By Barry Farber | Inc.com
Over the years I've held thousands of sales meetings, selling both tangible and intangible products--and I've learned that there are some basic fundamentals that make a difference no matter what your offering is.
As the CEO of a growing business, you'll often find yourself in the role of "salesperson-in-chief." Keep these simple things in mind to make those first sales meetings a success.
Anything you can do to learn about the person or people that you are meeting, the company, their products, their competition, and their customers can make a huge difference. It will help you understand how your product can tie into their overall goals: You can ask better questions, show the prospect you care enough to do the research, and gain the upfront confidence you get from doing your homework.
Speaking of confidence: This is one of the most important elements of a successful meeting. People can and will read your expressions, body language and your voice inflection. They can determine if the words coming out of your mouth match your belief.
I've seen many people with a great memory for scripts who lack the deep enthusiasm, passion, and knowledge that's needed when the customer asks them why they feel the offering would add value. Confidence in what you're selling puts the customer at ease and lets them know you believe there is value in your offering.
A simple question here is all you need. "I know we set aside 30 minutes for today's meeting," you should say. "I just want to make sure that still works for you?"
Common courtesy goes a long way: The last thing you want is someone looking at their watch because of a deadline that came up at the last minute.
Knowing the customer's time frame also helps you manage the flow of the meeting.
Breaking the ice the right way can set the tone for the rest of your meeting. If you found in your research that the person you're meeting was featured in a recent article or has a hobby or interest that you can relate to, ask them about it. Or just look around for information that could start a conversation--think about family pictures, sports memorabilia, awards.
Just recently I broke the ice in a meeting with a reference to the customer's espresso maker and special Italian coffee beans. He loves his espresso--and he loves talking about it. People buy from people they like, trust, and respect. Initial rapport is a big part of starting the relationship off on the right track.
Once you get started, you need to explain why you are there and what you want to accomplish. Some people call this an "initial benefit statement" or "general benefit statement." It goes something like this:
Thanks again for sharing your time with us. XYZ company has been helping companies [mention briefly what your company does and the benefits your customers receive]. Our goal today is to learn more about your overall needs, goals, and challenges and see if there is an opportunity for us to benefit by working together. We did our homework on your company but would like to hear more about [their business, their environment, etc.].
6. Questions & Answers
I've never--ever--seen a sales rep listen himself out of a sale. And no customer has ever told me that he doesn't like a rep because she listens too much.
Your first meeting has a greater chance of success if you have listened at least two-thirds of the time. You can still get the information you're looking for by directing questions carefully. But having the prospect expand and elaborate on his answers gives you a deeper understanding of his situation.
Note: This is even more important in longer and more complex sales cycles.
Your questioning process should be part of your qualifying. You need to understand how the customers buy--their time frame, budget, decision makers--and, most of all, whether you have added value to provide.
If you don't find out this information, your deal may stall.
Here's a question that should be easy to ask: "Is there anyone else, besides yourself, that you recommend speaking with about this decision?" Notice I said "besides yourself"--you don't want to offend or alienate the person.
One trick that could help here: Always call the prospective customer's highest level. You may very likely be directed down the ladder to a more qualified person--but that's better than going from the bottom up.
8. Presenting a Solution
While you were listening to the customer, you should have been thinking about how to adjust your presentation--because you'll have much greater impact if you include all the information you've learned about the customer's situation.
When talking about your product, refer back to their earlier answers: "You mentioned that ease of use for your employees is critical; we've made it easy for ... etc."
If your sales cycle is short and can be closed on the first call, then once you've presented your solution and your value, you can move to a close. What I've found works is simply asking the prospect: "What's our next step?"
They can give you the criteria you need to close the sale--or bring up any questions or objections they might have. It's better to know their concerns right from the start than trying to call back after the initial call.
10. Follow Up
One final thought: Be sure to follow up with your customer. It's that follow-through that can make all the difference. That's how a customer can really see your service in action.