Meetings are at the core of most selling. It is where relationships are formed and deals are done. Yet, so often they go wrong. Anyone who has been in sales for any length of time can tell the tale of the meeting that went so badly it was embarrassing.
In most cases we know how not to make those mistakes again. However, what about all those meetings where nothing went particularly badly, but you still left with the feeling of an opportunity missed? Follow these seven steps to ensure that you get everything you can out of all your future meetings.
1) Ensure there’s a real purpose
Many meetings fail before they’ve even begun. Nick Washbourne, Account Director at data provider Market Location, spends a lot of his time in sales meetings, and he believes the key to a successful meeting is pre-qualification.
He explains: “If you don't want to traipse halfway across the country for a coffee and a chat you need to clearly establish whether there is an immediate requirement, whether your solution fits the requirement, what the timescales are to purchase, and whether there is sufficient budget.”
He continues: “Never bully a client into a meeting. A lot of sales techniques encourage you to not take no for an answer, but persuading a client to meet you when he or she doesn’t really want to just leads to fruitless meetings. Don't waste time with people who are never going to give you business.”
2) Pick the right venue
Once you have arranged a suitable meeting you need to ensure you get the venue right. Most first sales meetings need to be at the prospect’s premises, and your clients will almost certainly want to see your operation for a second meeting, but if you are getting together with an existing client to discuss what other services you can provide then you can get more creative.
Try to find out if the client has an interest you can tap into. For example if they are into sport you can hire a meeting room at most major sporting venues. Or would a morning being taught to cook pasta by Raymond Blanc’s chefs at Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons in Oxfordshire put them in the right mood to do a deal over lunch?
While few buyers will turn down opportunities such as that, in many cases you will want to keep the venue businesslike. When, in January 2009, the Government looked for a venue for the first ever Cabinet meeting in the North West of England it picked the Liverpool's Arena and Convention Centre (ACC).
Kerrin McPhie, Sales Director at the ACC, says: “We have a wide range of rooms, from four person meeting rooms with beautiful views across the Mersey to exhibition halls that can host thousands. We have opened gradually over the past year, so are fully equipped with all the technology you need to make your meeting a success, and we are right in the heart of a city that has been transformed by its City of Culture status in 2008. Whatever your requirements, we will do everything we can to make sure your meeting is memorable and successful.”
3) Know your audience
We all know that researching your prospects is important, and most of us take the time to find out a bit about our prospect’s company, products and market before a meeting. However, Marc Hogan, a communications skills expert and business coach, believes sales professionals should go further.
He says: “Researching the company you are meeting with should tell you more than just who they are and what they do. It should also tell you what values they hold. Look at the language the company uses in their external literature and in the e-mails that may have passed between you. Do they put emphasis on innovation, growth, integrity? If you can identify a pattern in the words or phrases they tend to use, then you can use similar language to help build rapport.”
4) Look the part
Toby Luper is a tailor on a mission: to dress the most powerful business leaders in Britain’s boardrooms in suits that exude timeless elegance and style. With 35 years knowledge of ‘cut, cloth and fit’, Luper’s bespoke Hemingway suits rival those of Savile Row and his innovative Visiting Tailor service ensures that his high-flying clients never have to step out of the office to look good.
He offers this advice to the sales professional who wants to look the part in his or her meetings: “He said: “Start by considering who you are meeting. You should never sacrifice looking professional, but it is always best to adjust your dress to engage with your clients, prospects or employer so that you do not make them feel uncomfortable by over-dressing. Ultimately your attire should be an extension of your business manner. If you want to convey a relaxed image, consider wearing an open-necked shirt, or alternatively if you are looking to be a hard-nosed dealmaker, stick to a dark suit, white shirt and red tie to bring a direct energy to your attire.”
He continues: ”The successful formula for a professional look is a well-fitting suit. The style and colour can be adjusted depending on the audience, and a dark suit is a traditionally safe option. Combined with a plain coloured, neatly ironed shirt and a sensible tie – no animals or crazy patterns please – and you have the basis of an outfit that will set you apart.”
Finally, he suggests the following checklist to make sure your wardrobe does not let you down:
- Shoes – freshly polished and with any heel damage repaired
- Tie – Solid colour or with a simple pattern. Ensure the knot does not lift the collar off the shirt and the tie is long enough as short ties can look ridiculous
- Shirt – Avoid patterns, stick with formal colours and co-ordinate with both tie and suit
- Suit – Refrain from carrying a heavy wallet or mobile phone in breast pockets, as it undermines the fit
- Cuffs – Cufflinks should be visible even when wearing a suit jacket
5) Use a first class presentation
“Using a poorly prepared and visually unattractive presentation can decrease the overall value of your sales pitch,” Chris Gallagher, Training & Development Director at lead generation consultancy Upfront Business Development. “This is particularly so in larger sales cycles, or where the nature of the service you are selling is linked to quality-based technology solutions.”
He offers this advice on how to get it right: “Don’t overuse words and bullets. The rule of thumb here is that if I can present or read the content of your presentation without you being there, then it’s a poor presentation. Only rely on key phrases or topic headers. Additionally, a thirty slide Powerpoint with nothing but bullets on it will bore your client to sleep. Embed ‘interest peaks’ into your presentation to include graphs, pie charts, testimonials, and so on.”
He adds: “Always have a backup. This speaks for itself. If your laptop doesn’t work you need to have some mechanism for transferring your presentation onto a client’s workstation instead.”
6) Don’t give it all away too quickly
Logan Tod is an agency that shows companies what visitors to its website are doing, why those visitors are behaving in that way, and what they can do to encourage those visitors to behave in the way they want them to. Very often the agency can show a company how it can, very quickly and very simply, increase its sales by hundreds of thousands of pounds.
As you might imagine, in most cases this provides Director, Matthew Tod, with some exceptionally compelling material for his sales pitches. However, early in his sales career he learnt a lesson about how to use that material. “I was meeting the Chief Executive of a multinational organisation,” he recalls. “On my second slide I showed him how he was losing around £80,000 a week in sales through a very simple error. He jumped up, demanded to know who was in charge of this, and went to sort it out straight away. I never got to finish my presentation!”
The lesson is clear: while it is important to excite your prospects early on, be careful not to give it all away too early. Save something for your dramatic finale.
7) Agree next steps
“No matter how well your sales meeting went, and regardless of how impressive you were, if there are no agreed next steps, there is no sale,” says Gallagher at Upfront. He concludes: “This doesn’t mean you should start closing like a timeshare salesman, but you do need to make sure you agree next steps so that all your hard work isn’t wasted and that your meeting progresses successfully to a sale.”