Don’t Wing Your Meetings (I)


One of the mistakes we often make in Sales is the belief we do not have to prepare that much for a sales call. Why? We have made hundreds of sales calls before. We believe we know how these meetings will go and have become very experienced in winging it. However, research proves a different insight, namely a view from the customer’s perspective; According to studies with B2B businesses, >50% of buyers report that salespeople are not prepared for the first meeting, and 75% of buyers feel like they’re a step ahead of the salesperson.

On the other hand, many sales execs do come prepared, but they have been preparing from a Seller’s perspective; They prepare themselves around questions like:

  • What do I want to achieve in this meeting? What are my objectives?
  • What questions will I ask? What are possible areas of dissatisfaction I can ask?
  • What key advantages and benefits am I going to use?
  • What are possible objections/barriers? How will I overcome these?

Their preparation is then used as a guide during the meeting to control the conversation flow. A common error they make though is to assume that the prospect has a specific problem or dissatisfaction. More questions will follow to blow up the dismay as real pain-points, impacting the business negatively and need to be solved. If you are still preparing your meetings like this, be aware of one crucial misunderstanding made here: the buying process is non-linear, and following a linear guide will fall nowadays on dead ears. Preparing yourself as if the meeting will be a linear event and applying it to the way customers are buying, you have two worlds that will clash.

Preparing a meeting in the new way of selling requires thinking like a customer; What would they like to discuss, what are they looking for in the meeting with you? Selling is about helping potential buyers make sense of their complex world and making the right decisions to achieve their company goals. Hence, your preparation needs to be aligned to the outcome the customer is looking for, and you need to have an opinion on how you can help. Your preparation is focused on understanding what challenges your prospect faces and what goals they have set out as a company to achieve. Step 1 of your preparation is to research and find answers to questions like:

  • What the prospect does as a business, what industry are they operating in?
  • How do they make money, who are they competing with, and where are these located?
  • What is their market position? Are they leading or following?
  • What are their growth plans?
  • What is their voice on social media?
  • Who is who in their organization, who is part of the stakeholder group making decisions about a change of suppliers?
  • What are external and internal pressures they deal with now or in the near future?
  • What are the current challenges in their industry, what is trending?
  • Where in the world are their consumers, and where would the majority be located?
  • What is an upcoming and fast-growing segment?

Answers to these questions will gain you the basic situational knowledge, the foundation you need to be prepared for a meeting. From the start, you want to be perceived as a credible person who has done his/her homework. You want to earn immediate respect by showing you have some knowledge of the industry the prospect is operating in. You build trust by having their interest in mind, not yours. Although you may not have all the answers, you verify quickly if your thinking about their goals and challenges is correct. You fill in gaps together with your contact. Because of your basic situational knowledge, you can have a conversation about what your contact and senior management think is important to focus on right now as a business.

If your meeting is with a management or executive level stakeholder, your focus needs to be on strategic outcomes (not products, services, solutions). They are interested in anything that can help them with growth, speed to market, market share, and greater control on operational efficiencies, leading to reducing cost and impacting profit. They think about investment, ROI, and any project that moves the company forward. On the other hand, a stakeholder at the customer’s operational level is more interested in tactical improvements. They think more about WIFM; Would a change of supplier and their solution save me time? Make me more efficient? Does a change make my job/life easier, or can I do other things with the gained time?

The quality of your preparation is key to the number of meetings you are going to have with your prospect. There is probably a direct correlation. Winging a meeting is the worse you can do. An optimal preparation will set you up for tomorrow’s success.

Watch out for tomorrow’s part 2 of this blog, suggesting practical ideas to get to that optimal preparation required in the new way of selling.

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