This guide follows the sales process from identified opportunity to contract. If you want to know the best practices for getting in the door in the first place, see my article Sales prospecting made easier. The areas covered here are:
- Preparing for sales meetings
- Running sales meetings
- Progressing your deals
1. Preparing for sales meetings
There’s really no excuse for not being prepared for a sales call (meeting). Showing up and “winging it” is just not acceptable to the vast majority of B2B prospects out there. They know you can do your homework so they expect you to do so. Otherwise you could be in for a really quick meeting (ever hear the story of the sales rep that turned up to a CFO’s office and started the meeting by asking “what business are you in?” The CFO handed him the company’s annual report and said come back when you know – this story may be sales lore but illustrates the point.)
What should you do to prepare for a sales call? Here are 12 tips.
1. Have an objective: maybe one of the things I’ve screwed up the most in my sales career but when you think about it rather obvious isn’t it? You need to think about what you want to happen as the result of the meeting. We often don’t have enough information going into the meeting to know exactly what objective is achievable so it’s good practice is to have a two to three outcomes that work for you. Most of the time in a complex sale “get the deal” is NOT a likely outcome.
2. Confirm who will be there: this one seems to be forgotten quite a lot. Meetings change their flavor dramatically depending on who’s there. Is the CEO coming? Me thinks his team will act a little differently. I just heard of a real life case where a CEO was supposed to be at a meeting but canceled last minute due to a crisis. Even though the sales person executed the sales call well the sale only moved forward slightly as the CEO was not present. Your preparation depends heavily on whose coming.
3. Prepare to fight the status quo: kudos to the Jill Konrath for pointing this key point out to me in SNAP Selling. When you think about real selling today, fighting the status quo is the stiffest competition out there. So many of the opportunities we have in the pipeline seem to go to Neverland. So before any sales meeting how about preparing to fight you toughest competitor: Mr. Status Quo? What arguments do you have that are so compelling that this super-busy prospect will make a change?
4. Research the company: Sales 101 stuff but given the statistic from the research at the beginning of this post worth mentioning. Make sure you do the basics of knowing about their company, visiting their website for goodness sake.
5. Research the person: also obvious but also not always executed well. You’re selling to a person not to a company. So find out what you can about them personally. Of course, spend more time if this is a big opportunity for you and less if it’s a small potato. But do some quick research on the person whenever you can (Google and Linkedin at least.)
6. Anticipate objections and questions: prospects have questions. They may even sound like objections. What do you say to these things? Don’t try to wing it–you will take unnecessary risks by winging it. Go in prepared. Think about the most likely questions and objections you are likely to hear and prepare your responses.
7. Know some issues in their industry & about their competition: what are the prevalent issues in the prospect’s industry? What moves are their competition making? What can you learn from their competition that give you insight into what your prospect company may be dealing with?
8. Come in with assumptions: these days not only can you not ask questions like “what business are you in?” but you need to be a consultant that has an overview of the prospect’s market. You need to enter with a statement like “we’ve noticed lots of companies like yours dealing with cash-flow management issues [replace with relevant issue]. Is this affecting you? How are you handling it?”
9. Prepare some case studies and testimonials: make sure you have your relevant case studies and testimonials lined up. Keep them until you really need them (hint: use them at the end of the meeting as proof not at the beginning as a “dog and pony show” — you are there to listen.)
10. Bring your ROI information: same here as for case studies: what have you got that supports the ROI on your services/widget? Do you have any actually numbers? $’s speak the loudest but operational metrics are great too. What can you show me about the amount of payoff and payoff time to break even?
11. How about an agenda? this seems a bit radical to many sales people but how about actually having an agenda for your meeting? A lot of your prospects are used to having agendas for internal meetings so why not for your sales call? Agendas help iron out any misunderstandings on the goal for the meeting, saving you valuable time. Plus, your prospect will likely be impressed at how professional you are, making you stand out from other sales people–cool.
12. Match prep time to the importance of the call: for more important calls spend more time on preparation. As a rule-of-thumb, I’d expect to spend at least one hour preparing for a fairly important one hour sales call, half an hour for a half hour meeting etc.–increase or decrease to taste.
2. Running sales meetings
Don’t go into a sales meeting thinking you’re a sales person, think of yourself as a business consultant. Why? The image we have in our mind is that a sales person pushes what they have. A consultant diagnoses, like a doctor.
Running a good sales meeting is all about asking questions and listening–not about talking and pitching. Keep your recommendations until after you have all the information from asking questions in-hand—first diagnose then prescribe.
The small talk that often happens at the beginning of a meeting (in the corridor or while we’re waiting for everyone to show up in the conference room), can be a good time to add to your knowledge of the prospect. Take a look at the “Mackay 66” for ideas of what might be worth knowing—no need to know all this but every little bit helps build a relationship. No need to grill anyone but maybe better to add your knowledge than site in awkward silence.
Once your meeting gets going “for real” you can share the agenda you prepared (you did right?). I recommend structuring the agenda and the meeting around Neil Rackham’s classic “SPIN” framework for running a sales call. Here are the elements of SPIN:
- Situation: ask questions to confirm/deny your research. This is the basic stuff about the person and company’s situation. Your prospect will really appreciate it if you’ve figured a lot of this out in advance. They dread wasting an hour of their time educating a sales person on the basics that they could find online. Hopefully, since you’ve done your preparation, your questions can be more like “you guys produce widgets X, Y and Z correct?”, “And your business is about 30% export, correct?”. You can whip through this section as you are confirming you research not doing it. Your prospect will likely add information to what you have discovered, giving you details not available to the public.
- Problem: Here’s where you start really diagnosing. You need to understand what problems your prospect is facing. I always like to start with goals, my favorite question to start with here is something like “What are your top 2-3 marketing [fill in your area] goals for this year?” Something goals-related seems to get the conversation “facing in the right direction”. After that, it generally makes sense to drill down on the areas mentioned in the response. For example, “so you need to amp up your email marketing programs to get x visitors to your website per month. What are your current plans to do that?”, “what resources do you think you need to do that?”, “do you see any major obstacles in your way?” etc. Keep discovering problems until you think you clearly understand the picture (and also keep an eye on the clock, you want to get to the next section before your time is up.)
- Implication: Explore the implications of the problems you’ve discovered in step 2. This is essentially a bit of a “pain amplification” exercise but hopefully done in good spirit. These questions help your prospect really understand the true cost of these problems. For example, ”we’re not getting our email programs out on time, as our system is too hard to use” in itself does not sound so big of an issue but if you dig into the implications you could find something like “since we don’t get our email campaigns out on time, we only sent 3 campaigns this year vs our plan of 12”, “then we only got a quarter of the leads from email that we planned, because of that we only closed a third of the deals we planned. We closed $500k instead of $1.5 million.” Now we’ve got a big problem…and it may be one that your solution can address. The cost of your product may not seem so high in comparison to the cost of the problem.
- Need-Payoff: This stage is a counterpart to step 3. It’s about saying “so if that problem were solved what would that do for you?” In the above example by implementing our solution you might make an extra $1 million in revenue. You can go further into the “blue sky” by asking “what if you could send even more than 12 campaigns per year? If the system was so easy to use? What if you could send 24 campaigns per year? Would that mean you could bring in $3 million in revenue? How would that affect things?” etc.
Before you pack up to leave double-check that you have set actions. Simple rule of thumb: any meeting without action items is a waste of time–or for sure you have disqualified this opportunity.
Set action items and make sure they include who, what and when. Assign follow up actions, with to your prospect as appropriate. For example, “so you’ll send me some information on your website content management system so we can understand it in more detail and a login to your email system to review your email format”. Make sure your prospect’s actions have a deadline. These actions and deadlines will give you the perfect reason to follow up after the meeting.
3. Progressing your deals
Do your actions. Obviously, if you set actions in a meeting with your prospect, you need to do them afterwards. Often completing your actions from a sales call involves talking to other people in your company. You may have to track some people down and get on their calendar. Set up the internal meetings you need in good time to hit the timelines you agreed with your prospect. It’s critical that you deliver on what you promised in the meeting or you may make your prospect wonder how you will deliver on your product or service if they become a client.
If this is a big opportunity for you, it’s time to get strategic. Gartner’s research shows the number of decision-makers involved in buying solutions is 6-10. One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen sales people make is “putting all their eggs in one contact’s basket”. The person you met with is likely only one of several people that will decide if your deal is going to close. Figuring out who these other people are, and addressing their issues, is the best way to increase your odds of closing the deal.
I’m a big fan of the framework for doing this from Miller and Heiman’s classic sales book Strategic Selling (now New Strategic Selling). The key to the Miller and Heiman framework is identifying “red flags” and eliminating them one-by-one. “Red flags” are people that will be involved in purchasing your deal that you have not identified and issues these people have that you have not identified or not addressed.
As you eliminate “red flags” you increase the chances of you winning the deal, as you have addressed and gotten agreement from more of the “buying committee” that your solution fits for them personally.
When you talk to the people involved in buying your product or service, you can document what you discuss together and turn this into an almost-certain to close “proposal”. Because you are developing this document with the people in the “buying committee” you are eliminating nearly all the guesswork that goes into a typical proposal. The people in the buying committee are “co-authoring” this document with you…it starts becoming their “baby” too.
You can circulate this document around the people in the “buying committee” and make sure as it develops it still works for everyone. You should ask to iron out any issues that come up (such as people having different views of the need or solution.) Once everyone is happy with the document, you pretty much have a statement of work for your project. Add some business terms and conditions to this and you have a contract—with a high chance of being signed!
If you’ve followed some of the steps above, closing of deals, even “whales”, will be easy!
Once you get some serious “buying signals” from your prospect, you need to change your sales mindset. This is the stage when you can end up agreeing to something you will regret later.
I’ve seen many cases where sales people cut prices right at the end of progressing a deal. Just like your salary, it’s really hard to negotiate with an existing client and get their price to go up. It makes it really important to get the price right from the beginning. Once you start getting buying signals or even more a “verbal” from your prospect, change your mindset to that of negotiation vs. selling. Protect your margins and keep the scope of your project under control.
Frequently when the buyer says they want to pay less, you can respond by telling them that they would get less at that price point and defining for them what that “less” would look like. Some buyers will have a tight cap on what they can spend and will take an offering with fewer features, others may quickly find more budget, and some buyers have just been trained to always ask for a lower price!