“The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” — Sun Tzu 300 BC
I hesitate to quote Sun Tzu‘s classic Art of War because it reinforces the analogy that business is like warfare, an assumption to which I don’t subscribe. The quote suggests that you only engage when you already know the outcome will be in your favor. I can’t help but think of this Sun Tzu quote whenever I call a prospect for the first time to set up a meeting. What’s their response going to be? Are they likely to agree, or am I more likely to be brushed off?
So how to take Sun Tzu’s advice? What might be all the ways to get on an important prospect’s radar screen so that when you do call, they’ll say yes to your meeting request?
In some industries the landscape is very competitive. Many business people are bombarded with requests to meet with salespeople. Clients won’t agree to see with everyone who asks for a meeting. A person bombarded by requests is compelled to determine who might be most useful to them, and meet with only those people. Deciding who they won’t meet with is part of their job. And, once they’ve said no to your request to meet with them, it’s very hard to turn that no to a yes. That would be like un-checking something off a to do list. You can keep asking, but you risk being perceived as pushy, overbearing or annoying.
A negative response to your meeting request has an even greater downside in industries where there are a small number of large buyers. You don’t want to make the annoyance list of the few companies who dominate the buying landscape. If they centralize their purchasing, you could annoy a mere three people and be almost completely cut out of the marketplace.
The good news is all you really need is one successful connection. If you have that, most people will agree to meet with you if you ask. There are many obvious, though not always quick and easy, ways to do this. Half the battle is taking the time to stop and ask yourself: Is this an important prospect? Do I have a reason to believe they’ll decline my meeting request?
If you answer yes to these two questions, then you probably want to invest in making a connection so you don’t lose this client before you even begin.
Here are some techniques to get on your important prospect’s radar screen.
1. Find a referral.
In building and using your professional network, seek people who can introduce you to prospects. Ask around, especially to senior people in your own organization. “Do you know anyone at Hyper Consolidated? I’m trying to get a meeting with their acquisitions team?” One email from someone your prospect knows that mentions you is usually enough. Get a linked in referral from someone well known in the industry. Attach the referral to an email, telling them you’ll be calling on a certain date.
2. Gather information about the company.
Go to their web site, read press releases, find the annual report’s CEO message. Or, find someone who works or worked there who will talk to you about the organization; it’s structure, reach, strategy or culture. You are looking for one topic that connects you to the person you want to meet or to their organization. They want to expand into the German market, and you just closed two deals with German companies. Communicate that to your prospect and you’ve just created positive separation between you and most other salespeople.
3. Research your prospect as an individual.
Internet searches can turn up loads of information on hobbies and other interests. For example, most road races and triathlons post the results on internet sites, and a triathlete or runner is likely to show up in several places. Even if you’ve never ridden a bike, an email congratulating them on their biking split at the Denver triathlon is probably enough to get a yes to your meeting request.
This is basic block and tackle sales research. Just remember to do it with a focus. You are looking for one connection between you or your company and your prospect or their company. Dig up two or three possible useful connections, and make notes. Look at the notes later and other ideas to connect you and your prospect will occur to you. Your notes will also be useful in preparing for the meeting that they are going to grant you.
As soon as you have your idea, execute. Send the email congratulating them on their triathlon time, with tickets to the Exhibit at MOMA, with information on the German market, or referencing a referral they received on your behalf. Then call and ask for an appointment.
To recap, if your business isn’t competitive on the sales side or there are many possible buyers, make the calls, ask for meetings. You’re much more likely to get a yes anyway from folks who aren’t bombarded. If the sales landscape is competitive, follow Sun Tzu’s advice and create some favorable terrain before you engage.