This post is sponsored by Citrix GoToMeeting. As always, VentureBeat is adamant about maintaining editorial objectivity.
It’s happened to everyone who sells for a living: You meet with a prospective client to show them the goods. Then you meet with them again. And again. But they still won’t pull the trigger on the sale. Chances are, if they’ve asked for several meetings, they’re not going to pull that trigger any time soon.
Why does this happen? What’s missing? There’s one thing that all prospects need to feel before they put their money down: Trust. If they don’t trust that you or your company will deliver on promises — and on time — there’s no way they’ll sign.
So how can you establish trust so immediately that you save both sides of the table the time and trouble of multiple meetings?
It’s possible. There’s an endless number of self-help books devoted to the idea that you can win anyone over within 90 seconds of meeting them. And there’s a lot of truth to this — truth that can be parlayed into a sale. In this spirit, here are five no-brainer tactics to win a prospect’s trust in that initial interaction, so you can stop convincing and start impressing.
1. Know your stuff. Going into any meeting, you should be armed with research and background on the prospect. You should be able to predict the questions you’ll get and prepare the answers they’ll want to hear. But there’s more to appearing knowledgeable than doing your homework. You also have to persuade them that all of this know-how will go somewhere. When it comes to conveying this confidence, body language and tone are everything.
If you’re going to provide data (highly recommended), you should know it cold. Don’t search your memory or qualify with an “I think” or “I guess.” If you’re stating that your product does something, don’t check with your colleague across the table. Assert it. And when you’re talking, lean forward, indicating engagement and active listening. You want to appear to be ready for anything while also validating that they’ve asked good questions. You’re just happy to have the answers.
2. Be flexible. The hard sell doesn’t work anymore, and one size doesn’t fit all. Most prospects will want to know that you’ll work to meet their needs, especially now that brand consistency and customization have become so critical. There’s a happy medium here though. You don’t want to tell them that you can satisfy their every whim. That could come off as desperate or infeasible. At the same time, you want to make it clear that your team will do what it can to deliver high-quality, tailored service. No one wants to be just another client. They want to know someone is looking out for them and their businesses’ interests.
To convey flexibility in a single meeting, examples are vital. Part of doing your homework should be brainstorming features the prospect may ask for or be interested in. That way, you can illustrate for the kinds of things you have the ability and bandwidth (and willingness) to build in for them before they have a chance to ask for something that might not be quite as possible.
3. Preempt complaints. Without fail, every job interview includes a question about your greatest weaknesses. The best move is to bring them up before you’re even asked. That way the ball is in your court, and you have the ability to spin them in any direction. For example, you might not have a whole lot of experience in the field. If you bring that up yourself, you have the opportunity to talk about other relevant experiences or volunteer opportunities — opening the door to highlight some of your greatest strengths.
The same goes for sales meetings. If you know the product you’re talking about has some weaknesses — maybe it’s a little buggy, maybe there’s some functionality missing that you know they’ll ask about — you can anticipate and preempt. For instance, you can say that you know that there’s limited social sharing functionality at this time, but that your engineers are working hard to build tools that fit client needs. That gives you the chance to talk about how quick and nimble your developers are, and how you’re willing to customize.
4. Keep your enemies close. Minimizing or putting down your competitors in a sales meeting is a sign of insecurity. To sell a product or service in one meeting, you can’t just say that you’re better than alternatives on the market. You have to convince your prospect that your offering is the standalone best — so good, in fact, that you don’t have to worry at all about what others are doing in the field. Just like it’s unappealing to criticize or blame others on a first date or in a team environment, it’s uncouth to call out competitors’ shortcomings.
Instead, if asked how your product or service stacks up, be inclusive and positive. Maybe the problem your product solves requires a portfolio of solutions, especially in a large, fragmented market. When you admit to this, you come across as honest and cooperative. If your prospect asks about a feature they’ve seen in a different offering that yours lacks, you can talk about how much you admire your competitor’s execution but also explain why your team chose to go a different way. Negativity is a major turn-off, but so many people go that route that a friendlier approach is bound to stand out.
5. Be honest. No one trusts a silver bullet. Don’t promise to solve all of your prospective client’s problems. Vulnerability and honesty are key to convincing people to rely on you. If you’re willing to admit your product’s faults in an initial sales meeting, then you’ll probably alert clients to future problems that could impact their business. Everyone assumes new services will come with some bumps in the road. What matters is whether you see them coming and how you react when they happen.
How do you tip your hand to signal honesty without scaring someone off? Giving past examples of troubles encountered and how swiftly and and responsively they were addressed is one way. It’s also wise to not answer all their questions and concerns with absolute certainty. Instead of quipping “of course our product does that,” weigh their question in your mind, tell them they make a good point and explain your company’s approach to the issue. Done correctly, this stresses both your mindfulness and troubleshooting chops.
It’s that easy. Too often we assume that business deals require complex finesse when simple social savvy will do the trick. Next time you head into a conference room with a prospective client, don’t worry quite so much about hitting all the marks — especially if you’ve done your homework and put together a good presentation. Instead, focus on inspiring confidence. When you sell them on you, you sell them on your product.
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