12 Rules for Great Customer Meetings
Sales great Brian Tracy once spent an hour with me one-on-one, coaching me on how to meet face-to-face with new customers. Here's a list of rules that emerged from that once-in-a-lifetime experience. Enjoy!
1. Do your homework.
Learn everything that you can about the customer. There is a wealth of information available on the Internet about virtually every company. Never put yourself in the position of asking the customer a question that could be answered elsewhere.
2. Create an agenda.
This 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. Example (for a print services vendor):
Note that you should put the agenda on your company's letterhead and have the customer's full name spelled out, with the time and date. Make enough copies so that everyone in the room can take notes as the meeting proceeds.
3. Make a positive first impression.
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.
4. Set the agenda.
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.
5. Use the agenda to reveal requirements.
Think of the presentation 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.
6. Pace the conversation so the customer isn't overwhelmed.
The average customer can listen to only three sentences before becoming overloaded. If you become an information fire hose, the customer will simply shut down and say "I'll think it over." When the customer talks, listen. Listening carefully also allows you to better sense the customer's true attitude and mood.
7. Keep everyone in the conversation.
Do not make the mistake of talking solely to the senior manager. While he or she may be the final decision maker, it's likely that you will have to convince others in the room to do business with you and your company. As you present, speak to each section of the audience, making sure that you make eye contact with each of the people in the room. Make a point, looking at one person, then continue, making your next point, looking at another person.
8. Discover the buying time-frame.
It's a big mistake to focus on customers who aren't really going to buy. The classic way to get this information is to ask: "If I show you exactly what you're looking for at a reasonable price, what kind of time frame will it be for you to make a decision?"
9. Preempt inevitable objections.
When you're reasonably certain that a particular objection will surface, preempt it by admitting it before the customer brings it up. Example: "Some people say that our product costs a little too much, but..." Admitting the "cons" to your product as well as the "pros" also enhances your credibility.
10. Never criticize a competitor.
If a competitor comes up, praise them honestly for what they do well, but then show the customer why it would be a better business decision to work with your company. Example: "Well, ABC is an excellent company and they've been in business a long time and have high standards. However, I believe, based upon what you've told me about your needs, that we can satisfy them better because..."
11. Show how you can meet the customer's requirements.
Because you've done your research, you know in advance that this is a customer who actually needs your offering and you have a good idea how to position your offering so that it meets the customer's needs. The golden rule of selling is to sell to your customers the way you'd like to be sold to yourself.
12. Close the business or confirm the next step.
If you've followed the entire process described above, and earned the customer's trust, and if the customer likes you, it will be very easy to close or move the sales process to the next step. If you do this correctly, the customer may even buy the product or service without asking the price.
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GEOFFREY JAMES | Columnist
Geoffrey James was recently named a "Top 40 Social Selling Marketing Master" by Forbes, and his blog has won awards from the Society of American Business Editors and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. His writing has appeared in publications as diverse as Wired, Brandweek, and Men's Health, and he is the author of numerous books, including The Tao of Programming, Business Wisdom of the Electronic Elite, and, most recently, Business Without the Bullsh*t: 49 Secrets and Shortcuts You Need to Know.