So You Got the Meeting. Now What?

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I landed my first sales appointment entirely by accident. A co-worker was designing a logo and business card for his girlfriend’s cousin’s company and hooked me up to talk with him about building a website. (After all, I knew more about designing websites than my friend—I’d already designed two.)

Business-wise, I did more things wrong than I did right. Things like no contract, no money down, building the site with no content, then waiting months for content before getting a dime. But correcting those missteps was nowhere near as difficult as figuring out how to handle a sales meeting. I didn’t realize there were specific steps I could follow that would increase my likelihood of bringing the meeting to a successful conclusion—or at least some type of conclusion.

Instead, I felt more like Alice wandering in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where –” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“– so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

So if like me, you’ve grown weary of “walking long enough” only to lose control during client meetings, here’s the path from handshake, to close, to finalized sale.

1. Preparation

This is not the time to post a desperate “Help! How much should I charge?” on SitePoint’s business forum. Having your pricing strategy in place ahead of time will relieve you of much unwanted stress. Go ahead; do it now. I’ll wait.

Besides knowing what to charge, you’ll also want to find out a bit about the company, its products and services. These days, it’s inexcusable not to know as much as you can before you walk in the door. But don’t over do it; learn enough to speaking intelligently about the prospect’s business.

You’ll also need some marketing intel—like the condition of their current website or how well they rank for their primary keywords. As tempting as it might be to run a 15-page site audit detailing how optimizing their ALT tags and adding structured schema data will improve their search ranking, keep this in mind:

  1. Unless and until they become a client, do not give too much information away for free.
  2. Beware of confusing your prospect with too much technical information. If he’s “a deer in the headlights,” he’s not moving.

Ideally, it’s best to look for one or two kinks in their marketing armor that will open the door for further discussion—such as a bad review of which he’s unaware; or their business information listed inconsistently on local search directories.

2. Introduction

A lot has to happen between that first introductory handshake and the final one that seals the deal. But first and foremost, the prospect has to like and trust you.

Much has been written about how to develop like and trust in sales, including false rapport-building techniques, such as mirroring and matching the other person’s body language. But here’s a novel approach. How about being a likable and trustworthy person?

A big part of being likable is taking a genuine interest in the other person by truly (as opposed to pretending to) listen. Being liked doesn’t automatically engender trust. But you’ll never gain trust without first being liked.

3. Fact-Finding

If you use the Introduction as a warm-up stage, you’ll find it easy to transition into Fact-Finding. As a rule-of-thumb, I go from general to more and more specific questions as the meeting progresses. So in the Introduction stage, I might start off my asking, “How did you get started in this business?” That gets the other person talking about his favorite subject—himself. At whatever point it makes sense, I pull out my note pad and continue asking follow-up questions until I get all the information I need.

With enough practice, you’ll be able to interview even the most astute prospects without them even noticing.

Those are the first three steps of your journey. Next week, we’ll conclude with the final four, in How to Make a Sales Presentation.

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Feeling lost and out-of-control when meeting with potential clients? Asking the right questions can put you back in the driver’s seat. Get my free guide, 27.5 Must-Ask Questions for Consultative Selling. Just follow me on Twitter and I’ll send you a link.
John TabitaJohn Tabita
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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. When not working or spending time with his family, John offers great sales and marketing advice on his blog, Small Business Marketing Sucks.

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