We continue my series on sales with a feature on how to improve your results from meetings and appointments. As a brief reminder, we covered a number of the core foundations for effective selling; principles that will work well for almost anyone who sells something, even if the product is yourself at a job interview.
This month, I’m going to explore in more detail what to do when you find yourself in front of someone. This is more tailored to face-to-face selling but you can adapt and apply these techniques to all types of selling situations.
So, you’ve managed to get yourself an appointment. The next step in the sales process may not be to convert them into a paying customer but to get to the quote/proposal stage, so don’t go into the meeting expecting to shake hands and close the deal unless that’s the logical next step. Know the outcome you want and get it.
Do your homework and be prepared.
As the saying goes, failing to prepare is preparing to fail. You’ve put the time and effort into creating an opportunity and the way you should look at the sales process is to invest more of your time and energy into the prospect as they invest theirs in you. Find out as much as possible about the business you are going to visit by doing some research online. Visit their website and pay particular attention to the background of the business: How long have they been in business? Who are the owners? How do they position their brand and do things differently? Get under the skin of the business. Also, look up the person you will be seeing on LinkedIN; try to get an early feel for the kind of person they are and what their interests are. They will likely also receive a notification that you have visited their profile so this advertises that you are doing your research.
Another top tip is to use websites such as Companies House and Company Check, both of which are free to use, to look at the financials of the business. Not only do you want to make sure they’re financially secure you also want to see how well they’re doing and get a bearing on the affordability of your product or service.
The more you know, the more you can demonstrate your knowledge of the customer and use that to your advantage. Knowledge is power.
Have a plan.
You will need to be fluid in your meeting, responding to the direction your prospect may wish to take the meeting, but you must have a clear and simple plan as to what you want to achieve. By the end of the meeting you want your prospect to have warmed to you, to understand what you offer, to be interested in your service and to ask you to proceed to the next stage of the sales process. Mentally, you want to make sure you tick all those boxes in your meeting.
Be polite, professional and an information sponge.
Always be professional and polite to the person who greets you, even if they’re having a bad day and are a bit short with you. Regardless of their position, blood is thicker than water and that person will likely comment to your customer contact as he or she sees you out. The waiting area is a wealth of knowledge, because it’s created with their prospective customers in mind, so look around and see what you can learn about the company.
You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.
Wherever you are waiting, try to sit facing the direction your contact will come from and don’t be on your phone while you’re waiting. You want to stand as they walk into the room, make full eye contact, give them your best smile and a firm handshake. If your contact arrives to you checking emails or scrolling through Facebook you will instantly come across preoccupied and disinterested; those first few seconds of meeting are crucial so don’t throw them away.
Evaluate your prospect as fast as you can. Observe and deduce.
From the moment you meet, and as you exchange initial small talk, be Sherlock Holmes and see what your contact is telling you about themselves. Are they in a good mood or a bad mood? If they are in a bad mood, trust me, one of the best things you can do is ask them if the meeting is still convenient and offer to come back another time if not. A prospect in a bad mood has other things on their mind and will be focused on getting their meeting with you over and done with as quickly as possible; that doesn’t help you and they will actually respect you for noticing.
What are they wearing? Are they very smart or are they more casual? You should always go to a meeting with a new client dressed smartly regardless of the kind of business they are. However, if they are casual and you are smart, take your jacket off and you will find you will act and come across more relaxed just as they are.
Listen to how they speak to you. Do they talk fast or slow? Do they sound down-to-earth or are they very well spoken? What kind of words and language do they use? Your goal is be as close as possible in the way you speak to all of these things as, believe it or not, you will come across as being like they are, and that’s relatable which a good thing. If they are particularly well spoken, you don’t have to put a posh voice on, but you should certainly speak in your best voice and choose your words very carefully. In terms of speed, people tend to talk at the pace they think so, if you speak too slowly, you will seem boring and if you talk too fast, it will be hard work for them to take everything in.
Like a good book or movie, the conversation has a start, middle and end.
The meeting is a bit like a game of cards. Your contact will often ask you to start the meeting by telling them about your business. Instead, ask if you can first understand a little more about their business and what they want from you. You can make much better choices about which cards you want to play if the other player goes first! By all means, start that dialogue by demonstrating the knowledge gleaned from your research. It let’s them know you did do your homework before you came.
The middle of the conversation will be your opportunity to guide your prospect to “buy” mode. Tailor how you sell your product or service to the explicit needs and desires of your prospect. Find out if they have used another company like yours before? What was good and bad about that service? Why do they no longer use them? How have their needs changed and what is it exactly that they need you to help them solve? Your initial pitch to them should be an “elevator” pitch – no more than a few minutes. Package all of the key points about your business that you feel will be most important to that person, given all you have researched, gleaned, listened to and learned. This is where all of that comes into play and you want to play your best cards, not the whole deck.
Your contact will then ask questions. Think about the intent of those questions and how they are phrased as, usually, they will be giving you clues as to the answers they are looking to get from you. For example, if they say “How quickly do you tend to do X?” then they are telling you “I want this done quickly”.
Finally, know when to close. The perfect time to a close your prospect is when they are engaged and energised, giving you their fullest attention and you are leading the conversation because you’ve answered their questions. The big giveaway is that they will start subconsciously copying your seating position, or will be leaning forward, and will mirror the position of your hands. I tend to interlock my fingers, suggesting “let’s work together” and I wait for them to do this. Work hard to spot this and move on to closing when it happens. Overselling is just as bad as underselling, so learn to recognise when your prospect has seen and heard enough and wants to move forward.
Game, set and match.
Next month, we will move on to how you can write and structure better quotes and proposals to win more business. In the meantime, apply these principles and I would love to hear from you how they worked out: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Written for, and featured in Pulse Magazine