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How to Plan the Perfect First Sales Meeting

Posted by Philip Kreindler on 03-Nov-2014 09:00:00

first_sales_meetingHere is one scary statistic that will make reading this blog worthwhile – in our recent research we found 52% of customers were dissatisfied with their first meeting with a potential vendor. Even if you are in the top 48% you want to stay there – here’s how to do it.


You only get one chance to make a good first impression

It sounds like the sort of thing your Mum or Dad might have said to you. And they were right. But before we get onto the how, let’s just remind ourselves why it’s so crucial to make a good first impression.

First, it takes a lot of effort to get a meeting so you are wasting valuable resources if you don’t make good use of it. Secondly, getting the first meeting right builds trust – the most valuable asset you can have in the customer relationship. Thirdly, as the statistic above suggests, you can differentiate yourself by doing a good job at the first meeting. And if you get the first meeting wrong and the competition get it right your first meeting will be your last one.


Some critical questions

If you are preparing a first meeting, or if you are a manager coaching a Sales person for a first meeting, try answering these questions.

  1. Why is the customer taking the time to meet you?

  2. Which customer insights will demonstrate your preparation?

  3. What are the customer’s strategic goals, opportunities and threats?

  4. What questions will you ask to deepen your understanding of their needs?

  5. How will you show what you do rather than talking about how great your company is?

  6. How will you differentiate your company from the competition?

  7. What objections could the customer have? How will you prevent/handle them?

  8. What would be a good next step after the meeting?

  9. What could your professional meeting summary look like?


How to make sure you have the answers

In brief, here is the process you need to follow to get that vital first meeting right.

  1. Research the company and the market it is in.

  2. Brainstorm potential challenges the customer might have in your area of expertise.

  3. Prepare questions to validate your assumptions.

  4. Gather relevant information, for example a case study.

  5. Think about what you want to propose as a next step.


Your key tools for this are the Appointment One-Pager, a Question Repository, Case Studies and a Meeting Summary Template.

Sounds like a lot of work? Not really. And it’s certainly worth the effort. Let me go into a bit more detail and give you a few hints and tips.


The Appointment One-Pager

Before we talk about asking questions, let’s talk about earning the right to ask questions.

Appointment Structure

  1. Mutual Introductions

  2. Validate and Deepen Understanding

    • Customer Business

    • Potential Challenges

  3. Possible Solutions and Expected Results

  4. Questions and Answers

  5. Next Steps


Your research comes into play in the second section. After the mutual introductions and agreeing on the agenda, you could start by validating your understanding of their business and potential challenges. These are crucial to earn trust and demonstrate your professional preparation. The closer the potential challenges are to the customer’s real challenges the better – that’s where an industry and function-specific repository of challenges and questions could be useful.


Questions? I thought I was here to provide solutions?

Hold your horses. You will be talking about solutions but not until you have taken every opportunity to find out about their real needs by asking questions.

And there is a real skill in asking the right questions in the right way.


Smart questions

There are 2 ways you can ask a question in a first meeting; the way that makes you look unprepared and the way that makes you look smart. And there are 4 types of questions:

  1. Information Questions - are used to gather factual information that is not available from research.

  2. Problem Questions - uncover and develop needs in areas where you can offer solutions.

  3. Impact Questions - expand the customer’s perception of the problem by exploring its effect on other areas of the business.

  4. Benefit Questions - get the customer to quantify the potential benefit of addressing the problem.


And the way to ask a question that makes you look smart? A Credibility Statement followed by the question. For instance – “Based on my experience working with professional service firms, there are different ways to organise the sales function…. How is it organised in your firm?”

This sort of questioning will build trust at the same time as giving you opportunities to discover vital information and get the customer thinking about challenges that match your solutions. And don’t forget to demonstrate that you are a good listener.

You shouldn’t have to think up smart questions every single time you go to a first meeting. Start building up your own repository of questions. Of course every customer will be different but there will be many similarities and when a similar challenge arises you can adapt a question you used successfully before.


The bit where you do the company credentials presentation

Another piece of information from our research. Customers thought the company presentation was the 9th most important element of a first meeting. Or to put it another way – not very important at all.

This is what I suggest you do instead. After validating your understanding of their business and potential challenges, present a case study showing how you delivered a solution to a client with similar challenges and exactly how it worked out for them. This demonstrates the credentials of your organisation in a way that is relevant to your prospect and is much more effective than a boring company presentation.


Next steps and meeting summary

The first meeting isn’t over until you follow up. This is usually an email with the following elements, along with the usual pleasantries;

  1. Summary of the customer’s goals and requirements.

  2. Description of your solution, its strengths and benefits.

  3. Next steps – as agreed at the end of the meeting.

In some cases you may go on to define next steps in the form of a Mutually Agreed Action Plan (MAAP) but we will deal with that in another blog.


A few more questions to ask yourself

  1. Do you think you make the most of 1st meetings?

  2. Do you do enough research and preparation?

  3. Do you have questions prepared that will validate your assumptions?

  4. Do you always send a professional follow-up?

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