I recall one particularly bad sales appointment with the manager of a furniture store. Instead of meeting in his office, he sat me down at a desk in the middle of the noisy sales floor, where we were constantly interrupted. Before I could ask any questions about his business, he insisted I tell him what I could do for him. Then he refused to allow me to meet with the actual decision-makers, the store owners. All this happened in less time than the car ride over.
It would have easy to tell myself that the appointment went south because the prospect was a jerk … and the second part of that statement would have been true. But the whole truth was I did a lot of things wrong that day.
I Didn’t Disqualify Him as a Prospect Beforehand
The appointment was a bad lead to begin with. A friend who was trying to help me out, referred me to his uncle, the furniture store manager whom (I realized later) probably only agreed to meet with me as a favor to his nephew. Had I questioned him more in-depth over the phone, I would have discovered he wasn’t such a good prospect. Instead, I chickened out and asked a few superficial questions before setting the appointment.
I Didn’t Manage Expectations
I expected the courtesy of an undistributed meeting in a private office. Yet I failed to set that expectation. So whose fault was that?
You could even say that I was inconsiderate of the other person’s time by not specifying how long I’d need to meet with him. I could have addressed both of those points with a simple statement like, “To get an clear understanding of what you’d like to accomplish, I’ll need about an hour of your uninterrupted time to discuss the project in detail. What would be the best day and time for you?”
I Didn’t Confirm Who the Decision-Makers Were
One of the most important questions you should ask is, “Once we meet, if you decide to move forward, who else would have to agree?”
Phrasing this as open-ended rather than a “yes or no” question causes your prospect to think about who else they’ll need to consult, especially when they’re not the only decision-maker. It also doesn’t put the other person on the spot when he’s not the true decision-maker.
When it comes to partnerships, the person you’re speaking with at the time honestly believes he’ll be able to make this decision without his partner. But once you meet, and things turn out to be more complicated (or expensive) than expected, suddenly the partner or spouse need to be consulted. Asking a simple question beforehand can prevent that scenario.
I Lost Control of the Meeting
I’ve since learned how to turn such a situation around, but at the time, it was a ball of confusion.
As I sat in the middle of the crowded showroom floor with the prospect insisting I tell him what I could do for his business, I could have solved both those problems by responding with a simple statement and a follow-up question:
“I can’t possibly know what I can do for your business without knowing more about your business and what your marketing goals and objectives are. Is there a private office we could talk undisturbed where I could ask you a some questions and learn about what you’d like to accomplish?”
He who asks the questions controls the conversation. That’s why clients who want control will start hammering you with their agenda of questions, rather than letting you ask them questions. But keep in mind that most people like to talk about themselves, so if you can turn the situation around, you may find that even the most overly-controlling client will start answering any question you ask.
I’ve noticed that when something goes wrong, introspective people tend to blame themselves and those who are extrospective tend to blame others. I recommend you avoid both extremes. Had I chose to blame the prospect instead of taking an objective look at the situation, I wouldn’t have been able to learn from my mistakes and become better prepared for my next client meeting. And my next. So when something goes wrong in the sales call, don’t blame the prospect!
Former owner and partner of web firm Jenesis Technologies, John is currently Director of Digital Strategy at Haines Local Search, a company providing local search marketing solutions to SMBs, including print and Internet Yellow Pages, web design, and local SEO. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.