Customer meetings: How the best sales reps approach them

Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Our focus and energy needs to be on the things we CAN control. Attitude, effort, focus – these are the things we can control.” -Tim Tebow

In selling, there are many areas where sales reps truly have all the say in the level of impact they can make to maximize their chances of winning the deal. Of course, effort isn’t everything and hence Tebow’s call for attitude and focus are especially notable. After all, a flurry of activities doesn’t simply equal progress. So the key is channeling effort to the right areas, whereby your hard work will pay dividends with meaningful impact, resulting in progress and success.

imagesThere is one particular area that is far too often and easily neglected in this regard: Customer Meetings.

In a deal cycle, each meeting with a prospective buyer is a milestone activity and a successful one propels the opportunity forward. The meeting is your live “at bat”. With each one, you’re either moving the opportunity forward or you’re not. You’re either edging out your competitors or being edged out.

We begin by establishing the anatomy of a meeting. In sales, it’s helpful to establish a broader view of what encapsulates a meeting. In other words, it’s not just about what happens during a meeting; what you do before and after the meeting matter just as much. We define the anatomy of meeting in three major parts: BEFORE—DURING—AFTER. In the first part of the series, we cover what you can do BEFORE the meeting to set yourself up for a successful, productive meeting that will propel your deal forward and ultimately win.


5W1H: This is where the good old journalism 101 comes into play: Who – Why – What – When – Where – How. Who are you meeting with? Why are the two parties meeting? What is the objective of the meeting? When and where? What is the agenda for the meeting (How)? For any given customer meeting, you should be able to answer all of these questions well beforehand.

The who entails the company, the persons, and the team you’re meeting with. With the exception of a few products, most of the purchasing decision is a collective effort made as a team.

Understanding the company – its product and market – and the people behind the decision helps to prepare the right set of questions to ask in the meeting and proactively identify any important information you may be missing. In turn, you’ll be equipped to better align and position your solution to the business drivers, the needs, and the objectives that are at the heart of the deal at hand. Furthermore, your research can uncover certain tidbits that can help you connect with your prospects in a more personable way – mutual connections, similar experiences, shared local knowledge, etc.

Ask yourself:
•What does the company do? Where are they based? What are some interesting and notable recent news about the company?
•Who are you meeting with? What are their roles and responsibilities? What personas will be involved in the meeting? What are their prior work experiences? What are some of the interests and hobbies that they have publicly shared – i.e. Linkedin Profile

The why entails the business drivers and the motivations of your prospect. There is a reason why the prospect has agreed to meet with you. If it’s an initial discovery or qualification meeting, you will not have all the answers. However, you have general knowledge of how your solution aligns to certain industries or teams or initiatives. Look to some relevant and similar key customers and partners that will help inform how to best sell to the prospect.

If you’re walking into subsequent meetings having already qualified the prospect, this becomes all the more critical. ALWAYS understand why your solution matters specifically to the company and the people you’re meeting. Remember, your prospect is likely evaluating your competitors with similar features and functionalities. Vendor blur is a real thing. This is your opportunity to elevate the conversation. It’s much more compelling for prospects to buy a product from someone who really understands their goals and challenges.

Ask yourself:
•How have we helped other companies in the same market or with similar challenges and strategic initiatives?
•What part of our solution typically resonates with these types of companies/roles?
•What are some common objections we encounter and what is the best way to handle them?

The what entails the purpose of the meeting. This is a TWO-WAY street. Are you anticipating a discovery call while your prospect is expecting a product demonstration? Having a prospect walk away from the meeting feeling like they didn’t get what they needed can really hurt your chances. More importantly, it’s one you can easily avoid.

A great salesperson will help the prospect accomplish their objective for the meeting while also accomplishing their own without losing control of how the selling is carried out. The first step towards doing this is identifying whether you have a clear understanding of the prospect’s objectives for the meeting.

Ask yourself:
•What is the prospect expecting to accomplish in this meeting?
•What do I want to accomplish in this meeting?
•What is necessary for me to prepare in order to make sure I can meet these objectives?
•Is there an internal resource I ought to involve?

If the above is unclear, consider it a BIG red flag. Thankfully, the remedy is rather simple: ask your prospect via email – “Hey Sarah, given that we have an hour scheduled, my goal in this meeting is to establish a good understanding of your needs and challenges so that I can better tailor our solution to what matters most to you. What are some things that you would like to get out of our meeting on Friday?”

The how entails the tactical elements of how you will execute the meeting. Most organizations have a sales process and best practices to help you maximize your chances of winning the deal. However, one element that is universal to any productive meeting is an agenda that is aligned with the WHY and the WHAT. This also allows for you to gain a clear understanding of what you want to tackle first. We’re all too familiar with people jumping in and out of meetings or having to cut it short. So it’s important to make sure that you have a plan in place to cover the most important items first.

Furthermore, a clear agenda helps you steer the meeting back to the objectives at hand, lest it is derailed by tangents and detractors. It may not always make sense but whenever possible, confirm the agenda with your prospect. Giving them a say is a way to implicitly gain their commitment to stick to the agenda. An agenda that is appropriately aligned to the WHY and WHAT will equip you with the ability to facilitate and execute a productive and successful meeting that results in a Win-Win for all parties involved.

Ask yourself:
•Based on my objectives, as well as that of the prospect, what is the best order of operations? What should I cover first?
•Do I have buy-in on the agenda from my prospect?
•How much time do I have and what should be the appropriate allocation of time for each item on the agenda?
•Am I meeting with a few people or a conference room full of several people? If so, how should I engage in asking questions?

The when and where are pretty straightforward and, therefore, we run the risk of overlooking some critical pitfalls. The last thing you want is for seemingly minor logistical or technical details to cripple or completely derail what would otherwise could have been a productive meeting. Access to internet, proper adapters, and working audio/visual are just a few examples. It pays to be vigilant with the small details.

Ask yourself:
•Will my prospect be able to join the conference call without a problem? Certain meeting tools require a prior install and there can also be security blockers that can keep your prospect from being able to join a screen-share.
•Will there be multiple people sitting in a conference room? If so, will I be heard clearly?
•(if meeting in person) Is the environment at the place of meeting conducive to a focused meeting or will my prospects be easily distracted?

The level of research and preparation may differ depending on the type of meeting and even the type of product you sell. The more we put this into practice, the more it becomes ingrained as a natural part of our workflow and approach to each customer meeting. As we become more efficient in this area, we have more influence in the outcome of the deal than ever before. Plus, we have no shortage of tools today to help automate much of this research work. As mentioned earlier, this is about effort and focus and you have full control., March 2017
Author:Ethan Kim

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