Prospect Meetings That Get Results
Our profession has an old saying, “Selling is a contact sport.” This means that to sell something, you must meet with the prospect. You have to put your face in front of people before you can establish rapport and make them feel comfortable enough with you to do business with you.
You’ve been working hard to identify and pre-qualify prospects. You’ve been contacting individuals asking for a few minutes of their time so you can outline your program and its benefits. So what if everything you have done actually works? What do you do if your prospect agrees to a personal meeting?
Many salespeople who are successful getting appointments fail when it comes to being prepared to meet with a prospect and take the relationship to the next level. All too often these salespeople resort to what comes naturally — reciting their company’s brochure. They almost become a talking brochure. If you simply recite your firm’s brochure (“we have eighteen people; we’ve been in business fifteen years and we’re the best”) your prospect’s eyes will glaze over slowly but surely, like he’s watching a potato grow.
Most prospects are intelligent and polite. So, if you are granted an interview, you will find that prospects do not throw you out of their office even when you show up as a talking brochure. They will probably look at you, nod their heads, and pretend they are interested in what you are saying. In reality, there is a very good chance they are thinking.
Prospect (thinking): “This is all pretty trite. When are you going to tell me something I don’t already know? I canceled my root canal for this!?”
Trouble is, you won’t know your prospect is writing you off since he’ll be smiling and nodding politely.
Go in prepared. Meetings like this don’t grow on trees. You’ve got to know exactly what information you are going in with, and, I hasten to add, exactly what information you want to take away from the meeting.
Here are some general guidelines to help make your meetings more productive.
Cram For The Exam
Think of your preparation for the meeting like the proverbial “cram” for an exam. The topic: Your prospect’s business and industry. These days, you can almost begin and end your research on the Internet.
Research the company’s web site and an additional industry site. Another good source of information for large public companies is www.sec.gov — where the Securities and Exchange Commission archives all public company documents. Here your best source of information is a form called a 10-K. This form is like a super annual report, with all kinds of information about the company’s business, operations, officers, and financial results. Depending on what you are selling, this information can be incredibly valuable. At the very least, you will immediately win the prospect’s respect when you demonstrate that you took the time to know about his company’s business and operations.
Lights, Camera, Action
Treat every presentation like it’s an event. You are on stage before a captive audience. Warm up and treat the meeting as a unique opportunity. Believe that every prospect will listen if what you have to say is worth listening to. Remember that enthusiasm is contagious. Look alive and show your enthusiasm for your product or service.
People usually end up doing business with people they like. So, one of your primary objectives in going to a meeting, other than to fact find, is to make this new person feel like a friend. Focus on getting the prospect to feel comfortable with you. If you go with that objective in mind, you probably will find something about the prospect that you like. That creates a very valuable chemistry.
Mirror, Mirror On The Wall
The prospect may want to know something about you, too. But, keep your description of your qualifications brief. People who “sell” their qualifications come off as insecure or pompous. Keep your self-description to two or three minutes (practice with a watch). Then focus on showing a sincere interest in your prospect’s business. Almost every sentence that comes out of your mouth from there on should have a question mark planted at the end.
Take Along An Enforcer
You want to impose a discipline on the meeting that will give you the best shot at success. So take along an “enforcer.” Go in with a written agenda to hand to the prospect. Tell the prospect that you took the liberty of outlining, say, eight main points you would like to touch on in the next fifteen minutes. (These should be designed to fact find and uncover “hot buttons” as well as show your qualifications.) Then ask if you can proceed. By using a written agenda, you give the prospect (a) confidence that you are a professional who respects the prospect’s time, and (b) an opportunity right out of the blocks to amend your presentation as he sees fit. When the prospect buys into your agenda, there is no need to hurry or guess later on.
Another reason to lead with an agenda: When the prospect shows an interest in the agenda, you will sense this and become more comfortable. Plus, if the interview drifts away from the planned presentation, having a written agenda will pull the discussion back to the points you wanted to make and the questions you need to ask.
Run The Prospect Through Your “MRI”
Your fundamental mission in the first meeting is to uncover the prospect’s hot buttons — his problems, concerns, reasons for choosing one service provider over another, goals, etc. This is in-depth diagnosis, like a hospital CAT scan. You are going to run the prospect through your own custom-designed “MRI” (Marketing Research Inquisition) while keeping him much more calm and contented than the typical patient is when they are run through the donut.
Here are some basic questions you should use in your MRI. • When are you looking to buy an “XYZ”
• What feature do you find most attractive/important?
• Can you explain why you feel this way?
- Of all of the reasons people buy XYZ’ s, why did you pick that particular feature or benefit as the most important?
These questions can be tailored to fit any service or product you are selling. With these questions, you are throwing the ball into the prospect’s court and asking him to define his hot button.
Let’s use shopping for a car as an example. Ask people what feature they feel is most important in a car and the answers might include: image, gas mileage, price, durability, reliability, safety, color, radio, speed. What is important to one buyer is not important to another. So, by fact finding you locate the hot button needed to close the deal. I once explored for the hot button of a would -be car buyer and closed the sale solely on the sound quality of the speakers built into the rear seats. (True story.) Have you noticed that Ford finally found this hot button? They recently featured their Delco radio products in car commercials!
Let’s try travel. Ask your prospect what service is most attractive/important when selecting a travel agency? Among the many possible answers are: proximity, years of experience of agents, international capabilities, other major clients currently served, Internet booking capabilities, payment plans, meeting and conference capabilities, etc.
Once you find a potential hot button, probe it with more questions. For example,
Salesperson: “What do you mean by international capabilities?”
Prospect: “We look for somebody who is familiar with the airports in France and Germany, and who can help us with international customs regulations, exchange rates, and visa and passport paperwork.”
Salesperson: “Of all the important factors you could have named, what made you choose this one?”
(Some very specific reasoning is about to surface. )
Prospect: “Because ninety-nine percent of our travel is overseas.” By asking these questions, you learn the customer’s concerns and focus, which
allow you to start forming a strategy to address these specific needs. Here are a few more fact-finding questions you can ask:
• How do you handle your travel presently?
• What is it you like most about your present agency?
• What was the service or attribute that determined your selection of your present agency?
- Is there anything you don’t like about the way your travel is being handled?
Clarify & Confirm
This may sound like a cliché, but not too many people do it — you have to listen to and understand what the prospect says. More importantly, you should always clarify any ambiguity or trace of a hot button by saying,
Salesperson: “Mr. Jones, let me see if I’m hearing you correctly. Your most pressing concern is . . .”
Repeat your current understanding of the prospect’s needs and get confirmation. Then you can address the need accurately. While doing so, salt in your qualifications and experience as they relate to his need.
Life After Death
Remember, there are only two kinds of people — those who are (or can become) interested in what you represent and those who are (or will) not. The latter group might have given you a slot on their calendar because they didn’t know how to say no. Most experienced salespeople know within ten minutes if they are on the same wavelength as a prospective client. As you get more familiar with The System and your confidence level builds, you will get better at distinguishing the two before you go to the meeting phase. Meanwhile, view these dead-end meetings as a great place to practice your presentation and meeting skills.
Reading body language is another skill you will want to develop over time. As you grow more confident in what you are saying, you will gain the flexibility to focus at the same time on the other person’s non-verbal communications. Often this is quite enlightening (and amusing).
If a prospect picks up a pencil and starts tapping it, you can bet your burger that this guy has tuned out. If he picks up the mail and begins opening envelopes, you have burned your welcome to a crisp. Other telltale signs of your imminent demise: glancing at a watch, or quickly answering an incoming phone call.
Early in your career, you may witness all these “obscenities” of body language. These episodes of embarrassment and frustration come with the territory. When these occur, your agenda (or your presentation of it) is not working. The best advice: either move through the remainder of the meeting quickly, or be disarmingly honest by telling the prospect you feel like you are not addressing his concerns. Ask again what they are. Remember, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
No Thanks, Dr. Kervorkian
A slow form of suicide is the act of trying to sell somebody something when they clearly and steadfastly are refusing to be sold. Yes, tenacity is a virtue in the sales business. But as Kenny Rodgers said: “You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” Don’t keep spending time with somebody who is not interested in you and/or your product. Life is too short. Part company amicably and move on.
The Follow Up
You’ve made it your business to talk with more people, gone in with an agenda, and run your MRI. Now that you have all the information you need, ask if you can come back with some suggestions (your “proposal”) after having an opportunity to think about what you have learned. You are now poised for the last act before the close.
In closing this chapter, I want you to remember these final three rules when it comes to giving a first-class presentation:
Be Bright. Be Brief. Be Gone.