Sales meetings demand many skills, whether you're an old hand or starting out. Rosie Heptonstall, a marketing strategist at management consultancy 2nd Head, offers some top tips on making your business meetings a success
Keep up appearances
First impressions can be make or break a meeting, so do what you can to look the part. That doesn't mean finding the most expensive suit money can buy, but simply taking care of your grooming: clean fingernails, polished shoes, recently laundered suit and combed hair. Whether Matalan or Miu Miu, there's no excuse for looking like something the cat dragged in - so give it some thought.
Obvious as it may seem, preparation is the key to any successful meeting. And with potentially high-calibre competition you need to cover all your bases. Aside from knowing your own product or service inside out, make sure you've considered its value in the context of their organisation. What particular challenges are they facing? How will it benefit them?
Don't be afraid to ask questions prior to the meeting. If appropriate, ask clients to fill in a pre-meeting questionnaire to gather some finer details on their requirements. You may also want to speak to someone to assess the politics of the situation. Find out about the structure of the organisation: who needs to be involved in the decision? Who might need some convincing? And most importantly, who holds the purse strings? A good sales person will be mindful of closing the deal from the outset and structure the meeting accordingly.
Act with diplomacy
Like any group, the people you are meeting with come with their own agendas, expectations and rivalries. In the same way that you would adapt your conversation with family members, you need to be all things to all people - whether that's professional and savvy with the finance director, or sympathetic and friendly with the administrator.
Whatever you do, don't appear to choose sides should disagreements arise. Treating everyone in an equitable manner will help endear you to all involved and keep conversation focused on your pitch.
Telling a potential customer that your latest product or service is twice as good as the old one is likely to be met with a resounding "so what?". Features are important in explaining how your product works, but this must be qualified with clearly defined benefits. Greet any challenges with confidence.
If your prospect is in any doubt, suggest a reference call or site visit with an existing customer - this shows faith in your product and should assuage any fears about your integrity.
Don't ignore questions
Much as it's tempting to rehearse a perfectly scripted speech, the reality is that questions will arise. Pre-empt as many questions as you can as part of your meeting preparation. The most important thing is not to panic. Take each question in your stride: answer truthfully and calmly. Acknowledge any questions that you can't answer, with the assurance that you will research and respond once you're back in the office.
Fabrication, diversion tactics and simply ignoring the question won't go unnoticed, and could damage the sales process.
Give others credit
Talk up the talented team you have around you. Your prospect is investing not only in your product or service, but also in the company as a whole. So make reference to others in your company, their successes and the support and knowledge that they can provide.
Remember that you are a guest on their premises, so act with appropriate courtesy. Stick to your allocated time slot and suggest an agenda prior to the meeting. This will help you cover all necessary material in the time available.
Resist the urge to talk over your prospect or dazzle them with industry jargon - this is one of the biggest errors a sales person can make. Taking the time to listen and build rapport demonstrates confidence and prevents the appearance of a hard sell that can be off-putting to prospects.
If you use visual aids such as PowerPoint slides or software demonstrations, keep it brief. Interest can easily wane with long-winded or irrelevant information, so tailor content to your prospect where possible.
Above all - enjoy what you do. Present knowledgeably and your enthusiasm will shine through.
Written by Rosie Heptonstall.