You know the nightmare where you forgot to go to class the entire semester and now you have to pass the final? For some of us, heading to a first sales call instills that same heart-pounding panic.
There’s good reason to be nervous; the stakes are high when you land that first meeting. Whether it will happen as a phone call, online webinar, or in person, this introductory sales call represents the first victory of the sales process. What you say and do once you get there will determine if the opportunity continues forward. It is that simple.
Some of the biggest mistakes made on the first call look like this:
- We are totally thrown by the personality we meet!
- We aren’t focused. We forget to ask the questions that vet important needs.
- We avoid asking questions that we really need answers to because we are uncomfortable.
- We aren’t prepared. We stumble. We say the “wrong” thing. We proceed to waste our time and the prospect’s, leaving a bad impression that is hard to recover from.
The first meeting stands between us and our next step, so we need to make it count. Here are six pieces of advice to make first calls go well.
- I know – you’ve done this “meeting” so many times before, so it’s easy to think that it’s just like the last one (or 20). Lose this attitude. Tackle each first meeting as if you have never done it before, because you haven’t – not for this prospect. Prepare and be focused on them. Prospects deserve your preparedness. Take the time to find out as much as possible about them and how you may be able to help before you show up.
- Set the hook. You are walking into a new relationship and need the conversation to be valuable for the prospect. You have a very short time to do this. In under a minute, they will decide if you have something to offer or are just another salesperson. You need to find the best ways possible for them to identify with how you can help them. What is it about you, what you offer, that speaks to them and their needs immediately? Set the hook.
- Create the reason. For any prospect, there must be a reason to continue the conversation. The only way to uncover it is by asking the right questions. These are questions that provoke thought, forcing prospects to pinpoint their needs and quantifying how strongly they feel about them. Together, you are building a case for how you can help. Without realizing it, prospects are becoming inside advocates for your proposed solutions.
- What do you need to know? As you research and find out more about prospects, jot down areas of conversation important to explore. What are the questions – and answers – that will allow you to determine whether they are ready to proceed? A primary purpose of a first sales call is to determine the validity of the prospect.
- Visualize your conversation. No matter how well you do your homework before the meeting, you can never be sure in which direction the conversation will head. That’s why you need to prepare for all possibilities. The person you are talking to may be a “cut to the chase” kind of person. Or, he may be very nice and non-committal. Maybe she’s very interested and you’ve hit her timing just right. You may discover your meeting is with the wrong person entirely and you need to get your foot in the door with someone else. Each of these conversations are very different. You need to prepare and practice all of them! Visualizing various scenarios featuring a range of personalities will help you to gracefully pivot to the right tone and talking points during the meeting, keeping you in control and moving everyone’s focus in the right direction.
- Have guts. What if during the conversation it becomes obvious that the prospect is not a good match for what you have to offer? There’s no shame in cutting your losses. In fact, when we identify the “no” at this stage, we’re doing everyone a favor. You’re demonstrating that you respect the prospect’s time, and you’re freeing up yourself and others you work with to pursue more realistic and potentially lucrative opportunities elsewhere. Misguided hope does nothing but drain your organization’s productivity.
Even if you realize the job is not for you, don’t write it off as a total lost opportunity. When you hear that ghost in the back of your head whispering “Ask for a referral,” you need to do it! Practice that ask – get comfortable with it. There is no harm in asking. This prospect may know someone exactly right for you. Secondly, as one salesperson I spoke with recently put it: “No – means not right now.” So well put. At heart, we are farmers. Plant a seed today and it may come back to you in the future. Have guts and carry on.
To be continued…