There are two short answers to this question. The first is a little cheeky – develop your sales skills! You can do this by reading one of the many books available on the subject that are especially designed for the professions (not forgetting my book back in 2000 – “Dynamic practice development – Selling skills and techniques for the professions” which provides a broad overview and lots of references to other leading sources) or you can attend some sales training courses or you can ask your marketing/business development folk for some coaching.
Attitude and empathy – Walk in the client’s shoes
The second answer is more pragmatic. It is to do with attitude. If you attend a sales meeting thinking only about your aim to sell something then your chances of a successful meeting are limited. The key to effective sales meetings is about putting yourself in the client’s shoes – Consider what it is that the client most wants from a sales meeting.
Do your homework and be prepared
Clients are busy. They don’t really have the time to listen to a long, dull speech about your firm from which they have to glean which elements might be relevant or useful to them. What they would prefer is to see that you have done your homework – some really solid research about them, their organisation, their competitors, their industry etc – and thought creatively about the areas where they can save or generate money, improve operations or competitive position or reduce risk. Most experts will argue that having broader, more strategic and commercial conversations with organisations is critical in identifying sales opportunities.
Emotional match – People buy people
Clients make purchase decisions based on emotional as well as rational factors. They recognise that often there are many professional advisers with comparable expertise and quality service delivery at vaguely similar prices. What they are assessing, when they meet with you, is what sort of person you are and the personalities of your team and whether they will be able to form a good working relationship. So it helps if, during the sales meeting, you quickly establish rapport and trust and can discuss something in a way that simulates how the working relationship might feel if you were to be appointed. Allow the client “to try before they buy”.
Probing – Uncovering needs, pains and gains
The purpose of a sales meeting is to identify (or create) an appropriate client need, and to shape a solution that meets that need and confers benefits and value more readily than the alternatives available. So the majority of the conversation should comprise questions (and there are various frameworks for how to do this) aimed at uncovering problem areas or opportunities, assessing their relative importance and the benefits that will ensue from their resolution and the people and processes involved in the decision making process. At appropriate points, you might offer relevant case studies and examples that showcase your expertise and experience in similar situations.
Commercial – Ask for the business
Once a need has been identified and a possible solution explored, you should not shy away from asking tough questions. Our friends in the USA seem to have no concerns in asking questions such as “What do we need to do to win your business?” or even attempting to close “So if we put together an estimate covering those points will you be willing to put it before the Board”. Brits may prefer a slightly softer approach, something along the lines of “What do you feel about the possibility of working with our firm?”.
Identify next steps – I’ll be back
As most sales meetings are but one point in a sometimes long sales cycle, you should ensure that you properly identify what follow up actions are required and what the next steps might be to progress the sales relationship. This may be simply to return to discuss a specific issue in more detail or to meet some other members of the team. It could be to return to make a formal presentation. Whatever it is, gain agreement to it and the timescales.
Add value at every interaction
You will also be in a better situation if at each contact point the client receives something of value – this could be some rare information, an insight into trends or competitors, an introduction to a useful contact, access to a private knowledge base, an invitation to a valued event or some shared best practice. This reinforces to the client the idea that you are thinking about things from their perspective rather than your own selfish point of view.
Agendas and Follow up notes – Put it in writing
They may appreciate you having an agenda of points to discuss – it shows that you have prepared for the meeting and have respect for their time – but they will probably welcome the opportunity to indicate which of the offered subjects is of most interest to them. Some firms prepare expanded agendas which are helpful in highlighting the key points for possible discussion and, more recently, some have started to use word clouds that present a range of issues and topics in a more creative way.
And clients will certainly value a short, relevant note after the meeting which acts as an aide-memoire of the points discussed that they might share with their colleagues who are involved in the purchase process. It also demonstrates that you are organised, clear thinking and responsive. And from an internal perspective, it means that you are documenting the relationship and sharing your knowledge with others in the firm who are or may be involved with the client in the future.
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As always, if there are particular topics you would like me to address in the future, please let me know. You will also find a source of more and up to date information on a broad range of management and marketing issues in the professions by checking out the blog where I also post regular reviews of books that might be helpful.