Subscribe to Entrepreneur for $5

Mastering the Face-to-Face Meeting

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

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: Iam 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 mypoint across?

A:Actually, we sales and marketing types do tend to talk a bit toomuch. 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 whatyou've got." In other words, they're asking you totell them about your product or service and all the good things itcan 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 alook at what to do next--and how to pose the questions that willhelp 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 ourwidgets. 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 hisquestion, so just answer it. Give a brief (and I do mean brief)description of your company and emphasize the samebenefits/features you used to get his attention when you firstcontacted him. For instance: "Mr. Prospect, we're XYZ, thenation's fastest-growing widget company. We've helped ABCWidget Corp. reduce its overhead costs by 12 percent thisquarter--and they could do it without laying off staff orsacrificing product quality."

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

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

1. The prospect provides no meaningful feedback. Thistells you 1) that you're talking to the wrong person or 2)there's less potential here for a good match than you hadhoped. What to do? Explore the possibility of talking to someoneelse: "Is there someone else in the organization you feelwould benefit from talking about this?" Don't investsignificant amounts of time or energy trying to make this prospectinto something he's not (interested and authorized). You'veplanned a full day, with lots of productive activities, so just saythank you, leave your card and move on to the next opportunity.

2. The prospect starts picking apart some aspect of what youjust said. ("How did they measure overhead costs? How didyou measure quality?") You've got a buyer with ananalytical approach. He's the kind of buyer who will alwayswant more information--more data, more charts, more answers--beforemaking a decision. What to do? Help this person to clarifypriorities. Use numbers and percentages. Resolve one issue beforemoving to the next, because analytical thinkers tend to preferapproaching issues in a strict, logical sequence.

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

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

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

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

Tony Parinello is the author of the bestselling book Selling to VITO, the Very Important TopOfficer. For additional information on his speeches and hisnewest book, Secrets of VITO, call (800) 777-VITO orvisit

The opinions expressed in this column are thoseof the author, not of All answers are intended tobe general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areasor circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consultingan appropriate expert, such as an attorney oraccountant.

Entrepreneur Editors' Picks