Whether you are new or experienced to driving new business meetings, holding meetings with client prospects face-to-face requires a whole range of communication and sales skills.
To be successful it’s important to do your research and understand how you want the meeting to be structured. Whilst chemistry will be a big factor, it’s important not just to turn up to see how you ‘get on’, or to focus too much on your credentials carrying you through. Even if it has been positioned as casual, a prospective client will always be looking for more than just an informal chat.
Here are our top 10 tips to make sure you have a good first meeting:
Tip 1 – Know your audience.
Even if the client has told you not to prepare anything, they will always expect you to demonstrate that you know a bit about them, their brand, the way they work– and importantly, that you’re interested in working with them
Before deciding on what you will need to cover, and the best method of delivering this, here are some key considerations:
- Who is attending the new business meeting?
- What are their specific job roles, and reasons for attending the meeting? Sometimes you cannot get this information in advance. In the event that this is the case, it is advisable to ask them to introduce themselves and what they are looking to achieve from the meeting at the outset.
- How many people will you be meeting?
This will affect whether or not you choose to use a presentation or use a more informal medium like questions and answers. The more people present, the greater the requirement to use a presentation.
Tip 2 – Understand objectives.
What are you looking to get out of this meeting, and what are the objectives for the prospect? In most B2B sales situations, as the agency supplier you are looking to gain some form of decision from the prospect to move to some agreed next steps. These agreements (commonly referred to as “decision based objectives”) can be anything from a further meeting with the same people, additional meetings with other decision makers, a request for a proposal, an invitation to pitch or a commitment to appoint you.
However, you are most unlikely to achieve any one of these if the prospect does not see a “win-win” outcome from the solution you are offering. Good new business people are able to put themselves in the shoes of the buyer and ask themselves, “What does the client want to see proof of today?” This could be relevant experience, or a particular expertise. It is therefore essential that you understand their existing situation and provide a bespoke solution to differentiate yourself from the competition.
Tip 3 – Do your research.
Irrespective of your offer, you must do some research into the client before any sales meeting. The amount and detail required for this is dependent upon the size of business and the opportunity on offer to you. As a simple rule of thumb, the greater the opportunity, the greater the amount of research required. It is difficult to define exactly what you must research, since this varies considerably from service to service, but what the company does, how large they are as an organisation, and their previous and current situation concerning your service offering are the bare minimum. Along with this, who you are meeting, and their specific role in the process.
Tip 4 – Be punctual and be prepared.
Turning up late will immediately give a bad impression. Arrive at least 15 minutes early. You may only have a short period of time to win over a client and turning up late eats into this. If you cut it fine then you will miss out on valuable time to compose yourself, as well as affording time to set yourself up with any presentation and other technical requirements. Check ahead to find out what the setup is- Do they have a screen you can present on? Do they have the necessary cables? There can always be the unforeseen glitch, but this can make a big difference on timing and how you are perceived at a time where first impressions are critical.
Tip 5 – Introduce yourself!
This may sound obvious, but it is surprising how often this is skipped. Make sure you let the client know who each of you are, your background and what you do within the company. It’s a good chance to sell yourself, add personality, as well as helping the client understand why you are there and what you would be doing for them. Involve the client in the introductions too- it’s important to know their role and what they do to help shape your questioning and conversation, to ensure it is as relevant as possible to each individual.
Tip 6 – Have a good structure
If this has already been discussed in communication prior to the meeting, then it is good idea to repeat this in your opening to make sure expectations match up, particularly if the meeting has been booked by someone who is not actually attending.
For a typical first meeting with a prospective client, here is what we’d recommend:
- Opening – be clear about why you are here, how you will run the meeting, and what you expect the outcome to be. You can also validate if this is consistent with those in the room.
- Identify the need – clear, concise questions to establish the prospects current situation, their challenges specific to your service offering, and their criteria for selecting any supplier.
- Presentation – this is your opportunity to pitch your service offering to the prospect. This should be bespoke to the prospect, and based upon your understanding of their specific needs.
- Deal with objections that arise – very rarely do clients agree to appoint you without having some concerns, so make sure you understand what the questions are really asking and answer them effectively.
- Agree next actions – in small sales processes with deals of relatively low value, you may be able to close the deal on the day. In larger sales cycles, this may be the first of many and your “close” is on a further meeting.
Tip 7 – Make sure you understand where you are in the cycle.
It is always important that you understand what stage you are at in your sales cycle. As examples, your meeting could be any one of:
- First meeting – exploring client situation and challenge
- Presentation of your service or a specific aspect of it
- Negotiation of sale
- Contractual terms and agreeing ways of working
Clearly, each meeting would need to be introduced and delivered very differently. The first meeting is going to be very question based, as you explore every aspect of the client situation relevant to your offering. However, when finalising a contract, you may be establishing the rules of working on the project you have been awarded.
Tip 8 – Develop an eye-catching presentation.
Sometimes the best meetings don’t involve you even opening a laptop as this can allow for free flowing discussion. But it’s always important to be prepared, as many clients will insist on this as a preference. Using a poorly prepared and visually unattractive presentation can decrease the overall value of your pitch. This is particularly so in larger sales cycles, or where the nature of the service you are selling is linked to quality based technology or creative solutions. A few simple rules to avoid this happening are:
– Make the presentation visually interesting.
– Do not overuse words and bullets. If I can present or read the content of your presentation without you being there, then it is a poor presentation. You want to help bring your discussion to life rather than distract from it. Only rely on key phrases or topic headers. Additionally, keep it punchy – a maximum of 10 slides should suffice to cover key agenda points.
– Always have a backup. This speaks for itself. If your laptop does not work, you need to have some mechanism for transferring your presentation onto a client workstation instead.
– If the client reduces the time you have to pitch, do not rush through a 30 minute presentation in five minutes. Discuss the most salient points or re-appoint to another time. Make sure that you know in advance how much time you will have and plan your presentation accordingly.
Tip 9 – Don’t Overrun.
A long meeting isn’t always a good meeting. You should know in advance how much time you have, and the client may be on a tight schedule. Often a Marketing Director will have their day booked out with back-to-back hour meetings and therefore if one meeting takes longer, it will have a knock on effect to a tightly structured day. Sometimes the preference is for 45 minutes to allow time to catch up in-between meetings. If the client reduces the time, focus on more salient points and make sure you leave time for questions. If the meeting has gone well and the client seems happy to keep talking then make the most of this. However, it’s always a good idea to check that that they are ok for time, otherwise you could be eating into their day.
Tip 10 – Agree next steps.
No matter how good your meeting went, and regardless of how impressive you were, if there are no agreed next steps, there is no sale. As discussed earlier, the next steps can be any number of things dependent upon the stage at which you currently are in the overall process. However, agreeing these is in the interest of you as a salesperson, and prospects who invariably do not want to waste their time on meetings that do not go anywhere.
It should be noted that this does not mean, “Close… close… close…!” The next action needs to be based upon clearly defined outcomes and objectives to progress to the next stage. If all the other steps above are followed, this will be no more than a straightforward summary of the meeting, the objectives of the prospect (as understood by you) and your proposed solution and follow up. Be as specific as you can with timing of next actions. And if you agree a next step, make sure you keep to it!
If you’d like to find out more, or need help securing new business meetings in the first place, please get in touch.
You may also find our article ‘Life’s a Pitch’ of interest.