I’ve been on both sides of the corporate boardroom table when it comes to sales meetings. As a customer, I’m able to tell within several minutes whether the sales interaction will be a valuable collaborative experience or an hour that I will never get back.
Even though so many of the basics of the sales relationship seem self-evident, it continues to amaze me how far some business development representatives diverge from appropriate behaviour in that first, crucial meet and greet in particular. You really do only get once chance to make a great first impression.
Below I share some of my thoughts around how you can give your customers what they want and need from your sales meetings, with a focus on what you can do prior to the meeting.
Before you press that elevator button to attend your sales meeting, ensure you are prepared.
Prep, Prep, Prep
No doubt about it, we are all busy. As a customer, I might have agreed to meet with you, but that doesn’t mean I have been to your website or researched your business's products or services. Being on the “buying” side gives me the opportunity to play the “lazy” card. As much as I want to move my business forward, you likely have more skin in the game with our first meeting. Do not show up unprepared!
Treat every initial client meeting with as much care as you would an interview. Prepare. Before you connect with me as a potential client, I expect that you have visited my company website, checked me out on LinkedIn, and identified at least 2 or 3 open questions to ask me about my needs. You should have a basic understanding of my industry and type of business. Your goal should be to identify conversation starters that might lead into a discussion of synergies with your product or service.
I can tell if you haven’t done your homework. It’s tedious to explain the basics about my company that are freely available online. And it eats up the precious minutes that we have to connect, reducing the opportunity to get into deeper discussions that might result in business for you.
As Woody Allen has said, 80 percent of success is just showing up. I would add to that from a sales call perspective: success involves showing up on time. Try to hit “Goldilocks” time – not too early, not too late, but just right.
Showing up late, without an absolutely ironclad excuse, is not acceptable. You have just wasted my time and implied some degree of disrespect in the process.
Aim to show up no more than five minutes early for your appointed sales meeting time.
Likewise, showing up too early is not wise either. You may think that showing up half an hour early demonstrates great customer service. In reality, showing up early causes your empathetic customers a crisis of conscience. My days are often booked solidly with back to back meetings. If you show up early, I feel guilty for leaving you cooling your heels in reception. Showing up early also causes more work for my company’s receptionist. This person does not always know what time your appointment is. Until he or she hands you over to me, you are his or her responsibility. The earlier you show up, the more ways my receptionist will try to get a hold of me, interrupting the work I am in the midst of doing. If you show up early you create angst and extra work for both me and my support staff.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be early. By all means arrive in the vicinity of my office in good time prior to your appointment. Just don’t show your face in reception until five minutes prior to your meeting.
Sales Meeting Preparation Tips
Here are a few additional things you can do to set yourself up for success in advance of a client meeting, and keep your client happy in the process:
- Figure out where you are going. Do not call me asking for directions beyond clarifying the building and/or floor number. In the days of smartphones and mobile map apps, you do not need to ask me to give you step by step directions from the subway/train/bus/parking lot.
- Provide ample notice. No, even though I might love to do so, I likely can’t meet with you this week just because you happen to be in town. My week is already booked to the rafters. If you have to travel to see me, let me know well in advance or you will miss your opportunity to connect with me. If you call for a last minute appointment it tells me that someone you consider more important than me has just cancelled!
- Don’t just call out of the blue. “Now” is generally never a good time to chat, as much as I might like to do so. Email, reach out through LinkedIn, or call to book a time to speak in more depth.
- Know your product. Become very familiar with your product or service before you meet with me. Bring all the collateral you might need to the meeting and avoid reliance on a slide deck.
- Dress to reflect my office culture – or one step above. Just because your office culture is casual does not mean you should show up to my office in the same attire, even if you are from a start-up company. If you show up in jeans when I have to dress in business formal clothing, it makes me jealous! Have some mercy. And never show up in sweat pants or sweat shirts. Ever.
- Avoid scents and creams! Please do not apply hand cream while you are waiting in the lobby as that makes for an unpleasant experience when we shake hands. And please go easy on the perfumes and scents as many people, including me, are allergic.
- Bring your own Internet. The ease with which customers can provide you with Internet varies greatly from company to company. Play it safe and bring your own means of connection. If you absolutely must have a projector, let me know well in advance.
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The actual execution of a sales meeting goes much smoother with appropriate preparation.
In my next article, I will share more with you about what your customers want from you during a sales meeting.
Next: What Customers Want From Your Sales Meeting: Dialogue (Part 2 of 2)