Last Updated May 16, 2011 6:54 AM EDT
For sales professionals, no time is more precious than time spent speaking with a customer -- especially if face-to-face. That's when you build a customer relationship, learn about customer needs, and move the sales cycle forward. The last thing you want is waste the golden opportunity, so here are ten rules to help ensure that your customer meetings are productive:
- #1: Thou shalt not have a goalless meeting. Before meeting with a customer, have some idea of what you want to accomplish during the call. Prior to the call, review your relationship with the customer and identify gaps in your understanding of the customer's business. Then set an appropriate goal that will move the relationship forward.
- #2: Thou shalt not be blind-sided. The worst sales meetings are those where the customer has been sandbagging and uses the meeting as an excuse to dump on you. Before meeting with a customer, find out what has happened at the customer site since your last sales call. Make sure there's no festering wound that your presence is going to irritate further.
- #3: Thou shalt never, ever be late. Nothing says "I can't be trusted and I don't care" faster or better than being late for a meeting. Always schedule more than enough time to make your meeting, regardless of traffic and other delays. If you arrive early, pull out your iPhone or iPad and get some online work done. Or just relax and compose yourself.
- #4: Thou shalt not be unreasonably ugly. As much as some people wish it weren't true, appearances count and, in a face-to-face, you're going to be judged at least in part (and maybe in whole) based how you look. This doesn't mean that you have to be America's Next Top Model, but it does mean that you must present yourself to your best advantage.
- #5: Thou shalt not ask stupid questions. Some people say "there are no stupid questions." Those people are stupid, however, because it's idiotic to ask a customer a question that you can find out with a little research on the web. If there's some other way to find a piece of customer information, use it. Don't waste time with a customer going over what's public knowledge.
- #6: Thou shalt not give the third degree. Customers don't want to be on the receiving end of an inquisition. Pick two lines of inquiry for each sales call and set a goal to get good answers for at least one of those lines of inquiry. For example, on the first meeting, focus on understanding the management chain, but leave the buying process for the next meeting.
- #7: Thou shalt not talk more than you listen. Goal-focused sales reps often want to push the conversation into the deal-making phase. But selling is largely a process of listening rather than talking. During the conversation, listen to the customer, then pause to think about what the customer said, then contribute what's appropriate.
- #8: Thou shalt not ask leading questions. Sales reps are taught to ask questions that lead the customer towards whatever the reps are selling. (Example: "How can our company help your business?") Such ploys, however, are transparent and laughable. Instead, have a conversation that allows the customer "room" to give you the information that you need.
- #9. Thou shalt not force the conversation. As early as possible in the conversation, invite the customer to speak about whatever is on the customer's mind. Example: "Yes, I'm here to talk about our super-widget. But what's going on with you? How did that big project turn out?" Chances are that you'll find out more from that conversation than any number of pointed queries of your own.
- #10: Thou shalt not neglect the follow-up. If you followed all the previous commandments, chances are that there will be some action items that come out of the meeting. Make sure that you deliver on every commitment that you make, preferable sooner than you said you would. Hint: Schedule your actions the second after the meeting is over!