Chris Gallagher, Executive Business Development Coach at Upfront shares the make-up of a successful sales meeting.

As a business development agency, our central purpose is to win new business for our clients; we often find that new clients come on board owning a mixture of sales skills, some requiring more sales coaching than others. However, both sides of the team need to work synonymously to clinch the deal. And once we have created the opportunity with a key prospect, it is then up to your salesperson to sell your agency.

Whether you are new or experienced to driving new business meetings, you will agree that holding meetings with prospects and closing sales face-to-face requires mastering a whole range of strategies and sales skills.

This is why Upfront has noted 7 steps to successful meetings to get your sales conversions flowing.

Step 1
Understand your audience. Before deciding upon what you will need to cover, and the best method of delivering this, here are some key considerations:

a.Who is attending the new business meeting?

b.What are their specific job roles, and reasons for attending this meeting - essential to understanding point 2. Sometimes you cannot get this information in advance. In the event that this is the case, it is advisable to ask them to introduce themselves and what they are looking to achieve from the meeting at the outset.

c.How many prospects will you be meeting? This will affect whether or not you choose to use a presentation, or use a more informal medium like questions and answers. The more people present, the greater the requirement to use a presentation. That said, if this is your first meeting, it makes it difficult to use a presentation that is 100% relevant since you have not had time to explore their specific requirements at that time.

Step 2
Understand yours and your prospect’s objectives. What are you looking to get out of this meeting, and what are the objectives of the customer? In most B2B sales situations, as the agency supplier you are looking to gain some form of decision from the prospect to move to some agreed next steps. These agreements (commonly referred to as “decision based objectives”) can be anything from a further meeting with the same people, additional meetings with other people such as the Financial Director, an invitation to pitch, a commitment to buy, or many others.

However, you are most unlikely to achieve any one of these if the prospect does not see a “win-win” outcome from the solution you are offering. Good salespeople are able to put themselves in the shoes of the buyer and ask themselves, “What does the client want to see proof of today?” If your solution is a global online advertising service, a buyer for a large corporate is inevitably going to be concerned with your global presence, cultural understanding, translation issues, cross-boundary marketing experiences, and so on. It is therefore essential that you understand their existing situation and provide a bespoke solution to differentiate yourself from the local and global competition.

Step 3
Do your research. Irrespective of what your selling, you must do some research into the client before any sales meeting. The amount and detail required for this is dependent upon the size of business and the opportunity on offer to you. As a simple rule of thumb, the greater the opportunity, the greater the amount of research required. It is difficult to define exactly what you must research, since this varies considerably from service to service, but what the company does, how large they are as an organisation, and their previous and current situation concerning your service offering are the bare minimum. Along with this, who you are meeting, and their specific role in the process is essential to avoid “time-wasting” meetings with non-decision makers.

Step 4
Have a good structure. Any sales process diagram can define what a good structure looks like. But for meetings where an entire sales process can be achieved, from identifying a need to completion, the following is an ideal structure:

• Opening – be clear about why you are here, how you will run the meeting, and what you expect the outcome to be.

• Identify the need – clear, concise questions to establish the prospects current situation, their challenges specific to your service offering, and their criteria for selecting any supplier.

• Presentation – this is your opportunity to pitch your service offering to the prospect. Many agencies use the same presentation repeatedly, irrespective of the client circumstance. In an ideal world, and certainly in bigger sales cycles, you would present this in a follow up meeting. This enables you to write a presentation bespoke to the prospect, and based upon your understanding of their specific needs. In very large sales processes, you may need to identify the needs and present to a number of key decision makers and influencers within a single sales cycle.

• Deal with objections that arise – very rarely do clients agree to purchase without having some concerns, such as: “It’s too expensive”, “it doesn’t do everything we expected” and dozens more excuses can be forthcoming. Do not ignore these - deal with them. And since there are only ever six or seven regularly occurring ones in any sector, learn the best answers for all of them. There is no excuse for improvisation in this area.

• Agree next actions/close the business – this is self- explanatory. In small sales processes with deals of relatively low value, you may be able to close the deal on the day. In larger sales cycles, this may be the first of many meetings to come and your “close” is on a further meeting.

Step 5
Make sure you understand where you are in the sales cycle. If like the above point your sell is a much more complex one, which involves more than a single meeting, it is important that you understand what stage you are at in your sales cycle. As examples, your meeting could be any one of:

o First meeting – exploring client situation and challenge
o presentation of your service or a specific aspect of it
o negotiation of sale
o implementation or training of solution, or
o up-sell for further business.

Clearly, each meeting would need to be introduced and delivered very differently. The first meeting is going to be very question based, as you explore every aspect of the client situation relevant to your offering. However, when implementing a campaign or marketing solution, you may be establishing the rules of working on the project you have been awarded.

Step 6
Use a first class presentation. Using a poorly prepared and visually unattractive presentation can decrease the overall value of your sales pitch. This is particularly so in larger sales cycles, or where the nature of the service you are selling is linked to quality based technology solutions (e.g. website developers). A few simple rules to avoid this happening are:

- Make the presentation visually interesting. In an ideal world, flash should be used, but this can be impractical if you need to edit your presentations frequently, where PowerPoint will suffice. That said, you can easily embed a mini flash presentation within an otherwise editable presentation driven by some small headers on the front page of a presentation, alongside your company logo (typical headings can be “testimonials”, “financials”, “proposal”, and so on).

- Do not overuse words and bullets. The rule of thumb here is that if I can present or read the content of your presentation without you being there, then it is a poor presentation. Only rely on key phrases or topic headers. Additionally, a thirty slide PowerPoint with nothing but bullets on it will bore your client to sleep. Imbed “interest peaks” into your presentation to include graphs, pie charts, testimonials, and so on.

- Do not under use or over use animation. Often people feel the need to overuse animation, which can become distracting and over the top. Equally, dropping an entire slide into view means that the client will inevitable read ahead of where you want them to be. Bring each salient point in as required.

- Always have a backup. This speaks for itself. If your laptop does not work, you need to have some mechanism for transferring your presentation onto a client workstation instead.

- If the client reduces the time you have to pitch, do not rush through a one-hour presentation in fifteen minutes. Discuss the most salient points or re-appoint to another time. Make sure that you know in advance how much time you will have and plan your presentation accordingly.

Step 7
Agree next steps. No matter how good your sales meeting went, and regardless of how impressive you were, if there are no agreed next steps, there is no sale. As discussed earlier, the next steps can be any number of things dependent upon the stage at which you currently are in the overall process. However, agreeing these is in the interest of you as a salesperson, and prospects who invariably do not want to waste their time on meetings that do not go anywhere.

It should be noted that this does not mean, “Close… close… close…!” like a timeshare salesman, but that the next action is based upon clearly defined outcomes and objectives to progress to the next stage of the sale. If all the other steps above are followed, this will be no more than a straightforward summary of the meeting, the objectives of the prospect (as understood by you) and your proposed solution and follow up.

Chris Gallagher is an experienced sales training consultant at Upfront. Upfront is a full-service business development agency, specialising in the marketing services sector. We offer consultancy, new business, data, PR, recruitment, and training.

To enquire about any of our services get in touch with Matt Dyment, Business Development Director on 0870 486 2190.

Published on: 2:16PM on 15th July 2009