This is the second in a two-part series on The Meeting. If you missed part one in the October issue of the Win Without Pitching Newsletter, you'll find it posted to our web site here. Part one explored why an unqualified focus on getting more meetings can be counterproductive to business development efforts, and it addressed the proper approach to obtaining meetings. In this issue I address how to navigate those meetings that are worth having.
Your Destination: Determining a Fit
To recap part one of this article, your mission at each and every interaction with your prospect is to position the firm as a leading expert in your chosen field. This mission should drive everything you do and should never be subjugated or sacrificed. Your stated objective in your telephone calls and in the meetings themselves is to determine a fit between the prospect’s need and your firm’s expertise.
The meeting is a medium. The well-handled meeting is a vehicle for respectful dialogue that lets buyer and seller make an improved assessment of one’s ability to help the other. Order-taker agencies endeavor to impress, and thus their meetings tend toward the audition, with one party presenting and the other judging. Expert agencies employ the more selective approach of attempting to diagnose a fit, in line with the more desired patient-practitioner relationship. Most meetings are time wasters simply because much of this dialogue can be done over the telephone, before it is even determined if a meeting makes sense.
Your Manner: Selective
Guided by your mission (to position), steering toward your stated destination (to determine if there is a fit) you will succeed regardless of the outcome of the meeting. If your objective is to convince or to win, you are likely to fail in the short term and set yourself back considerably in the long term.
In the meeting yours is an air of selectivity. “I'm in charge of perfect fits. My job is to find those few companies that we can best help. Let’s agree to not waste each others time if it becomes obvious that we can’t help you or you would be better served by another firm.” Beyond your statement of the objective, the prospect should feel like you are intent on ascertaining a fit rather than promoting your firm. The meeting is peer to peer, not servant to master or waiter to customer. You want to appear to be assessing the situation as much as he is assessing your firm. Once the prospect sees that you are as concerned with the fit as he is, the defensive buying behaviors begin to disappear and the opportunity for productive dialogue arises.
Your Approach: Prescribed
Once in the meeting, use this simple agenda to navigate through to your destination.
Start with introductions so you know who is in the room, and who isn't. Agreement to assemble all the decision makers for the meeting is one indication of a late-stage buyer. You cannot close without all decision makers present, so any doubt about who is in the room and who is missing translates to doubt about the appropriate next steps at the end of the meeting. Time Check “How much time do you have for this meeting?” Hands up if you can think of a situation where you found out too late that the prospect had far less time for the meeting than you thought. Simple, but mandatory; omitting this tiny sentence can be costly. Once you know your time limit, be vigilant about sticking to it and point out when the allotted time is coming to a close. If the prospect wants to continue, let him tell you. Don’t assume. A long meeting does not necessarily equate to a “good” meeting. A scheduled one-hour meeting that turns into a three-hour meeting is more likely to indicate poor time management or an inability to be direct than it is a “good meeting” or a promise of a good fit.
State the Objective
“Thanks for inviting us here today. Our objective is to determine if there is a fit between our two firms suitable enough to take another step together.” Let your mission and your objective guide every word, every action. You break down defensive behaviors even further when you ask the prospect to be honest with you about the fit and give them permission to say no. People who are good at what they do are in demand and therefore ruthlessly efficient with their time. Being seen as not wanting to waste time on poor fits speaks volumes about your competence.
Review the Agenda
You have the floor so take control of the agenda, share it and ask for approval. “We'll take a few minutes to tell you about our firm, and then we have some questions for you about your situation. After that, let’s see if we can make an assessment on whether there’s a fit suitable enough to merit taking a next step together.” If this is your first meeting, put away the PowerPoint. Remember, you are not auditioning; this is a meeting of peers. In your first meeting you should be talking roughly 25% of the time and the prospect 75%. After your overview introduction of he firm, your 25% is devoted to asking questions, not bragging, persuading or presenting. In a closing situation the 25/75 split is reversed with the prospect asking the questions and you providing answers and combating buyers’ remorse.
Near the conclusion of the meeting you will come to a revised assessment of whether or not you can be of assistance. The fact that you see a fit is next to meaningless; the prospect needs to see the fit, so ask: “Do you see a fit here?” Do not preface the question with your own opinion unless you are sure of having accomplished your mission (to position) and sure of the response you will elicit. To be seen to be pursuing a fit that the prospect does not recognize can be disastrous to your mission. Anything somewhat short of a strong positive response merits exploration. Does the prospect recognize and value your expertise?
Schedule the Next Step
Every interaction ends with the scheduling of the next. Well–practiced experts will gently place aside direct requests for inappropriate proposals or meetings and suggest a more appropriate next step. Depending on your situation your next step might be to try to close, it might be to get a meeting with all the decision makers to set up the close, to schedule a further meeting with key people on both sides, or perhaps to suggest a diagnostic as the first phase in a phased engagement. Whatever the next step, make it as time and date specific as you possibly can. When you hear, “I'll call you next week,” try smiling broadly and responding firmly, “I will call you. Is Monday at 2:00 or Tuesday at 10:00 better for you?” Maintaining momentum is absolutely crucial late in the buying cycle. You may find you can increase your closing ratios by adhering to the simple rule of never ending one interaction without scheduling the next. To leave a meeting, late in the buying cycle, with only a vague commitment on next steps (“This is great – leave it with us and we'll call you.”) is to cut in half your chances of closing and to invite a hard lesson in buyers’ remorse.
The subject of prospect meetings is a tricky one. While face-to-face meetings are almost always precursors to securing an engagement, more meetings do not translate to more engagements. (Often just more expense) Knowing the role meetings play, the appropriate approach to take in securing them and how to navigate them once inside should help you to accomplish your mission, secure better quality engagements and immediately lower your cost of sale.