Let's suppose you've just made contact with a potential customer, perhaps at a networking event or in a cold call. The prospect has shown some interest and now it's time to ask for a more "substantive" meeting.

This is a trick point in the sales process, according to sales guru Barry Rhein. If you're too aggressive, the customer will feel pressured and pull back. If you're too tentative, though, you'll sound under-confident.

The key to getting this right (and getting the meeting) is to ask for the meeting based upon your "reading" of the prospect's level of interest.

If the prospect seems skeptical, ask like this:

  • "If we really could do (something of value to the customer here), what would your thoughts be on having an initial conversation to hear more?"

If the prospect seems neutral, ask like this:

  • "What is your availability over the next few weeks to have an initial conversation with us about (something of value to the customer here)?"

If the prospect may be interested, ask like this:

  • "I would love to have an initial phone conversation with you about (something of value to the customer here). What is the best way to get on your calendar?"

If the prospect is clearly interested, ask like this:

  • "How do I get on your calendar, please?"

To understand why these different ways of asking are important, just imagine using the wrong method.

For example, suppose you've got a prospect who is indeed a bit skeptical. Asking "How do I get on your calendar?" makes you seem desperate and insensitive.

By contrast, you might get into a discussion about customer needs if you asked a skeptical prospect: "If we really could save you $1 million in inventory costs, what would be your thoughts on having an initial conversation to hear more?"

Similarly, if you've got a customer who is actively interested, shilly-shalling around by asking for "thoughts" is just making things needlessly complex. Worst case, you may get the prospect thinking of reasons to NOT have a meeting with you!

By contrast, if you simply ask to get on the prospect's calendar, you're moving the sale forward to the next step, without needless delay.

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