Few things are more frustrating than going to all the bother and expense to visit a customer and prospect, only to be stood up?  There are four steps to avoiding this, according to Bruce Seidman, president of the sales training firm Sandler Systems:

1. Pre-set the meeting context. Before setting up the appointment, ask the prospect: "From your perspective, what needs to happen at the end of our next meeting?" This question forces the customer to visualize the upcoming meeting, thereby making it less likely to be cancelled.

2. Obtain a negative commitment.  When you're setting up the appointment, ask the prospect "Is there anything that you can think of that would come up between then and now that would get in the way of us having this meeting?" If the customer says "no," it further commits the customer.  If the customer says "yes," then try to change the time of the meeting to avoid the problem.

3. Send a scheduling email. Immediately after setting the appointment, send an email encapsulating the subject of the meeting and an event schedule for Microsoft Outlook.  That way you're more likely to get into your prospect's personal calendar.

4. Call ahead twice. Call at least twice in advance of the meeting to confirm that the prospect will be present.  This reminds the prospect (and the prospect's admin) that the prospect has committed to meet.

By the way, if the customer turns out to be a no-show, you can use it to your advantage, because now the customer "owes" you. The trick, according to Seidman,  is to make the customer feel obligated to you without making them uncomfortable.

"Diplomatically let the customer know the time and energy that you put into the meeting but also make it clear you want to maintain the relationship," he advises. "Then reschedule quickly so that the no-show doesn't blunt your sales momentum."

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