisions in the past. MHI Global’s study indicates that the number of decision makers involved in the typical deal is increasing from 4.6 in 2014 to 5.8 people in 2015. Asking the right questions is your ticket to close. Spend quality time on this stage.
4. Delivering Your Value Proposition
Okay. You asked everything you can without annoying the decision group. It’s crunch time. Time to deliver your value proposition keyed off of your valid business reason and what you’ve learned from your questioning stage. This is when you do your alchemy: think fast, analyze quickly and process the mix into a coherent offer that benefits everyone at the table with a win.
Know that in large complex sales, introducing your solution later is clearly more effective than doing it sooner. You must fully understand each buying influence’s vision for a solution first, and then connect it to your solution.
5. Locking Down That Commitment
Assuming the energy in the room is positive, you’re ready to pin down a commitment. In large complex sales, it may take months to complete a sale. You may start off with one or two buying influences and, as the sales/buying process progresses more, more people get involved. To move the sales process, both the buyer and seller must engage and share responsibility in moving the process forward. No easy.
As salespeople, we tend to want to overload the prospect with demos, more illustrations, and information. If you want to have your prospect engaged in moving the process forward, you must get a commitment to do so each step of the way—an agreement on an action.
What would make the call a success? An RFP. Study request. Another meeting. What’s the action?
The “action” must be taken by the prospect and appropriate for where you are in the sales process. Perhaps the prospect agrees to attend a demo or arrange a meeting for the salesperson to meet other decision makers.
An RFP would not be a clear commitment unless, for example, the prospect also agrees to review the selection criteria before you write the proposal or discusses a draft proposal before final submission. Think of what actions indicate that the sale is moving ahead. Focus on securing those actions.
No matter how well you think the meeting went, if it does not reach agreement on an action that moves the sale forward, it’s not successful no matter how pleasant or interested the prospect appears.
A last word about meeting planning.
The value of a repeatable process can’t be overstated. When you plan well, you can repeat the process. What’s more, you cover all the questions you need to ask; you maintain a consistent standard of performance; you gain back time to customize your presentation to each prospect; you don’t waste the time of the prospect.
Intuitively, we know what’s effective, but often our knowledge of solutions is bursting to get out and overwhelms the real purpose: to sell what the prospect wants to buy in the way he wants to buy it. So as you perfect your process, document. Then debrief it against actual meetings, rinse, and repeat. You’ll be amazed at what you learn about your techniques, what works and what doesn’t.
Top sales people close more sales, more effectively by doing the following consistently:
Start the meeting with mutually shared and clear objectives
Get a full understanding of the prospect’s issues and vision for a solution
Prepare your questioning process thoroughly to obtain missing information
Ensure you’ve demonstrated understanding and knowledge of possible solutions, addressed key prospect concerns, and your shown your capability
- Get commitment from the prospect to advance the sales process to the next level
See you on the upside, Bill
For more information on how to simplify the complex sale, go to www.pleinairestrategies.com
Or call Bill in San Diego at 760.340.4277 or 213.598.4700