Fabulous first meetings - Selling insights

My first book, published in 2000, was on selling skills so it gives me great pleasure to sometimes indulge my passion and provide sales training. I recently completed a series of short in-house training sessions for a property client on “Fabulous First Meetings” where we covered a range of selling insights including buyer psychology, communication skills and professional sales techniques. Here are the highlights from the session.

Before the meeting

The first part of the session focused on the preparation necessary for a fabulous first meeting with a client. 

1. Conduct research – We considered the wide range of information required to prepare and also the external and internal sources to be interrogated. There’s value in preparing a synopsis of the information both to brief the rest of the team if they are attending and also to identify what questions to ask the client and what knowledge/insight to share. 

2. Agree aims and agenda – While first meetings are usually about developing rapport and exploring the client and their needs, it is helpful to think about your own aims for the meeting. This might be to gain particular information about the client’s decision making process. It’s important to think about what you want to happen after the first meeting too – so you can gain agreement while you are there. Sending an outline agenda to the client in advance shows that you are enthusiastic about the opportunity to talk and that you respect their time. It might also flush out more information about the client’s expectations for the meeting. 

3. Anticipate questions – Try to anticipate what the client is likely to ask you so you can be ready with the necessary stories (case studies etc) and evidence. Naturally, you need to be ready for the question “Why should we consider/appoint you?” – that’s your sales strategy and value proposition (http://kimtasso.com/faq/what-is-a-value-proposition-or-usp-and-how-do-i-create-one/) and you may not have sufficient information before the meeting to have this really nailed down. You should also consider the questions you want to ask the client if the opportunity arises. These should be ranked in order so that the most important questions are asked early on in the meeting. Your questions convey your expertise and understanding. 

4. Identify how to provide insight – We know that the most recent research shows that insight selling is the most effective http://kimtasso.com/book-review-insight-selling-mike-schultz-john-e-doerr/. So you need to identify how you will add value or provide ideas or insight at the first meeting so that the client values the sales experience and invites you back again. Using the idea of Giver’s Gain and reciprocity, it’s brilliant if you can take the client a work opportunity for them. This may take some creative thinking, some strategic consideration and some additional research. 

5. Consider what to take along – It’s not a good idea to take a large pile of material to distribute at the first meeting. At this stage you don’t really know enough about what the client is interested in. Much better to send some materials over as a follow up after the meeting that reflect the topics you discuss. However, sometimes it helps to take along explanatory charts and diagrams that describe your approach or methodology – these you can discuss with the client and use to pinpoint their particular areas of interest.

 During the meeting

The second part of the session focused on what needs to happen during the meeting. 

6. Arrive early – This is helpful for two reasons – first, because you have time to recover from the journey and adopt a calm and confident attitude. Second, it means you can look around a bit and have a chat with any staff that are around such as receptionists. These gatekeepers can relay to others how they found any discussions with you and may be able to help you in the future when you need access to decision makers.

7. Manage time – Time is precious and there is much to do at a first sales meeting. So we did an exercise to identify what needs to happen and how much time should be allocated to each activity during an hour meeting. Greetings and small talk, introductions, aims and agendas, questions and answers (the main bulk of the meeting should be in dialogue about the nature of the client’s “aspirations and afflictions”), summarising, demonstrating expertise, discussing possible solutions, conveying key points, providing insight and value, dealing with misunderstandings and objections, agreeing next steps, stress the benefits of your solution and thank you/goodbyes. In some situations, after the meeting has concluded you may request a tour of the premises or ask to be introduced to other people who were not at the meeting but are relevant to the situation. We also recognised that even if you have an agenda and a plan, you need to be flexible to adapt to the client’s needs and any unexpected developments.

8. Build rapport Selling is as much about emotion as it is rational choice. In professional services, people buy people. This means that you need to quickly understand the nature of the people you are meeting (their personality, their communication style preferences etc) and adapt your approach as necessary. http://kimtasso.com/its-all-in-the-mind-getting-to-grips-with-psychometric-testing/ But adapting your approach doesn’t mean that you sacrifice authenticity. We shared some laughs at the session considering who were dogs (high on rapport) and who were cats (high on credibility).

9. Use emotional intelligence (EQ) – We also talked in the session about the importance of body language and NVC (http://kimtasso.com/faq/how-can-non-verbal-communication-body-language-improve-my-marketing-and-personal-effectiveness/) – especially power cues and power poses. The need to balance eye contact with note-taking and taking care with your tone of voice was also discussed with the idea that what you say is often less important than how you say it. We also looked at how NLP might help in building rapport (http://kimtasso.com/what-is-nlp-neuro-linguistic-programming/). Emotional intelligence (EQ) is a vital skill set supporting sales effectiveness (http://kimtasso.com/book-review-emotional-intelligence-2-0-travis-bradberry-jean-greaves/) as you really need to demonstrate empathy with the client’s point of view. And we also explored the creation of trust in which emotional intelligence plays a key role.

 10. Ask questions and listen attentively – The guts of the sales process is knowing what type of questions to ask at each stage of the sales process. Questions promote interaction – remember that “telling isn’t selling” and that you need to focus on being “interested rather than interesting”. We explored various frameworks to structure questions but the main point was to start with broad, open questions and resist the urge to focus in on specifics too early. Showing an interest in your client – rather than boring them with lots of detail about your firm and its services is critical. We also considered how to formulate questions that really challenge the client and that make a real impact. Skills and techniques involved in active listening were considered too (http://kimtasso.com/coaching-skills-importance-active-listening/). A key part of professional selling is to find or create a need before attempting to offer solutions. We talked about strategies for dealing with clients who seem entirely satisfied with their existing advisers and therefore no motivation to consider switching.

11. Explore the Decision Making Unit (DMU) – In complex commercial selling situations, there are often many people involved in making decisions about professional advisers and at first meetings you need to obtain as much information as possible about who makes such decisions and how. It may be that your first meeting are with gatekeepers and buyers (e.g. procurement) – and that you need to win these people over before they introduce you to users and decision makers (http://kimtasso.com/professional-selling-tips/). We also spent some time looking at the buyer motivation types and how to adapt your approach to each of the styles.

12. Tell stories and offer solutions – It can be dull for clients listening to lots of technical information – especially if they are not an expert in the professional service they are buying. So you need to tell stories – case studies and anecdotes – to convey information. Stories are engaging and neuroscience shows us that when we connect with a story there’s a lot of brain activity. This increases retention of information as well as a positive attitude towards the story-teller. We also took a peek at some of the wealth of information about persuasion science (e.g. http://kimtasso.com/book-review-small-big-small-changes-spark-big-influence-steve-j-martin-noah-j-goldstein-robert-b-cialdini-persuasion-science/) Telling stories is another way to comunicate about the sorts of solutions and value you might deliver to the client. Whilst it is unlikely that you complete the entire sales process in the first meeting of a complex business service, you will have to communicate about price, handle objections, negotiate and closet the deal at some point. There is plenty of material on these topics for example: http://kimtasso.com/price-communications-for-professionals/ , http://kimtasso.com/10-practical-tips-fee-price-negotiations/ and http://kimtasso.com/professional-selling-tips/

After the meeting

13. Confirm key points quickly – There’s several reasons why you should send a short summary email quickly. Obviously, you want to do so why the meeting is fresh in your and the client’s mind. A fast follow up shows that you are keen and responsive. You can also add any additional ideas and insight that occurred to you after the meeting. Furthermore, the client may use your email to communicate with others in the organisation – effectively selling you to other members of the decision making unit.

14. Complete any agreed actions – You should also complete any agreed actions quickly. This could be simple things like providing links to information you mentioned or introducing the client to people they would like to meet. It might also be the preparation of a proposal or pitch.

15. Update your systems – Whether you use a simple spreadsheet to manage your contacts or a sophisticated CRM to co-ordinate your sales pipeline you must update your systems. This way you will create a method of tracking your sales activity, planning your follow up activity and managing your opportunity pipeline. In larger firms there may also be internal communications systems for reporting and co-ordinating sales activity.

16. Telephone to gauge reactions – Whilst emails are time efficient, in sales situations you really want the interaction of a live conversation. You can pick up on nuances and hesitations, people are likely to be more candid and share more information when speaking rather than writing and a telephone call follow up usually enables the next step to be put in place.