These past couple of months I’ve had several people shadow my meetings for learning purposes. So, I’ve found myself reviewing these meetings while breaking them down after the call.
I’m in a groove now where I regularly have buyers thank me for my time and insights (seriously). These compliments are new to me after ten years of enterprise sales. I’m not suggesting you have to wait 10 years to get thanked for your time - instead just read this step-by-step guide to impress your buyer. I am sharing it all.
Our modern buyer has changed in so many ways and salespeople are still trying to adapt and prove their value. If you’re still selling like it’s 1995, your job will likely be eliminated within 3 years.
The balance of power has now long shifted to the buyer and you need to win their trust before you start to sell. Running an impressive first meeting isn’t easy, but it is possible to do it consistently.
The goal of a successful first meeting is to establish whether or not both parties have mutual interest – and if there is, secure a second meeting. That second meeting ideally includes other members from the leadership team because we know 6.8 people, on average, are now involved in a buying decision.
For the purpose of this post I’m going to assume your first meeting is with the right buyer persona and ICP (ideal customer profile) and you don’t have much of a pre-existing relationship, if any. I’m also assuming this is a virtual call.
I suggest first meetings be kept to 30-minutes max (but you need to internally block off 60 in case the buyer wants to run over, and allow yourself for post-call work). So how do you run a successful first sales meeting?
Before anything else, preparation is the key to success
You’d better come to that meeting ready to educate your buyer and share something of value with them.
Personally, I spend a good hour performing an audit of a company’s sales team to determine if they’re going-to-market and sharing insights with their network on LinkedIn. I then stack rank that company against their industry and, in some cases, their direct competitors.
I’ll point out top performers on their team and the laggards too. I lead with this research immediately to get the buyers attention. You might also share best practices, or meaningful industry research you’ve conducted or curated. Use lots of data (your own or 3rd party) to tell a story. Make sure it is clear how you will help them. Oh, and entertain them too.
I probably shouldn’t have to tell you that you should be researching your buyer by visiting their LinkedIn profile, LinkedIn company page, Twitter profile, and searching YouTube. Set up Google Alerts on the buyer and the company. Look for common network connections. Look for recent news using Google. Find out who their direct competitors are and research them too.
If available, review the company’s annual report for key priorities at the c-level so you can ask your buyer what that means to their role. Come prepared with thoughtful questions – buyers will see you as more knowledgeable when you do.
The day before the meeting
Maybe this sounds elementary, but I rarely see it happen. Confirm the meeting with a short email to them saying you’re looking forward to collaborating with them tomorrow. Sure, there’s a chance that will trigger them to move the meeting, but that’s part of the point… if it’s not the right time anymore then reschedule so you get their full attention.
The original meeting invite should have also included a structured agenda (highlight 3 items at most). For example, my typical first meeting agenda with an executive sales or marketing leader looks something like this:
1. Discuss your team’s audit and how that compares to your industry
2. Review data and insights on today’s modern buyer
3. Discuss social selling business outcomes and how to measure success
When you’re emailing to confirm the meeting, also include your agenda and give them the opportunity to tailor it, if needed. Now is also a good time to provide them a quick bio on you and your company. Share your credentials ahead of the meeting. Doing so saves time – plus, tooting your own horn is more acceptable in an email.
10 minutes before the start time
Use the restroom, grab a glass of water, take a quick stretch and get to a physical space where you can be focused on this meeting. I work in an open concept office so I need to also book a meeting room for myself when I have meetings because the distractions are otherwise too annoying for me (and the buyer).
I’m a big advocate of using video to present yourself for at least the initial couple of minutes until you start sharing insights. Make sure you have a professional background – we use a branded pop-up display to keep it clean and professional.
Okay, I am a fan of the dual-monitor setup. One screen is used for what I am presenting to the buyer, the other is where I take notes in a Word doc. That same Word doc is where all of my pre-call research gets kept. The format of the research should be consistent so you can easily go back and review data in a call if necessary. Take comprehensive notes during the call. If you find note-taking too daunting just record the meeting and review after the call.
Ideally your meeting is using a reliable online meeting tool like WebEx or GoToMeeting. You’ve got a solid audio connection (embedded audio rarely works well for me in those tools, so I will use a landline or cell to dial-in).
Be ready for curve balls. There should never be a time where you fumble after a buyer asks you a question and you need to use a visual. Have a dedicated folder on your machine with all your most commonly used sales assets located in it and clearly labelled. In fact, I suggest you have your top three assets open and ready to present. If you have assets or demos that are hosted web pages, pre-load them in your browser too.
Let’s get the call started
Get to know your prospect with small talk? You’ve heard that advice over and over, but today our buyers are way too busy to spend 5 minutes talking sports and weather. That tactic is outdated.
You’re far better off getting to the point and respecting their time. In 60 seconds you can kick off the meeting by acknowledging you’ve done your research on them, their company and industry – just highlight 2-3 key points and briefly introduce yourself. Keep it super concise.
Next, ask them (a) why they agreed to take the meeting, and (b) what they want to get out today’s call. After their response thank them and align the agenda to their response and confirm if they’re onboard with the planned topics for the meeting. Adjust if necessary. Also, before you get into it, double check the time you’ve allocated for this meeting and ask if they have a hard stop.
Now, jump into the awesome content you’ve prepared for the meeting – use visuals, video, etc.
Ask your buyer for their input and thoughts throughout the call and after each segment or topic. Never assume your buyer understands new concepts – and don’t assume they understand the value.
Maintain control of the call. Just because you’re running a buyer-centric meeting doesn’t mean they’re running the show. You’re the expert sales professional and they’ll appreciate you guiding them through the buyer’s journey. If you continue to illustrate value your buyer will follow your lead. Remember, advisors recommend - not react.
The meat and potatoes of the meeting: focus on results
Give your buyer a vision for future state. You want the buyer to leave the meeting educated and super-excited about the possibility of the outcomes.
Your product is a tool – nothing else. People buy because of what a tool does for them. Explain how the tool helps them (e.g. generate revenue, new opportunities, reduce costs, improve employee satisfaction…). Whatever it is, focus on results. Share case studies and stories so the buyer can relate to the client in the story. Make it very real for them. They’ll start to see you as their journey guide.
5 Minutes Before Time Is Up
If you didn’t get to cover everything you planned in the allotted time, that’s kinda too bad. Respect the buyers time and either ask for an extension (and stick to it) or start to wrap things up.
Generally, my buyer committee is made up of sales, marketing and sales enablement leaders. So, a successful advance for me is to name those missing leaders (first and last name – yes, you must have researched and identified these folks ahead of time, even if it’s you taking an educated guess) and ask my prospect if he or she is willing to invite them to our next call. At that point you might get corrected on who should be part of it.
Never let them refer you down – correct them by letting them know who your buyers usually are and why it’s important for them to participate. When you ask them to engage their peers this is when you might also find out they’re not interested, or perhaps it’s not the right time.
The goal is to secure the meeting time on the call, but if you can’t do that at least give them a link to your calendar tool that allows them to book a meeting with you on their own to avoid all that back-and-forth. I use a free tool called Calendly, but there’s many other alternatives that make it super easy.
If your buyer is highly interested, but isn’t ready to start engagement, respect that. The most annoying thing is to have a salesperson hound you relentlessly when you’re not ready. In this case, continue to deliver insights and value to them – consider personalized email cadences using tools like Salesloft or HubSpot.
Immediately After the Call
Scrub your notes to make sure you captured everything in a clear and concise way so a complete stranger could read the notes and understand what happened. Put those notes into your CRM and update the Lead, Account and/or Opportunity record. Schedule follow ups as necessary too.
If you haven’t done so yet, connect with them on LinkedIn and follow them on Twitter, so they can follow all your insights. You should already be curating and sharing insights on those platforms daily.
Before the end of the day
Every meeting, not just the first one, should be followed with a summary email that incorporates any follow-up items, additional engaging content, documentation and a summary of your call and next steps or action items.
You’ve asked your buyer to engage other executives for your next meeting, so your buyer will likely need to socialize supporting materials internally to help drum up interest with their team and get their commitment to attend. Make this communication concise and try making it more interesting with video. We’ve recently begun using Vidyard internally with very good results.
Top sales reps understand what their buyer’s journey looks like, who is involved, and what content and engagement they typically have in order to get to a purchase decision. And that purchase is made by a committee – so those top reps build strong relationships built on insights, education and value. It’s a slow and methodical process, but it works.
Young or inexperienced reps will try to close a deal in one or two calls—don’t. Top performers know if they have a sales strategy that helps their buyers throughout their journey, they will close advance deals much faster.
If you can follow the guidelines I’ve outlined here, you’re sure to leave your buyers impressed. There’s a clear benefit to you as well – higher conversion rates, shorter cycle time, and bigger commission checks.
Oh, and an impressed buyer and a nice little “Thank you” which is the biggest compliment you can get.