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Mastering the Face-to-Face Meeting

How to talk less and listen more the first time you meet a prospect in person

Q: I am faced with my first face-to-face meeting with a new prospect. What's the best way not to talk too much and yet still get my point across?

A: Actually, we sales and marketing types do tend to talk a bit too much. If 10 words are good, then 100 will be 10 times better! OK, not really. Here's what I recommend.

Let's say your prospect says, "OK, tell me what you've got." In other words, they're asking you to tell them about your product or service and all the good things it can do for them.

Problem: You have no idea what challenges this person is facing, so you can't make any recommendations yet. Let's take a look at what to do next--and how to pose the questions that will help you make recommendations that will benefit everyone.

Elementary training would dictate a rote response like, "Mr. Prospect, I'll be happy to tell you all about our widgets. But first, can I ask you a few questions?" Bad idea. You'll get to ask your questions, but this isn't the time. Mr. Prospect is used to being in charge. He's asked his question, so just answer it. Give a brief (and I do mean brief) description of your company and emphasize the same benefits/features you used to get his attention when you first contacted him. For instance: "Mr. Prospect, we're XYZ, the nation's fastest-growing widget company. We've helped ABC Widget Corp. reduce its overhead costs by 12 percent this quarter--and they could do it without laying off staff or sacrificing product quality."

If your prospect interrupts you at this point, great--you've got his attention and his interest. Just listen carefully. If you don't get an interruption, continue with, "What do you think about the possibility of reducing your overhead costs with a program similar to ABC's?"

It is my experience that the conversation will proceed in one of five ways. Here are the probabilities, along with some solid suggestions for dealing with each scenario:

1. The prospect provides no meaningful feedback. This tells you 1) that you're talking to the wrong person or 2) there's less potential here for a good match than you had hoped. What to do? Explore the possibility of talking to someone else: "Is there someone else in the organization you feel would benefit from talking about this?" Don't invest significant amounts of time or energy trying to make this prospect into something he's not (interested and authorized). You've planned a full day, with lots of productive activities, so just say thank you, leave your card and move on to the next opportunity.

2. The prospect starts picking apart some aspect of what you just said. ("How did they measure overhead costs? How did you measure quality?") You've got a buyer with an analytical approach. He's the kind of buyer who will always want more information--more data, more charts, more answers--before making a decision. What to do? Help this person to clarify priorities. Use numbers and percentages. Resolve one issue before moving to the next, because analytical thinkers tend to prefer approaching issues in a strict, logical sequence.

3. The prospect starts talking about himself in an energetic way. These buyers like to express themselves. What to do? Don't interrupt them, and don't ask them to "summarize briefly" (they hate that). Ask them how they feel, then give them time to tell you. If you let them talk, they'll be convinced of your extraordinary intelligence.

4. The prospect starts fidgeting or otherwise demonstrates that he is uncomfortable with your question. This person is usually pretty indecisive, doesn't like to make decisions by himself, doesn't want to "upset the apple cart." Your solution: Don't ask questions that might put him on the spot, and cite tradition and precedent whenever you can--always emphasize what's worked! Keep this person comfortable.

5. She delivers a concise, direct, decisive response outlining exactly how she feels about that same direct question. This buyer probably occupies a significant center of power in her organization. And, in most cases, you'll know exactly where you stand with these blunt folks. So be direct and to the point with your questions. Don't hedge or argue or bog the prospect down with details. It's all right to challenge this type of person, but don't argue. Stick to the big picture and periodically ask your prospect's opinion.

Speaking of the big picture, if you stick to the benefits and advantages of what you've got to offer, you'll talk less and listen more. And that's exactly why we've been given two ears and only one mouth!

Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer. For additional information on his speeches and his newest book, Secrets of VITO, call (800) 777-VITO or visit www.sellingtovito.com.


The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.

Tony Parinello has become the nation's foremost expert on executive-level selling. He's also the author of the bestselling book bearing the name of his sales training program,Getting to VITO, the Very Important Top Officer, 10 Steps to VITO's Office,as well as the host of Club VITO, a weekly live internet broadcast.

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