Once you finally connect with a customer or prospect and they actually agree to an in-person meeting, your first inclination as a sales rep might be to get off the phone (or walk away, if you’re talking in person) as quickly as possible.
No so fast!
There can be a big difference between landing the meeting and actually closing a deal. That first meeting might be the first of many, depending on the nature of the customer or prospect, their budget timeline or the average buying cycle for your particular products and services. Although you don’t want to take up so much of someone’s time initially that they will change their minds about having a more formal meeting later, it’s important you gather enough information from the very beginning to set yourself up for success.
This is something those who have been using CRM tools have known for some time, of course. In fact, the ritual collecting, inputting and management of customer data in something like Sales Cloud has become a standard part of meeting or even exceeding quotas in successful organizations in Canada and all over the world.
CRM isn’t just critical in prospecting and in managing closed deals, of course. It should be involved at every touchpoint in the customer journey. If you think that initial hallway conversation or brief phone connection doesn’t really count, think again.
In some respects, the data gathered at this particular touchpoint requires a high degree of selling expertise, because you have to strike just the right balance between asking a few key questions and making sure you wrap things up quickly enough that they don’t feel the “real” pitch session has already begun.
Use this checklist to ensure you have your bases covered. If you can’t get the answers right away, you might be able to ask for them when the meeting request e-mail gets sent to their calendars, or even a quick chat when you confirm the meeting a few days before.
This is what you want to know:
This goes beyond simply recognizing the name or logo of your brand. You want to get a sense of any preconceptions or assumptions they might have, especially negative ones. “They’re expensive,” might be one common preconception, for example. “Their service isn’t good,” might be another. Whatever the perception -- even if there are grains of truth in it -- you’ll want to have rebuttals or counterarguments built into your pitch deck that you’ll give into from the outset. That’s far more powerful than a generic company overview that they may have already encountered through the efforts of your marketing team.
Similarly, getting a sense of how they see competitors will be icing on the cake, because it will allow you to try and differentiate your company, its products and services or its overall vision and values. This becomes even more critical when the potential customer is new to the category of products and services you’re offering, where their outlook might be influenced by all kinds of third parties.
As they agree to a meeting, the customer or prospect might refer vaguely to “getting the group together” when you go in to present. Don’t walk away without at least trying to nail down a few more specifics.
If you’re presenting to a larger group, for instance, you may need to be prepared for more interruptions, last-minute scheduling changes or other surprises. If it’s a smaller group, you may want to understand their relationship to each other and how you’ll need to address any of their concerns. If the room might include the final decision-maker --- the person who owns the budget, in other words -- the meeting will likely be very different than if it’s only people who report into her or him.
When customers start off with objections but then agree to a meeting, it’s easy to celebrate victory and forget about those initial objections. Play the conversation back later, however, and you may already have some clues as to what customers would want in your pitch that speaks to their unique needs.
“Oh, we’re too small of a shop,” one customer might demur when you make the initial overture. That means you’ll have to explain how your products and services could scale down to those outside the large enterprise segment. Another prospect might say they tried a similar product from a competitor in the past but it didn’t work. That may mean weaving in some relevant case studies will bring greater relevance to the meeting.
If you don’t get any of these clues up front, a simple, ‘Is there anything specific or unusual about your company I should bear in mind as I prepare to present to you?” might elicit some more direct guidance. There’s nothing wrong in demonstrating a willingness to do your homework.
Some customers will want “the full show” -- a slide presentation where the sales rep stands at the front of the room and walks through a vision for how they can become a valued partner. Others will want a more roundtable-style, free-flowing discussion where you’ll be expected to respond more spontaneously. Some customers will want a lot of visuals, like infographics or videos. Others will just want to see numbers.
If you’re lucky, customers might talk about the kind of vendor meeting formats their team tends to favour in your pre-meeting. If not, start with, “Do you think a slide deck will be okay?” before you set the date.
“Well, if you could show me how we could save (X amount) within the next six months, I’d be interested,” a customer might say before agreeing to a meeting. You won’t always get something that overt, naturally. But show genuine interest in what matters to them in terms of return on investment (ROI), or the key objectives of the business that your products and services will help support.
Sales Cloud will likely have a lot of trend information you can use to build a pitch based on these proof points. Then it’s a matter of making the presentation.
Getting all this pre-meeting data might seem like more work, but it’s better than winging it in the formal meeting and then having to scramble to answer questions or chase customers with follow up details after the fact. The meeting is the sales rep’s big moment. Use good questions -- and a great CRM -- to make the most of it.