In this month's Momentum Club Marketing Masterclass webinar we worked on strategies for effective face to face sales meetings.
One strategy we covered was on how to use a “Point of View” meeting to win clients.
A Point of View meeting is a meeting with a potential client where the primary purpose isn't for you to talk about your services, or to discuss a client's problems – it's for you to share valuable information with them.
It might be the results of a benchmarking study you've done. Or some case studies. Or the summary of a report you've written.
Essentially it's you sharing your point of view on a useful topic for your potential client.
Point of View meetings are important for two reasons.
Firstly because they're a great way of building your credibility with potential clients.
Secondly because it's an awful lot easier to get a client to agree to have a meeting with you where you share useful information with them than it is to have a meeting where you explain your services to them or “find out what they need”.
So they're ideally placed to help you sell.
The trouble is, they're handled incredibly badly most times.
The first mistake people make is to just go in, share the information and leave without any exploration with the client that might lead to working with them.
It's a huge opportunity missed.
But worse is the second mistake: “sugging”. Selling under the guise of sharing information. Promising you'll share useful information but actually just treating the session like a sales meeting.
Not only do you get no sale, you lose your relationship.
So how should you handle Point of View meetings?
The secret's in the structure. And in what I call “the flip”.
You need to structure the meeting so that rather than you just talking for an hour, you interact with them.
And you do this by asking about their priorities.
Do a summary of your point of view (or research or benchmarking or case studies) first.
Then ask them “so I can go into more details on the areas that will be the most valuable for you – out of all those topics, which are the most relevant for you based on where you are now? Which ones would be your priorities?”.
When they tell you, you need to “flip” the discussion. You need to move from you talking to them talking.
Ask them to expand – why are those the priorities? What exactly is happening right now in those areas that they want to change? What's the impact?
Then expand on your Point of View in those areas. Give them the meat.
What's happened now is that instead of you just rabbiting on for the duration of the meeting about what you think is important, you've found out from them what's important to them.
And you've turned the meeting from “show and tell” into an interactive, advisory discussion. You're giving them valuable information on areas that are priorities for them.
And you now know what those priorities are, what the issues are in those areas, what their impact is, etc.
Pretty much all the information you need to build an effective case for them hiring you.
But you've done it while building your credibility and giving value to the client.
Next, you close by summarising the main points.
“We discussed the importance of X, Y and Z (the main points in your point of view)…and the big priorities for you were A, B and C”.
(In real life, of course, your summary would be rather more detailed).
And then you need to ask for the follow up. This is critical.
“Would it be useful for you for me to come back and talk in a bit more detail about A, B and C…share some thoughts on some of the things you could do to address them?”
Here you're basically asking permission to come back and have a traditional sales meeting where you discuss their specific problems and propose how you could work with them.
Why a separate meeting? Why not have that discussion at the end of the Point of View meeting?
Well partly because you probably don't have the time to fully discuss the issues.
But mainly because your potential client will be in the wrong psychological state.
They've come to the meeting to hear and discuss your point of view (or case studies or whatever).
Even though they'll be happy to answer questions to help with that discussion – they didn't come in “buying mode”. They didn't come expecting to end up with you proposing something to them.
And I've found that's a big switch. For many clients, it just doesn't feel comfortable to find themselves in a sales meeting when they weren't expecting it. So the chances of them buying are slim.
Sure, if things go brilliantly and the client starts asking you questions that naturally lead on to talking about how you might help them, then go with the flow.
But more often than not, you'll get better results by coming back another day for an explicit sales meeting.
But in that follow up meeting, you'll be talking to someone you've already established your credibility with, and who you already know really needs what you'll be discussing.
So your chances of ending up with a new client are pretty darn good.
By the way, if you join Momentum Club, not only do you get to participate in upcoming Marketing Masterclass webinars and get your specific questions answered in depth – you'll also get access to all the webinar archives, including this recent one on effective sales meetings.
Back when I first started doing business development as part of my consulting role, I had an absolutely awful experience in a sales meeting.
So bad I still get a knot in my stomach thinking about it.
But I'm going to tell you about it in all its gory detail because I think there are some useful lessons to be learned from it for all of us.
Here's the story…
I'd just finished running a project to improve the marketing capabilities of a manufacturing client based in Paris.
The project had been a huge success and we'd already seen over 10% improvements in sales in every country where we'd implemented the new strategies for them. A really big deal as they were in an ultra competitive market.
I'd closed the deal on the initial project, then run it and sold a couple of extensions over an 18 month period. Somewhere over $5m in total.
The idea was that I'd speak to the head of marketing of a similar business based in the UK to explain to them what we'd done and sell them an equivalent project.
This was my first time opening up a client relationship like this from scratch and it was a big opportunity for me personally to make a name for myself as a “rainmaker”. I really wanted to make this work and saw this as a critical first step to my next promotion.
We got the meeting set up through our telemarketing team – and we knew from our research that this client was struggling and needed the sort of improvements we were capable of delivering for them.
I was pretty nervous before the meeting, but the guy was friendly and pretty soon I was into the flow – explaining the case study and going through all the fantastic benefits and bottom line improvements my client had seen from our work together.
I came to the end of my case study and waited for him to start asking questions.
I waited some more.
“Let me tell you about some of the other things we did”, I said, and launched into some more examples from the project.
Still no response.
I had absolutely no idea what to do next. The guy was like a stone wall. He showed no emotions. No interest.
“Is there anything you'd like to discuss?” I asked.
“No thank you”.
And that was about it. I can't remember exactly how we closed out the meeting – it's a bit of a blur. But I was so embarrassed and uncomfortable I just wanted to get out of there.
Not surprisingly, nothing came of the meeting, and it didn't result in me instantly becoming a legendary rainmaker.
Now you can probably spot a number of very basic errors I made. As a starter I spent far too much time talking, and not enough time asking questions and listening.
And when he didn't respond – when he stonewalled me – I was far too passive. After all, he agreed to give up an hour of his time to meet with me – there must have been something on his mind that he thought he could get out of the meeting.
But what I think was at the core of my problems in that meeting was my attitude.
I was far too needy, too desperate to make the sale.
So when there was silence, I felt pressured to fill it.
When the potential client wasn't cooperating, I didn't call his bluff. I didn't want to upset him. I played along instead.
As a result, we didn't have a peer-to-peer conversation. It was vendor-to-potential customer.
Me trying to please him.
And that's just not the right tone when you're trying to establish a trusted advisor relationship. The potential client can feel you're trying too hard. That you're desperate to make the sale. And it doesn't feel right to them – they don't feel they can trust someone who's trying to sell them.
Why did I fall into that subservient role?
I put myself under too much pressure to make the sale.
In my case, it was because I wanted to make rapid career progress. I was “on a roll” and I was desperate to make the next leap up. But it backfired.
Today I see the same problem with solo professionals and small businesses who put themselves under far too much pressure in their sales meetings. In their case, the problem is that they need almost every meeting they have to result in a sale. Their pipeline is weak and they have very few sales meetings lined up – so almost every one of them needs to convert.
And it backfires.
As a consultant, coach or other professional, the more you feel you need to make a sale, they less likely you are to exhibit the kind of peer-level trusted advisor behaviours that your clients are actually looking for. And so the less likely you are to make the sale.
It's why very often when clients ask me how to improve their conversion rate of meetings to sales, my answer is often nothing to do with the sales meetings themselves. It's to improve their marketing so they're getting many more meetings with people who are more likely to become clients and so they’re less desperate to sell in each one.
Once they have a steady flow of quality leads and the pressure to sell in each meeting is off, they're much more likely to have an effective meeting. And paradoxically, they're much more likely to sell.
Could this apply to you?
Have a look at your numbers. If you find you need to convert a very high percentage (50%+) of your leads to sales in order to hit your targets then the chances are you don't have enough leads and you're putting yourself under too much pressure.
Rather than trying to polish your sales techniques and get an ultra-high conversion rate, take a look at how you can generate more high-quality leads.
Would you like to grab a coffee some time to discuss how we might be able to help each other out?
How about we meet up and we can talk about how we might be able to support your business?
Could I schedule a short meeting with you where we can find out more about your business and see if some of our services might be valuable to you?
Would you be open to a short meeting to explore your business challenges and how our solutions could help?
No, no, no.
Maybe I'm getting grumpier in my old age, but I just don't want to meet people for sales meetings any more. Nor do I want to have a coffee with potential partners who might be able to work with me some indeterminate time down the line. Nor do I want to discuss who I know that might be helpful for your business and vice versa, thank you very much.
Now I might say yes to some of these out of politeness to someone I know or as a favour.
But I don't really want to have these meetings.
Maybe you're a bit like me too. I'm desperately short of time. And my business is doing very well – so I have no desperate issue to solve that will spur me to have a meeting with someone who could help.
I don't want to have these meetings, because to be frank, I get no immediate value from them.
Telling you about my business so you can craft a solution to a problem I don't think I have doesn't do it for me. Nor does a plesant coffee where we discuss how we might help each other some time in the future.
I need value now. Instant gratification if you will.
If I'm going to give up my most precious and scarce asset, my time, then nowadays I'm only going to do it if I can see immediate benefit for me.
It doesn't have to be money in my pocket right now. In fact, I'm even willing to pay to go to events where I learn something important. And I'll spend an hour or longer on a webinar if I think it's going to teach me something valuable.
But an “initial meeting” where we just talk about my business in the hope you'll be able to come up with something that will help me (for a price, of course). No way.
And that's why I ask: “what's your step #2?”
Step #1 is easy. Step #1 is that initial connection with a potential client or referrer. You go networking and meet people. You send them a letter. You ask to connect on Linkedin. You get a referral from a mutual acquaintance. They visit your website.
We know how to do Step #1.
But what do you do next? How do you really engage with them?
What seems like a few short years ago, people were much more willing to have these exploratory initial meetings. If a consultant sounds sensible on the phone and they've done good work for similar companies to mine, it was worth spending an hour with them to see if they had anything of value.
I don't have that hour today. I need to know I'm going to get something of value in the actual meeting.
So Step #2s that work to get me engaged with you today are things like:
Inviting me to a seminar you're running on a topic of interest to me
Offering to share some benchmarking information on what my competitors are doing in a 1-1 meeting
Sending me a report or video with ideas I can immediatley apply to improve my business
Inviting me to a webinar where you show me how to do something I'm struggling with right now
In other words, you need a Step #2 that actually adds value to me right away.
I suspect it's the same for your clients. You need a Step #2 that adds value to them right away.
‘cos if all you have as Step #2 is an exploratory or sales meeting – we're not going to show up.
*** By the way – if you liked this post – do me a favour and tweet it or like it – or better still, add your comment
One of the situations I've always found it difficult to handle in business development is when a potential client you meet “stonewalls” you.
In other words, they don't respond or react to what you're saying.
I rarely get this reaction nowadays – for reasons we'll come on to later. But early on in my career when I first started taking on consulting sales roles rather than just delivery roles it was something I encountered a number of times. It's worth taking a look at some of the reasons why you might get this reaction from potential clients, and what you can do about it.
The first reason you might get a stonewall reaction is if the client is not expecting a sales meeting. In particular they're not expecting to be asked about or to talk about their own business or challenges.
This can often happen if you've been referred in to the client, or if your firm already has a relationship with the client and you're brought in to cross-sell other services.
Often the way the meeting has been set up in these cases can leave something to be desired. The potential client is often just told that you'll be there to share information, or present some new ideas or techniques.
The referrer or person in your firm who holds the relationship with the client feels they're being helpful by inviting you in – but doesn't want to go as far as saying to the potential client “I think you need help in this area, and this meeting is about seeing if that's the case”.
So part of the solution here is to be very clear about when to call you in, and how best to position it with the client. You should only be brought in if your colleague or referrer thinks the potential client really could need your help – preferably with a specific problem. And it's best to agree that with the client up front. Even if it's only to say “he'll talk about some of the best practices we've seen, and ask you a few questions about your business to see if they might apply to you”.
They have to create the expectation that you will be probing and asking questions about their business to identify a fit – not just presenting some material for their education.
If that pre-positioning hasn't been done, then it's imperative that you at least know about it. Then at the start of the meeting you can clarify what you'll be doing and that you'll be asking them questions and looking to see if there might a fit. You may want to consider not holding the meeting if it hasn't been set up correctly.
The second reason why the client might stonewall is if you don't really give them the chance to interact.
In my early days I tended to present at potential clients rather than discussing things with them. I was an engaging enough presenter, and I'm sure they learnt a lot from the presentations and it might even have worked to establish my credibility.
But the style I used didn't work to get them interacting with me.
It's something that's difficult to describe in words, but there are ways of presenting – the tone of your voice, the way you make eye contact, pauses you put into the material – that invite discussion. You can use almost the same words, but be much more likely to generate a reaction or response.
In the early days, the way I was presenting was sending out the signal “you're here to listen”. The potential client was placed into a passive mode where they sat and listened – but didn't talk about how what they were hearing might relate to their own business.
The third cause of stonewalling is the client's own reluctance or fear of engaging.
This can be for many reasons. they may fear you're going to try to “hard sell” them – and so don't want to open up. Or they don't perhaps want to admit to having problems in their business – they may be embarrassed, or not want to appear “weak”.
Getting over this fear has a lot to do with how you handle yourself in the meeting and the impression you create. You need to build rapport quickly, and to demonstrate that you're someone safe to open up to. You're not going to push product at them, and you're going to be understanding and empathise if they share their challenges with you.
Doing this isn't about using tricks and techniques. It's not about mirroring body language or using “hypnotic” words that magically make people like you.
It's about genuinely being interested in, and caring about the other person. It's about actively listening and trying to understand rather than just listening for gaps to come in with your own clever statements.
It's also about recognising when you need to challenge the other person. Today, if a potential client who has asked me in to talk to them doesn't really open up or answer questions then I now have the confidence and courage to pick them up on it.
I'll sometimes ask a very straight question: “Look, you don't really seem interested in the examples I'm giving, and you don't seem to have any problems in this area it's worth talking about. Yet you were interested enough to invite me in to talk to you today – so there must be a reason or something you want to discuss. Rather than dancing around – is there something specific we should be talking about that would be helpful for you?”
It doesn't always work – but it's a lot more likely to work than constantly talking at a stone wall.
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.
Early in my career I learnt a very simple tactic which made a significant difference to my sales – and I noticed recently that I had stopped using it. So as well as restarting its use for myself, I thought I'd share it. It's most appropriate for consultants or other professionals who have to prepare proposals to sell what they do.
Here's the tactic: when someone asks you for a proposal, instead of meekly agreeing and heading off to do it; set a meeting date with them then and there to review it together.
Simple and obvious, and as old as the hills. But easily overlooked.
When you're in a sales meeting with a client and you've talked about what they need and what you can do and they pop the question: “can you write that up as a proposal for me?” – it's so, so easy to agree and to rush off to do the proposal just as they've asked.
Assuming doing a proposal is actually the right thing (often it isn't – often the problem itself requires further exploration with the client – but assuming it is); as we all know, our chances of selling something increase exponentially if we present the proposal personally rather than just sending it in.
However, calling after you've done the proposal to set up a meeting very often results in the client asking if you can just send the proposal in for them to read first – then they'll set a meeting if needed.
Of course, without you there, the proposal doesn't have the same impact, the meeting never happens, and the sale is lost.
But if you ask for the meeting then and there you're leveraging three things:
It's harder to turn someone down face to-face
You've built up a degree of rapport in the meeting
They've just asked you for a favour – so they're likely to reciprocate by agreeing to a meeting
It's an obvious and pretty easy thing to do – but very, very often it's not done.
There are many reasons for this. I've seen sales people simply forget in the heat of the moment. But more usually, there's an underlying fear preventing them asking. They fear that the client may say “no” – and then they'll lose the chance of proposing and of winning the sale.
But if a client is going to say “no” to a simple request like a meeting – how likely is it they're going to buy anything? In reality it's much better to get a “no” right now than it is to waste time on the proposal.
Another problem some salespeope have is that they put themselves in a servile position relative to the customer. They take the “customer is king” philosophy too far and feel that they must do just what the customer asks with no reciprocal obligations. They don't feel it's right to push for anything, but instead just jump through whatever hoops the customer asks them to jump through, hoping that they'll be rewarded with a sale.
That's not the right positioning for most sales – and certainly not for selling professional services where what the customer needs is a real business partner. A peer who can advise and guide them – not just do what they ask slavishly.
So next time you're asked to prepare a proposal, just take a deep breath, and say “sure, that would be great. Let's set a date for a meeting together to review it……”