Finding the Loose Connection

Getting a “yes” rather than a “no” to a meeting request usually requires just one thing: a connection, however loose, between you and your prospect. Establish some connection, any connection, and your request for a meeting will usually be answered affirmatively.

… and Getting Yourself a “Yes”

switchboardYou pick up the phone — to call a prospective client with whom you’ve wanted to meet for a while. Today feels like the day. You make the call, get them on the line, and ask if you can come by their office for a meeting.

They say, “No thanks.”

Once a prospective client has said “no” to your request for a meeting, it’s even more difficult to get a “yes” later. You’ve already been disqualified. Getting a “no” switched to a “yes” is like getting someone to add an item to their to-do list that they’ve already crossed off. They disqualified you. From their perspective, that was progress. Getting an initial “no” is a situation to be avoided.

How might you increase the odds of a “yes” when you make that call?

Getting a “yes” rather than a “no” to a meeting request usually requires just one thing: a connection, however loose, between you and your prospect. Establish some connection, any connection, and your request for a meeting will usually be answered affirmatively.

What do we mean by connection? Here’s a list of reasons people are more likely to say yes to your request for a meeting. (Lists are useful to spark creative thinking.) When you read the list, let your brain make a creative connection — in this case a connection to a connection you may have to your client. (These are loosely ordered, starting with the strongest connections first.)

Network
  1. Someone your client knows referred you, especially if they sent an email saying so first. (This is gold.)
  2. You share a professional network. Someone in your company knows someone in theirs.
  3. You work with a well-known individual (or company or entity). For example if your clients are scientists, and the National Science Foundation is a client of yours, this is often enough of a connection to get a yes.
  4. You are connected to people who might be useful to them, service providers, researchers.
  5. You know people in common outside of work, through a club, a sport a hobby, or simple geography.
Your Company
  1. You can execute demonstrably faster or better than your competitors, and this might matter to your prospect.
  2. You have new capabilities of which your prospective client is unaware, which they might be able to profit from.
Your Business Knowledge
  1. You offer interesting insights into your client’s business.
  2. You have intelligence relevant to an initiative your client is undertaking.
  3. You work with companies in their supply or delivery chain, (and sometimes even a company who is a competitor.)
  4. You have specific experience in a niche they occupy.
  5. You can point to specific tricky problems that you solved with your creative and innovative capacity.
Serendipity
  1. You are going to be in their neighborhood or city.

Find a connection. Once you have a connection, we’ll tell you in the next post, how to employ that connection to get a yes to your request.

Hitting your (Sales) Target

You go into your meeting and you think, “I’ve got to make that sale.” That’s like sighting in on the bullseye and forgetting about gravity. You have a good chance of ending up in the dirt, 30 meters short of your goal.

arrow-targetEveryone who’s ever been in a selling situation wants to make the sale, close the deal, rack up those bonus points. But sometimes, in our effort to close the deal—to score—we may be aiming at the wrong thing.

Imagine you’re an archer aiming for a target 150 meters downfield. You draw your bow with all your strength, aim dead center at the bullseye, and let ’er fly. About two-thirds of the way down the range, your arrow lands neatly in the grass. As true as your aim seemed to be, gravity pulled your arrow down. You didn’t even reach the target, let alone score a bullseye.

It’s like that in sales too — if you’re only focusing on the sale itself.

But what if you focus higher — on the relationship. Then, like an archer aiming above the target, the track of your arrow forms a perfect arc and thwangs into the bullseye. In fact, the only way to consistently hit the bullseye is to aim above it.

It’s the same with sales. You go into your meeting and you think, “I’ve got to make that sale. That’s what I’m here to do, and that’s what I’m going to do.” That’s like sighting in on the bullseye and forgetting about gravity. You have a good chance of ending up in the dirt, 30 meters short of your goal.

If, instead of focusing all your energy on closing, you focus it on developing a relationship by being truly useful to your potential client, your arrow is more likely to arc smoothly into the bullseye.

Will you score a bullseye every time? Of course not. But your winning shots will be higher — much higher. And here’s the fun part: By aiming at the relationship instead of the sale, you’ll have a much better chance not only of closing this deal, but the one after that and the one after that and the one after that.

So if you want to hit the bullseye, aim above it.

Disqualifying You

disqualifiedBusiness people are busy. When you sit in front of a new prospective customer or client for the first time, you should have a set of potential outcomes that move the process and the relationship forward. One thing you’d like to be able to judge is the success of your meeting. To paraphrase Rob Fitz, author of The Mom Test, a meeting that “went well” is probably a failure. You can be sure your client has a potential outcome that will keep the meeting from being a failure from their perspective: disqualifying you.

Disqualifying you as someone they will ever talk to again is a useful outcome. From now on, they won’t waste any time fielding your calls or answering your emails.

(By the way, for you, disqualifying them as a potential client is also useful: in order to disqualify them, you have to learn something.)

If you disqualify each other for appropriate reasons, it may not be the outcome you wanted, but it’s progress. But if you get disqualified because you didn’t prepare, asked the wrong questions, or didn’t listen, you just used up your get-out-of-jail-free card, that one first meeting when people are willing to meet with you without knowing if you are useful.

The first face-to-face meeting is the most important moment in the sales process. It’s useful to behave like it is. Don’t waste that chance. Enter that first meeting with a plan.

Debrief Your Process

Now WhatThe US Army trains its best fighting brigades by pitting them in war games against an elite unit called OPFOR. The brigades-in-training get every advantage: better intelligence, better technology, more manpower. Yet, OPFOR almost always wins. Why? Because OPFOR systematically employs a powerful learning tool: the After Action Review — or AAR.

It’s the same with sales. The best way to get better at your craft is to conduct consistent and thorough debriefs of your action.

There are two kinds of debrief: the process debrief—taking a look at what you did that worked and what could be improved — the how of your meeting. Then there’s the content debrief—analyzing what you learned about your client’s strategies and challenges — the what of your meeting.

Both debriefs are critical to your success. Because the content debrief helps you plan your next steps for winning business, there’s a good chance it will produce near-term benefits. On the other hand, the process debrief will make you a better salesperson. It may produce some results in the near term, but its real benefit lies in the longer term, as you become more aware, more confident, and more skillful.

Because the content debrief can produce immediate results, you’ll be tempted to start there. But beware. Once you start pursuing business possibilities, you’ll quickly put aside your process debrief, even though it may be more useful in the long term — helping you become better at your craft. Sadly, the process debrief is a classic example of a high-value, low-urgency task — otherwise known as “stuff we don’t do.”

As tempting as it may be to get down to business, do yourself a favor and debrief your process first.

The most basic way to do a process debrief is to ask yourself three simple questions after your experience: What? So What? Now What?

In answering What? recall the details of your meeting, as objectively as possible. Describe what happened—what you said and did, what your client said and did.

In answering So What? look for the effect of what you said and did. What did it mean to you? What did it mean to your client?

Finally, in answering Now What? identify what you might do differently next time. What lessons can you take away from the effect your words and actions had?

The What? So What? Now What? discipline is a simple, but powerful way to do an AAR. One of its great values is that it can help you derive the right lessons from your experiences.

Here’s a simple example.

Salesman Bob had an opportunity he thought was perfect for a prospect. He was selling ad space for a TV show on sustainability. The theme was in line with his prospect’s mission, and Bob could offer a discount.

He called and left a message. It wasn’t returned.

Within 48 hours, Bob called 35 times, leaving 15 voice mails.

Finally, by chance, he got through. His prospect was so annoyed she told him never to call again.

The next day, Bob did phone again, apologized, and asked for one minute of her time. He laid out the premise and the price. She loved it and bought on the spot.

Bob filed this story under “perseverance.” He’s told it hundreds of times over drinks: persistence = sales. But is that really the story’s lesson? Let’s debrief it using a quick version of What? So What? Now What?

What? Bob called 35 times, leaving 15 callback messages. When he finally got through, his client told him never to call again. He called back anyhow and in one minute outlined the offer and price. The client was impressed and bought.

So What? Because Bob had the gumption to call again and the skill to outline his proposal in one minute, he got the sale. So far so good. But Bob’s actions also irritated his client. He gave himself the label, “pest.”

Now What? If 15 messages resulted in no callbacks, and a one-minute script resulted in a sale, was it really persistence that won the sale? What if, after one or two unanswered messages, Bob had left a short, substantive voice mail, giving his client a reason to call back, perhaps: “The advertising opportunity is for a show about climate change. As I understand it, your mission is linked to the climate issue.” He might even have mentioned the discount.

Seen through the lens of a disciplined process debrief, the real take-away from Bob’s story is not the value of persistence but the importance of compelling messages.

Try the What? So What? Now What? discipline. Debriefing your process with a systematic AAR can help you become a more productive salesperson each time you use it.

The Performance

People enjoy exploring their situation. When they get to talk about themselves and have somebody listen and ask questions, this is a gift. The craft of running a sales meeting is enabling that to happen for your client.

iStock_000040286014MediumYes, a sales meeting is a performance. It’s an opportunity for the “performer” to explain his or her situation, to explore and communicate what they know.

As a salesperson, you are part director, part stagehand, even part scriptwriter, but one thing you are NOT is the star of the performance — your client is the star. It’s their show. The tension, an integral part of any performance are the challenges, itches, bugs, annoyances that your client faces. If you don’t get to those, there is no tension and no story. There is no performance.

People enjoy exploring their situation. When they get to talk about themselves and have somebody listen and ask questions, this is a gift. The craft of running a sales meeting is enabling that to happen for your client.

Like cooking, you don’t just throw a bunch of ingredients in the pot at the same time. You need to add each ingredient at the right time and the right temperature and in the right way. You need to know what to hold back; to preheat the oven. You need direction technique and backstage process so you enable your client to shine.