So, after weeks of trying you’ve finally managed to get a meeting with that potential client. You arrive at reception in the ivory tower expecting to be whisked into a swanky meeting room where you can lay out your stall and explain your 'irresistible business opportunity'. However, shock horror! He or she meets you in reception and within the space of ‘Hello, How are you?’ you find yourself back in the lift again - and on the way back down!
Don't panic. You’re just going for a coffee. It’s how Australia does business of course. But be aware, you’re 'on' - and you had better be good. No quiet meeting room, no whiteboard and no power point, just you and the prospective client in a noisy café area downstairs in the lobby. At this point, several warning bells should be going off in your head and the first thing to understand is that the only thing you need to think about selling today is you.
This is not the time for the formulaic sales pitch, the brochure speak or the hard sell. If your sales director sent you out expecting you to bring home the bacon, then expect them to be disappointed. This client just ain’t interested yet.
It really should be sales 101 that ‘people buy people’ and if your potential sale is going to have a snowball’s chance in hell, then apart from buying the coffee you need to be pushing a large slice of personality and likability across the table. Be in no doubt, the client will often have formed an initial impression of you in the short time it took to travel down from Level 42 to the Lobby. In fact, your clock started ticking at ‘Hello’.
There’s really nothing relaxed or casual about the coffee meeting. You’re there to do a job and the client is in assessment mode. Don’t waste the opportunity. Follow the IDEA format:
No, don’t get your passport out – what I mean by identify is to put some feelers out to try and identify and establish some common ground. Ask some interesting but open questions. They could be about last night’s footy game or some hot news item. Try avoid being lame and talking about the weather. Pick up on any obvious clues, a foreign accent, or ask about what you read on their LinkedIn profile before you arrived. People love to think you’ve made the effort to check them out. Find an area where you can have a conversation that is nothing to do with business. What you’re trying to do here is establish some rapport, some sense of personal chemistry. Perhaps it seems obvious but it will be the foundation of everything that follows. Far too many people start of by talking about how wonderful their business is. Yawn.... we ain't interested...yet.
Once you think you're getting along famously, then now’s the time to start asking some sensible questions about their business. It’s always a good idea to start with something that’s current for them – eg; that potential merger, the new CEO, that article in the newspaper about them last week. Demonstrate that you have some interest in their business and that you have some understanding about what’s going on. Then dig a bit deeper into the areas that you’re actually interested in. The more success you had in the ‘Identify’ phase the more detailed will be the answers you receive. In other words, some degree of trust has already been established. Don’t expect to get much information if you have not established the right level of rapport and personal chemistry at the start of the meeting. No one is going to show their knickers to a complete stranger. So ask pertinent questions and then some more supplementary questions once you think you’ve cracked a vein of gold. However, and this is important, resist the temptation to seize upon the first ‘nugget’ that comes out – you know, the one that happens to be your sweet spot. Instead just make a note and then ask ‘what else’. Often the real opportunity will come out some way into the conversation and if you’ve gone off on one by spouting about how you can solve that first issue then you will never get to uncover the meat in the sandwich - the real opportunity.
Now you have to make a value judgement. Depending upon the quality and content of what you’ve now discovered, you could do one of two things. You might say, ‘’that’s been really insightful and you’ve shared a number of key issues that I really feel we could help you resolve. What I’d like to do is come back and see you next week and bring along my colleague from our XYZ department who is a specialist in exactly the area where you have some problems. I’d like to then present some potential solutions for you. How would that work for you?’’
What you’ve now done is buy yourself some time to go away and have a really good look at their problem and then prepare a compelling reason why they should work with you to resolve it. You don’t have to think on your feet or trot out the usual catch-all pitch that you’ve had no time to make relevant to what they need let alone consult with your peers about. Much better to get agreement for a second meeting when you can go in with all guns blazing and knock ‘em dead.
However, and again this will depend upon the situation, you could wing it and explain how you could help there and then. If you choose this option then you need to follow a very persuasive pitch structure that will have the necessary clarity, brevity and impact. More about that another time. Finally,
ASK FOR ACTION
Whatever option you choose, before you end the meeting you must ASK for the next step. It could be that follow-up meeting, it could be a referral to someone else, it could be an agreement for you to send a written proposal. Whatever action you need to move the relationship forward, make sure you have it sorted before you say goodbye. The main thing is you’ve not tried to sell anything apart from yourself. Provided you’ve done a good job there then you’re really well positioned to take the next step. Call me if you want to know how!