Seven Things Every Salesperson Must Do Before the First Meeting

Focusing on closing the deal instead of opening the relationship is a classic sales mistake.

If someone asks us how to improve a sales staff’s closing techniques (some mysterious set of magic words that will get people to buy), we consider this a diagnosis issue, not a “closing” issue. Specifically, we know that the person we’re talking to is focused, in an unproductive way, on the end of the sales process, rather than on what comes before the close — the part where we find out about the prospect, arguably the most important part of the sales relationship.

If you or your sales staff are distracted with thoughts of how to close a deal, focus instead on seven pre-meeting steps that will help you open the relationship effectively. If you do this for every new prospect you meet, you’ll find that your overall closing numbers will improve.

  1. Practice answering the question, “What do we sell?” You must be able to concisely describe the products and services your organization offers — and how, specifically, those products and services benefit your company’s customers.
  2. Practice answering the question, “What makes us different from the competition?” Your prospect may well have one and only one way of distinguishing potential vendors (say, price). You should be familiar with all the differences between yourself and the companies you compete against, and be ready to discuss them.
  3. Practice answering the question, “What makes us better than the competition?” Be prepared to explain, briefly and enthusiastically, why someone should buy from you, rather than someone else. If you’re not comfortable doing this, you’re in the wrong job! Take the initiative. Do the research. Find out why your company’s #1 client decided to buy from you, rather than anyone else.
  4. Be prepared to complete the sentence, “Even though we’re not always the least expensive option, people buy from us because…” The response you come up with may sound like this: “Well, the reason ABC Company decided to go with us, even though we weren’t the lowest-priced option, was…”
  5. Do the right pre-meeting research. Once you’ve scheduled a face-to-face meeting, it’s time to do a little digging. Use the Internet and other resources to learn about the prospect’s organization. In addition to checking out the target company’s Web site, ask other people within your company about sales opportunities that may exist in accounts like this — opportunities you may not know about. And while you’re at it, you should also identify at least three of your company’s success stories that are likely to be of interest to this specific prospect.
  6. Create the flow. In other words, decide how you’re going to open the meeting. You could say, for instance, “Would it help if I went first?” Then offer a short “commercial” for yourself and your company, followed immediately by a question about what the other person does. This is a critical point in the meeting. What is the first question you’ll ask? Why? What are likely to be the most appropriate follow-up questions? How will you phrase them? Remember — the sales process is an extended conversation, and we can use effective questions to control the flow of that conversation.
  7. Establish your “next step” strategy. At the end of the meeting, you should always try to get some tangible, scheduled commitment for action from the prospect. Decide on your primary next-step strategy — say, another meeting with the same person a week from tomorrow at 2:00 p.m. to review a preliminary proposal. Decide, too, on at least one backup next step you can ask for, in case you don’t get your primary one. For instance, you might ask for the chance to meet with the prospect’s team, interview them, and report back with your findings.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 The Decision to BuyThese seven steps help you keep your priorities straight. They keep you focused on the person who really matters — the prospect. Just as important, perhaps, they keep you from trying to close the sale the minute you walk in the door.

    Ideally, we want the prospect to decide to buy; we don’t want to have to “sell” to the prospect at all. In fact, “closing” is just another word for what happens when someone decides, on their own, to use what we have to offer. We can’t force anyone to do anything. Well before the prospect makes the decision to use our product or service, we should offer a recommendation — one that makes so much sense to the prospect we’re talking to that he or she will in fact decide to buy from us.

    The seven pre-meeting steps you’ve just learned are, I believe, what make high closing ratios possible. Follow them!

    Steve Bookbinder is president of franchising at DEI Management Group, a sales training firm based in New York City.

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