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Five Ways Not to Embarrass Yourself in a Sales Meeting

How prepared is your team to have a productive meeting with a potential customer?

How prepared are you for selling to prospective customers? According to IDC, nearly 57 percent of B2B prospects and customers feel that vendor sales teams are not prepared for the first meeting.

Preparation can mean a lot of things–fundamental knowledge of your product or service, customer-specific knowledge of the issues the product or service is expected to solve, as well as a thorough knowledge of the prospect’s history, current issues, priorities, and challenges. In short, a deep understanding of how what you are selling aligns with what the customer needs. Preparation may even be as basic as understanding the purpose of the meeting and who the players are.

We have five tips to help you be ready to meet with your prospective customer and have a productive conversation:

* Do your basic homework. It’s the single most important factor in being able to have a real business conversation. When Warren Buffett takes a meeting, he says he never asks about industry, market, competitors or advantages. He already knows them. In fact, he says, asking these questions demonstrates a lack of preparation. Given that all of this information is at your fingertips today, there is no excuse for a lack of preparation. Understand who your prospect is, where they are coming from, what’s important to them and what challenges they are facing. If you can prove that you understand what keeps them up at night, and that you have some possible solutions, you’re in.

* Be sure you target the right person for the meeting. Find out which individuals in the executive suite are most likely able to make a decision regarding your product/service. Basic research should help you determine which executive ultimately owns the area having to do with your products and services: e.g., marketing analytics, supply chain solutions, accounting software, etc.

* Know who the key players in the company are today and what their issues will be going forward. Keep track of executive changes within your prospect or customer companies. Set up Google alerts for your customers, regularly check their websites, and–this is really important–read their quarterly conference call transcripts if they are public companies. Often on these calls, management will announce a new initiative in which your company could be a player. Taking 10 minutes to read one of these transcripts could give you entre into a deal that you otherwise might not ever have known about.

* Know whether the customer wants an order taker or a collaborator. It’s important before going to a meeting to understand where they’re coming from because if they do, in fact, feel more comfortable with you as an order taker and you push them too hard, you may just turn them off. But, if they are open to collaboration, identify what collaboration specifically means to them. Are they looking for an advisor or deeper business commitments? And, find out if your organization is equipped/able to meet their expectations. This approach requires flexibility. It can even entail tricky financial, legal, and change management issues. If not, figure out what it will take to foster a collaboration that works for both parties.

* Ask relevant questions. There’s a big difference between a strategic sales pro and a product jockey. Before you start lobbing product details and benefits at a prospect you have to know what they are thinking. You’ve done your homework. Take what you’ve learned and use it to get more information. By turning the conversation from primarily a talking to a listening one, you can engage your prospect by getting them to open up about what is important to them. Carefully crafted questions will result in illuminating answers that will guide the conversation toward the appropriate product benefits for that particular prospect.

By deepening your understanding of your prospect, their company, their unique business position, and what they are looking for in a vendor, you increase your chance of succeeding them in your meeting and winning their business.

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