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How To Have a Perfect Customer Meeting

In previous posts, I've explained How to Create a Dynamite Presentation and How to Give a Killer Product Demo. This post explains how to prepare for, and execute, a perfect one-on-one, face-to-face customer meeting.

This type customer meeting is a crucial step in many sales processes. Telephone sales can be effective, and online communication can make it easier to build a customer relationship. However, when it comes to closing business, there's no substitute for actually being one-on-one with a real, live customer.

Are you ready to learn this all-important sales skill? If so, read on...

CLICK for the first step »
NOTE: Much of this post comes form a conversation with sales guru Brian Tracy, but I've added a lot of material from other sales trainers.

Illustrations by Araga


STEP #1: Do Your Research
It's absolute insanity to go into a one-on-one customer meeting without knowing something (and preferably a great deal) about the person you're meeting with. Here are the five actions to take:
  1. Go to Hoovers.com and do a search on the prospect's company. Unless the company is very small or very closely held, you'll likely get a summary of the company and its business model, the basic financials, and the names of a few top executives.
  2. Go to www.sec.gov and find the latest 10K report. If the company is publicly held this will contain all sorts of interesting information. The most important sections are the financial tables, the list of executives, the descriptions of the prospect's business model, and the "issues and uncertainties."
  3. Go to the prospect's corporate website. Search on the individual's name. Examine any document in which he or she is mentioned and pay particular attention to any document that he or she has authored. This is also a good time to learn a bit more about the customer's products and their own customers.
  4. Go to Google and search on the individual's name and company. Chances are that you'll find a LinkedIn or Plaxo profile that gives the individuals entire job history. Examine and take notes. You may also get links to news articles where that person is mentioned. Skim them.
  5. Stay in Google and search on the individual's name and the nearest city. What you're looking for here is anything about the individual's hobbies, family, religious affiliation, friends, places they like to eat (reviews), etc. The more you know, the easier it will be to build rapport.
Do not obsess about all of this or spend all that much time on it. A half hour doing this kind of research should be more than sufficient. Once you've done this, you need to...

CLICK for the second step »

STEP #2: Set the Right Goal
Customer meetings are too valuable to waste in idle chit-chat, or having conversations that go nowhere. If you're going to take the time to travel to a customer facility and then take up the customer's time with a meeting, you'd better have a VERY clear idea of what you're there to accomplish.

Needless to say, you shouldn't be meeting with a customer to find out information that you can glean from the Internet, or to have the kind of conversations that are more easily taken on the telephone or via email or IM. In most cases, there will be a good reason for meeting face-to-face and one-on-one.

One good reason is that you may be selling something -- like an ongoing outsourced service -- where the customer will need to have a lot of trust that you, personally, can deliver. Similarly, there are certain kinds of complex solutions where the problem is so complex that it takes a long conversation to uncover needs.

There is also sometimes an advantage in just being at the customer facility, because the possibility exist for serendipitous introductions.

All of this is dependent upon your sales process and how your offering needs to be sold. However, regardless of what you're selling you must have an explicit goal for meeting with a customer -- something that you need to accomplish. Otherwise it's not worth the effort.

Furthermore, you need that goal in order to plan the meeting and make sure that it goes smoothly and moves the customer closer to buying.

Once you're clear on what you want to accomplish, then it's time for...

CLICK for the third step »

STEP #3: Create a Brief Agenda
An agenda positions you not as a salesperson asking for a sale but as a consultant or advisor who is there to help. The agenda should be on your company's letterhead, and should have the customer's full name spelled out, with the time and date.

The agenda should consist of exactly five or seven questions that focus the conversation on the customer's needs, going from the general to the specific. These questions should be spaced about an inch apart in order to leave space for you (and the customer) to take notes.

The questions should be crafted to lead towards the obtainable goal that you set in the previous step. For example, if your goal for the one-on-one is to win the opportunity to give a presentation of a solution to a a group of decision-makers, the agenda might look like this:

  1. How has does your company make decisions of this type?
  2. Who owns the budget for this type of purchase?
  3. Who are the other stakeholders who care about this issue?
  4. When and where do these people meet to discuss business issues?
  5. What is the process for getting on that agenda?
Please note that you could probably get these questions answered with an email. However, if you elicit this information during a one-on-one conversation, you'll learn all sorts of thing from the customer's body language and inflections, and you will uncover other lines of inquiry that will help you develop the opportunity.

The agenda provides structure. While the conversation may go in a different direction, the agenda consistently leads you to move towards your goal. Even if the customer hijacks the meeting to talk about something else, you can use the agenda to move the meeting back to it's original purpose.

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STEP #4: Build Initial Rapport
Always begin by thanking the customer for their time, and acknowledge that you realize how busy they are. This is important because even if the customer may have asked for the meeting, chances are that they'll be busy and stressed when the meeting time actually arrives.

Then explain that you're not there to sell them anything, but only to ask a couple of question and see if you can help them achieve their goals. Then give the customer a copy of your agenda and explain that you've prepared an agenda because you know they are busy.

When you say these things, the customer will visibly relax, because you've taken away their fear that they'll be subjected to a sales pitch. Now you need to build some rapport -- but do it in a way that will lead towards a business conversation.

Do not make a comment about their office or the knickknacks it contains. Instead, make a remark that shows that you've done your research about them and their company. Say something like: "Before we get started, I wanted to ask you about the presentation you gave at FinanceWorld about framistats. How was received?"

If you surface an ice-breaker leads naturally towards the agenda that you created in the previous step, you'll not only have a customer who's complimented that you cared enough to bone up, but build momentum towards the goal that you're there to accomplish.

CLICK for the fifth step »

STEP #5: Listen Twice as Much as You Talk
Think of the conversation as the torso of a skeleton, with the questions in the agenda as the spine and the resulting discussions as the ribs. Keep coming back to the agenda in order to reinforce the fact that the meeting is moving forward and that you are respecting the customer's time, relieving any anxiety that the customer might have about the meeting going on for too long.

If appropriate to your goal, you can show how your products and services meet those requirements. This should be easy because you've taken the time to understand the best features of your product or services and how they meet customer needs.

In addition, you know in advance that this is a customer who actually needs that product. You've also carefully researched the customer, which makes it easier to tailor your end of the conversation to that customer's needs.

However, please remember that sales pitches don't work in a one-on-one. Ever. While you may be later called upon to give a full presentation to a group of people, when you're meeting one-on-one, the last thing you want to do is waste time. If you have something to say, couch it in the form of a follow-up question and let it emerge naturally as part of a regular conversation.

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STEP #6: Achieve Your Goal
At the end of the meeting, confirm the next step or (if appropriate) close the deal. If you've followed the entire process described above, and earned the customer's trust, and if the customer likes you, this will be very easy. In fact, if you do all of this well enough, the customer may even buy your offering before you have a chance to close the deal.

Other than that, there's not much more to day. There's really no great mystery to having a perfect customer meeting. It's all a matter of preparing and then being present in the moment, relaxing, listening, and keeping the conversation moving.

CLICK for a summary and next steps »

SUMMARY
  • STEP #1: Do Your Research
  • STEP #2: Set the Right Goal
  • STEP #3: Create a Brief Agenda
  • STEP #4: Build Initial Rapport
  • STEP #5: Listen Twice as Much as You Talk
  • STEP #6: Achieve Your Goal
NEXT STEPS
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