Pop quiz: Through the connection of a friend, you've landed a meeting with a major player in your industry. This company represents your biggest prospect to date, and if you win its business it could put you well on the path to landing a coveted spot on the Inc. 500 list! Your first appointment with the VP/decision-maker is next week. Assuming you already know the basics of the company and its business, what do you do to prepare for the meeting?

  1. Google the company to analyze current news stories, find out what their market issues are and use this data to prepare examples of how you've helped other companies overcome similar issues.
  2. Craft a PowerPoint pitch with lots of cool graphics that depicts the features and benefits of your service.
  3. Do more background research on the industry to solidify your expertise and ensure that you're prepared with the right answer no matter what questions are thrown at you during the meeting.
  4. A combination of A, B & C (you like to show up at meetings with a complete game plan!)
  5. Nothing

If your answer was 'D', we're not surprised. Popular sales strategy often advocates doing advance reconnaissance work and preparing a blizzard of facts and data based upon what you learn. We heard recently, however, of a somewhat contrarian viewpoint that advocates a drastically different approach.

Toni Nell, a San Francisco Bay area-based consultant, is writing a book called Stop Selling Like a Man! Her thesis is that the typically male way of selling, with its focus on walking in to a prospect's office knowing all the answers and offering immediate solutions can oftentimes block the very goal we're looking to achieve--the sale. In contrast, she says, the female approach focuses on the human connection involved in business and uses the initial meeting to understand a potential client's needs. The key mandate of the female style is to build relationship and allow the sale to gestate in its own time.

Now interestingly enough, Toni tells us she learned this style of selling from a guy! And she's not saying that there aren't cases when it's better to use a more "male" style of selling. But the potential pitfall of this approach, Toni noted, is that by not taking time to tune into and hear the needs of the customer before preparing solutions, you run the risk of forcing the sales pitch to move faster than the underlying relationship. Doing so pushes the deal's timeline outside of its natural flow, oftentimes resulting in awkwardness or a premature "no."

In practice, the female approach is rather radical--Toni recommends showing up to initial meetings without the usual props of PowerPoint slides, brochures and stacks of pre-done research. The objective is to arrive essentially empty-handed, open and receptive, so that all you have is you. For those of you who consider this tactic to be a little bit too revolutionary and can't imagine showing up at a meeting carrying nothing, Toni advises bringing what you think you may need but initially leaving it stashed away.

What to do without your usual crutches? Open the meeting, Toni says, by asking this question: "So why am I here?" This question isn't meant to be asked in a way that leaves you open to sarcasm ("You tell me why you are here"), but should be posed as a sincere request for information about the problems that your prospect might be facing. Once you've listened to what they've had to say, your second question is this: "How is that affecting you?" By asking you will elicit a list of issues, which should then be followed up with a third question: "What needs to change in order for you to have things work?" It is only then, by analyzing the response of your prospect to this question, you will begin to see if your product or service can truly offer a solution to their needs. From there--if you've determined you can, indeed, help--you move naturally into providing information about your services as the logical next step of the sales process.

Toni can attest to the success of this style of selling, both personally and in the consultants she certifies (she also works closely with the One Page Business Plan group). Using the female method, she reports, often leads to the prospects asking for the sale by saying "How can we get started?" (Wouldn't we all love to have that happen?) So take a chance, stop selling like a man, and let us know the results you have in your own business!

To learn more about Toni Nell, Stop Selling Like a Man! and the One Page Business Plan group, you can check out her website here: www.springboardconsulting.biz.

E-mail us your comments at ElainePamela@gmail.com!