My time spent in business to business technology sales has afforded me the opportunity to attend literally thousands of initial sales meetings with Prospects. As a Chief Revenue Officer I also buy technology and services which means I sit on the other side of the desk as a Prospect. In both cases I’ve experienced initial sales meetings that go very well as well as ones that do not. The ones that don’t go well, are sometimes due to reasons such as gaps between the Prospect’s requirements and the Seller’s offering. However, too many times failure is the result of ineffective two way communication on the part of the Seller.
The two most common communication failure points of initial Sales Meetings I’ve seen are:
Issue A: Failure to provide the information Prospects want in the first sales meeting.
Issue B: Failure to communicate in ways that form a connection and hold the attention of Prospects to increase their interest and drive deeper engagement.
I have experienced the above issues working in small, medium and large companies and with new and experienced Sales Reps, Partners and Senior Executives. It is an ongoing problem.
Understanding What Prospects Want from First Sales Meetings
The first issue can be resolved through a deeper understanding of what information Prospects are really looking for in a first sales meeting. What Prospects really want in a first sales meeting are “plain speak” answers to questions they use to assess if it is worth spending time with you to explore and possibly purchase your offering. Often, much of the information Sellers want to share is not relevant to initial assessments of Prospects. Examples are executive biographies, company history, extensive feature lists, deep dive demonstrations, etc. What Prospects are interested in knowing based on my experience is listed below.
Understanding How to Hold Attention & Form Deeper Connections
The second issue can be resolved by learning from Neuroscience how to make a deeper connection with a Prospect when communicating. You can actually create a bond with your Prospect, brain to brain!
What Sellers really need to hold attention and form deeper connections is the desire and ability to lead an empathetic and interactive two way discussion that has the utmost relevancy to the Prospect. Sellers also need the competency to answer initial assessment questions through interesting and engaging stories. It’s common sense that Prospects are people and people do not like to be talked at, they prefer to have a voice. People also get bored if they aren’t engaged in a conversation or if it lacks relevancy. Their minds wander and all is lost.
According to Neuroscientists, if a Prospect is engaged by a Seller in an interactive discussion that includes relevant stories of interest, something magically happens at a cerebral level. The two brains actually couple and mirror each other. You read that correctly. As quoted below by scientists “…interacting individuals are dynamically coupled rather than simply aligned.” It is worth repeating. When a Prospect comprehends and is engaged with the Seller the two brains actually begin to mirror each other, they don’t just align. I’m sure everyone has experienced this to some degree within our social and professional networks after any type of meeting has great flow and excites all attendees. Imagine if the majority of initial sales meetings could go this way. I believe most can and I’ve been involved in many that do. The one caveat is your offering must be relevant to the Prospect’s business or buying needs.
The Information Prospects Want to Gain from a First Sales Meeting
Let’s first go deeper by reviewing what Prospects really want out of a first sales meeting. Based on my experience, most sincere Prospects want to perform an assessment of the following:
- Functionality: What does your offering do? What can it accomplish for them?
- Value: How is your offering going to add incremental value within their specific organizations? What is the perceived general financial return and how long will it take?
- Differentiation: How does your offering differ from your competitors and why should they buy it versus other choices?
- Cost: General pricing information to determine if it is worth investing additional time exploring your offering based on their available or potential financial resources / budget.
- Risk: How credible and reliable are the Seller and the Company now and after the sale throughout the term of the contract? Are any other Companies or Prospects within my vertical industry I respect who are using the product?
Here are a few other related issues:
Attention Spans of Prospects are on the downswing.
In recent years I have become acutely aware of the impatience and frustration of Prospects who simply want to obtain answers to their questions as quickly as possible and do not want to listen to lengthy sales presentations. They want to get right to the points they want to assess. When a Sales Rep is going through each of the slides in their standard sales presentation you can see Prospects chomping at the bit to get to their questions. In many cases it’s because the slide content has absolutely nothing to do with their assessment criteria.
To make matters worse instead of communicating clearly in plain speak, Sales and Marketing functions across companies who are competing with each other are using marketing buzz words and have decreased the clarity of how companies and products differ and has created mass confusion with Prospects.
The point here is in many cases the Prospect is entering a first sales meeting with a concern or possibly a bias that they are not going to fully understand what they need from the meeting because of past negative experiences.
On the other hand, it isn’t an issue that Sellers want to earn commission and look impressive to their peers and manager. Nor is it an issue that Sellers want to qualify and convert an inbound or outbound lead into an opportunity they can manage through to a closed sale as fast as possible. That is a Seller’s primary function.
There is nothing wrong with these goals unless they produce a negative outcome for the Prospect and for the Seller for that matter. If the Sales Rep does not provide the Prospect with what they need in the first call or turns them off then the sale is lost. If a sale is eventually made but there is a gap between what the Prospect thought they were going to experience post sale, then the sale will not stick and the customer will churn. I.e. A closed sale that does not result in a happy customer and long term annuity revenue stream defeats the purpose.
First Sales Call Success Pitfalls
I believe Sellers need to avoid the following pitfalls:
- Talking at the Prospect and dominating conversations by delivering one way communication / “Sales Pitches” instead of leading two way interactive discussions that engage Prospects.
- Failing to excite Prospects by sharing stories of how their products / solutions came about and how they are helping similar Prospects.
- Discussing or demonstrating Use Cases that lack relevancy to Prospects.
Additional Tactical Sales Errors that Impact First Sales Call Success:
- Mispronouncing a Prospect’s name(s). If you’re not sure, ask them up front
- Delivering lengthy slide presentations in a first sales call
- Spending too much time talking about the Biography of the Founders
- Spending too much time on the Company Overview
- Spending too much time on the Problem Statement
- Using a “One Size Fits All” Sales Pitch Deck of slides
- Using a Founder’s Venture Capital fund raising slides as a sales presentation slide deck
- Poor pre-call Research that results in discussing Use Cases that have low relevance to the Prospect
- Discussing Use Cases from a vertical industry different than the Prospect’s industry
- Not explaining how an offering is different / better than competitors.
- Sidestepping the Prospect’s questions or knowing enough about your product to answer the questions.
- Asking basic rhetorical questions of the Prospect
- One way communication pouring features and figures at the Prospect
I’m sure you get the point so I will stop here.
In its simplest form the above list characterizes self-centered, inwardly focused, primarily one way communication. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many people resort to one way communication in selling situations. Perhaps it satisfies a need to feel in control when one is not certain of the outcome. In other cases it’s possibly that the seller fancies him or herself as an Actor reciting lines in a performance. In any case one way communication is the least effective at influencing and winning business. It also goes against Science and distances Prospects. Eg. When’s the last time you enjoyed being talked at in a conversation? However, if you focus on the other person’s needs as well as your own the conversation will become balanced.
What we can learn from Neuroscience (Study of the Brain)
It has been proven that if a communicator engages a listener in an interactive way and shares an engaging story a process called Neural Coupling occurs and more areas of our brain are activated.
According to Neuroscientists Greg J. Stephens, Lauren J. Silbert and Uri Hasson only when a listener comprehends and “participates” in a story without their mind wandering, will neural coupling occur between the speaker and listener where both parties brains mirror each other. The effect is broken when a listener’s mind wanders. i.e. “…interacting individuals are dynamically coupled rather than simply aligned.”
The following additional scientists state “A story activates parts in the brain that allow the listener to turn the story into their own ideas and experience, thanks to a process called neural coupling”. Gregoriou, G.G., Gotts, S.J., Zhou, H. & Desimone, R. (2009b)
While it is fairly obvious, it’s also nice to know interactive two way conversations that include interesting stories have been scientifically proven to be more effective.
Summary of How to Improve First Sales Meetings
Given all of the above, how do we better engage Prospects? The following list of recommendations is not all inclusive, however, it should be sufficient for increasing first sales call success in most cases.
- Invest the time it takes to become highly proficient at communicating through exciting short stories on how your offering came about, how your offering / company is different and better than competitors, how your offering is delivering high value for comparable Prospects and how well your company is supporting clients.
- Before an initial sales meeting understand the role / persona of the Prospect, take the time to visit their web site, understand the business they are in and try to locate online any current trends or news about their company you can converse about if it is relevant to your solution.
- Once you have researched your Prospect custom tailor your conversation and/or product demonstration to make it as relevant as possible for the Prospect.
- When in the first sales meeting lead an interactive two way conversation. Listen and identify what the Prospect most wants to know. Then answer the questions succinctly but by telling brief stories instead of delivering a one way general sales pitch. Communicate passion and excitement as you answer their questions with your short stories.
- Instead of pitching Features, show the Prospect examples of Use Cases that are likely to be relevant for their business and then ask them if they are relevant or if they have any other concepts for how your offering might be used in their business.
- Include asking the qualification questions you need to ask to qualify the opportunity and increase your knowledge of how well your solution fits for the Prospect and your company. If there are any open questions find out the specific requirements and validate inside your company that it still makes sense to proceed.
- If qualified, close and obtain agreement on next steps that satisfy your Prospect’s needs as well as your needs.
I hope you found the above to be interesting and the information is helpful for increasing the success rate of initial sales meetings.