If there's one thing I know about selling professional services – it's that my chances of making a sale go up exponentially if I can meet my prospect face to face. In fact in my 20+ years in business and over £20m of consulting projects sold – I've only ever sold one engagement (and a very small one at that) without at least one face to face client meeting.
Yet in my life as a buyer of services, I'm becoming increasingly reluctant to meet salespeople face to face. Perhaps it's my age, or perhaps it's that I'm increasingly used to being “in control” in other aspects of business life – especially on the internet. For whatever reason, I basically don't want to be sold to. And I am confident enough in my knowledge of most service areas that I don't need the “help” a salesperson to guide me.
In fact, when I recently bought some marketing information services, I selected a supplier I'd never met – but one that was prepared to provide me with all the information I requested over email. The other potential supplier insisted on trying to set up a meeting. Despite my requests for them just to tell me what I needed to know, they insisted they would need to meet me face to face to properly explain what they had to offer. As a result, I simply put off the meeting to a much later date (that will never happen) and went with the first supplier.
So should a salesperson push for a meeting with a potential client or not? There's no easy answer to this conundrum. Obviously, the simpler, easier to specify the service is, the more possible it is to buy without a face-to-face meeting.
But the key determinant of whether a meeting will progress a sales is the attitude of the buyer. Is the buyer the sort of person who will resent a push for a meeting – or will (perhaps despite some initial resistance) it work in your favour? An experienced expert buyer is more likely to be able to buy without a meeting – but might not necessarily want to do so.
It takes skillful reading of the buyer – knowing when to push and when to back off – to navigate through this. One thing I can tell you though – don't try to push me for a meeting.
Postscript It's now May 2011, nearly three years after I wrote this post, and this trend has continued. In fact, it's accelerated.
Back then, I'd only ever sold one project without meeting the client face to face. Today, almost all my coaching clients sign up after talking to me on the phone rather than meeting face to face.
Part of the change is that people are increasingly used to buying without meeting people. And part of the change, I think, is that because people do so much research on the web in advance of calling a business. In may case, theyll see my blog posts, videos, podcasts and a host of other material I've produced. They'll get to see if I know my stuff – and they'll get a feel for who I am and if they can work with me. If they can't – they don't call and they don't waste their time or mine.