Louise arrives in the carpark two minutes before her sales meeting, hurries to the door and presses the intercom. “Hi, it’s Louise to see…. (long pause as she checks her diary) Dan Hayes”. She makes small talk about the traffic as she walks to the meeting room with Dan. Smiling, she sits down, and says, “Thanks for seeing me, Dan. So, tell me about your business.”
As a manager, this is a common scenario to observe in face-to-face sales meetings. In fact, this is how most average salespeople start their sales meetings. Of course, the problem with being average is that it creates pretty average results.
A huge challenge as a manager is that most salespeople are over-confident in their ability to “wing it”. Ask them what preparation they do before a sales meeting and they list a caffeine fix and a quick ‘Google’ of the company before they go in.
When asked why they don’t prepare for sales meetings, they blame their lack of time, or they say, “I don’t need to prepare”. However, regardless of the experience they have, this fact will always remain true:
‘Winging it’ is not an effective strategy for success.
The time that it takes to thoroughly prepare for sales meetings can be worth tens, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Here are four questions you can use when coaching your sales team before you go into a meeting to see how well they have prepared. Then, use the examples to help them prepare more effectively for the highest chance of success.
1. What link have you found?
A link is something that your salesperson has in common with their customer. Before your salesperson meets their customer, encourage them to research to find people, clients, places, hobbies or things that they have in common. Once they find a link, they should be curious and ask their customer questions to spark a connection.
For example: Louise finds out, through LinkedIn, that Dan went to the same university as him. During the walk to the meeting room, Louise plans to ask Dan, “Did you go to uni in Sheffield?” to open up a conversation about their university days.
2. How will you open the meeting?
Starting the meeting with “tell me about your business” is a cop-out in a professional sales meeting. Although better than, “let me tell you about my business” (which just turns the conversation into a sales pitch), it gives the impression the salesperson knows nothing about the person with whom they are meeting.
In order to have credibility and professionalism, encourage your team to prepare their opening. The customer wants to quickly know why the salesperson is there and what they can do to help.
A good opening has these three parts:
• Reason: Why did you decide to meet? What is the reason you are there?
• Objective: What do you plan to do in the meeting? What are the objectives? How can you help them?
• Their objectives: What are their objectives for the meeting?
For example: Louise writes the following sentences in her notebook before she leaves the office.
“Thanks, Dan, for meeting with me today.
The reason I am here is that I spoke with you last week on the phone about how you are looking to up-skill the new recruits in your sales team.
Today, my main objective is to fully understand where the gaps are in their sales skills so I can put together a programme to get them up to speed and on target as quickly as possible. I’d also like to discuss any further opportunities in Europe where I may be able to help.
What specifically are your objectives for the meeting today?”
This last question encourages the customer to say exactly how the salesperson can help them, and normally opens up a discussion about their biggest pain points.
3. What key questions are you planning on asking?
So many times, salespeople come out of sales meetings and say, “Oh! They didn’t tell me that, which actually means I forgot to ask that!” Avoid the risk of leaving with mediocre information by encouraging your team to write key questions to ask their customer.
Louise writes down key questions to ask Dan:
- What are the biggest gaps in your team’s sales skills?
- What impact is this having on the business?
- What return on investment are you looking for?
- What would be the cost of not training these new recruits?
- You have offices around Europe: What opportunities could there be elsewhere?
- Who are the network of decision makers I should be speaking to?
4. What next steps will you get them to commit to?
Finally, ask your salesperson to prepare the next steps they would like the customer to take at the end of the meeting. This ensures they stay in control of the sales process and move opportunities quickly through the pipeline.
Louise writes down the next steps she wants the customer to commit to:
- Get a date and time in the diary to review the proposal (with all decision makers)
- Get a date and time pencilled in the diary for the training needs analysis
- Ask Dan to subscribe to the company mailing list
- Invite Dan to attend the next networking event Louise is going to
In summary, encouraging your team to do ten minutes of preparation before they go in to a sales meeting can be the difference between tens, if not thousands of pounds. Remind them that making notes and bringing them in to the meeting does not make them look like an amateur. It demonstrates that they are a professional, and gives them the greatest chance of a successful outcome.