Follow these guidelines when you meet with customers and you're much more likely to win their business.
While a lot of business is conducted today over the Internet and the telephone, customers often want to meet you personally, just to make certain you're the kind of person who can be trusted to deliver what you promise.
Here are the eternal DOs and DON'Ts of these face-to-face meetings, based upon my own experience and dozens of anecdotes from "school of hard knocks" salespeople:
1. DO have a specific goal.
Always have a goal like: "obtain approval to present to senior management" rather than something vague like "build a better relationship."
2. DO have a written agenda.
Create a one-page agenda showing three to five items or questions you'd like to discuss. An agenda puts customers at ease because it sets a natural time limit on the meeting.
3. DON'T be showy.
I once went with several executives in a private plane to visit a customer in Ohio. The customer's first question was: "why don't you guys fly coach like we do?" True story.
4. DO check your appearance first.
I once went to a meeting with an executive and discovered afterward that I had a hole in my sweater that showed a little pink circle of skin. I'll bet he didn't hear a word I said.
5. DON'T arrive late.
Arriving late tells customers that you don't give a damn about them. Always arrive at least 15 minutes ahead of time.
6. DON'T be too business-like.
While a little pre-meeting chit-chat is socially necessary, don't let the customer be the one who brings the conversation back to business.
7. DON'T be too friendly.
Rather than pretending to be a long-lost friend, be authentic about who you are and approach the customer with a sense of curiosity.
8. DON'T talk too much.
Initial sales calls are all about relationship building and gathering information, which you can't do if your mouth is moving.
9. DON'T listen too much.
If you don't add at least something of value to the conversation, the customer will think you're an empty suit.
10. DON'T argue with the customer.
If the customer doesn't agree with an important point, arguing will only set that opinion in concrete. Instead, ask the customer why he holds that opinion; then listen.
11. DON'T discuss politics.
If a customer insists upon talking about politics, segue the discussion by asking: "In what ways do you see the current situation affecting your business?"
12. DON'T discuss religion.
If a customer insists upon foisting religious views, suggest that you'd "love to speak about the subject sometime " and move the conversation back to business.
13. DON'T give a sales pitch.
Sure you've got something to sell, but if you pitch too soon, you'll get pitched out the door. Fix: Ask questions to understand needs, before you pitch.
14. DO have product knowledge.
Customers doesn't want to hear "I need to get back to you about that"...over and over. Make certain you're trained on your current products and policies...before the meeting.
15. DO have business acumen.
Customers expect you to understand their business model, customers and how both fit into the customer's industry. Do your research before the meeting.
16. DO remember customer names.
What could be more embarrassing than actually forgetting whom you're talking with? Write down the names of everyone in the room with a small table diagram.
17. DON'T ask personal questions.
A sales guy once looked a photograph of my stepmother on my father's desk and asked: "Is that your mother?" It was a photo of his wife. He was not impressed.
18. DON'T flirt with anybody.
Anything you say or do that's even vaguely unprofessional will be common knowledge throughout the customer organization within two hours. Trust me.
19. DON'T be rude to anybody.
I gave a dirty look to a guy who was smoking in the lobby bathroom of a huge office building. I then went to a client meeting. Guess who the client was.
20. DO turn off your phone.
How could ANY call or text be more important than a real live customer? Turn your phone off and stick it in your briefcase.
21. DON'T let the meeting meander.
If you let the conversation wander, you're showing the customer that you don't have the focus necessary to get the job done.
22. DON'T overstay your welcome.
Your prospect has hundreds of other things that he or she could be doing, rather than spending time with you. So set a time limit for the call.
23. DON'T fail to follow-up.
Keep notes of the commitments you made and schedule the follow-ups in your calendar immediately after the meeting.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source