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Sales Strategy
May 12, 2010 | John Doerr lock

"Like King Midas, as I was told, everything he touched turned to gold."
--Joseph Simmons and Daryl McDaniels

“If I could just get a meeting with my target prospects I am certain I could close five (or six or eight) out of every ten.” 

How many of you think the same thing? You know that when you get in front of the prospect you can wow them. Every time a lead comes into the firm and you go on the sales meeting, it's a slam dunk. Made-in-the-shade. Can of corn. You know you'll get the gig.

Let's assume you set a meeting with someone you believe will be a good prospect for your services. It's not from a referral – they neither know you nor have they heard of you beforehand. Thus there is no transferred trust as when you are referred in. It's also not from a client who's sought you out, thus there's no hot need for your services. You targeted them, and you asked them for a meeting.

You use an outside vendor to secure the meeting or you have someone in-house who gets you in the door. Either way your lead generator sends you an e-mail telling you when and where the meeting is. You drive off to the prospect as confident as ever…and come back two hours later with a sinking feeling: you've wasted your time.

Your first thought is that your cold caller sent you on mission impossible. Yet, that might not be the case. Often you have the power to generate success from cold meetings, but you have to take responsibility for that success.

If you're looking for better success from cold meetings, consider the following initiatives:

Target carefully – Before you ask anyone to get you a meeting, be specific about with whom you want to talk. What titles? What industries? What buying influence? What geography? What companies? What budget? Unlike when you receive an incoming lead and you can't necessarily control any of this, when you reach out, you have the power, and the responsibility, to target as precisely as possible. If the person sitting across from you is the right profile, you have a chance. If they're not the right profile, all the skills in the world on your end won't yield a new client.

Research your prospect – A little bit of knowledge is a good thing. A big bit of knowledge is powerful. To give yourself the best chance for a successful meeting, find out as much as you can about the prospect: his industry, his company, his needs, his focus. Everyone wants to know that you have taken the time to learn about what's going on in their world.

Websites and other research mechanisms make it easy to research your prospect. There is no excuse not to be knowledgeable about the people sitting on the other side of the table.

Adjust your expectations – All too often service professionals go into a cold meeting expecting the ultimate – an immediate sale. If they do not get the sale from that first meeting, they consider the entire exercise a waste of time and effort. As a result, they do not plan to succeed over the long-term…and thus they fail.

Know that before you set foot in the door your objective is to start the process of building trust and confidence. If you do it well, eventually the prospect will feel comfortable about picking you as his trusted advisor. If it happens in the first meeting…great, but more likely the outcome of the first meeting will be an initial connection and a scheduled next conversation.  

Articulate your value – What value you can offer to the prospect – not just once you start working with him – but right there in the meeting? Offer value during the sales process to show him what it will be like to do business with you. Can you offer some new insight into industry issues? Can you provide a quick snapshot assessment? Can you discuss what others in the field are doing to cope with his problems?

Essentially, you want to be able to answer the question (before you leave your office and show up at the prospect's), “Why is meeting with me going to be worthwhile?”

Establish rapport and a need set – Because you are an industry expert – inquisitive and incisive – you ask a series of questions and uncover a set of needs that you can solve. That's great, but if you don't in some way connect with the buyer it's likely they will look for a provider with whom they feel more ‘comfortable'.

On the other hand, let's assume you connect with the prospect so closely that she says at the end of the meeting, “It feels like we were separated at birth!” Yet you establish no needs. Now you have a new friend, but no chance at a new client. In the cold meeting, a great outcome is to establish both a connection that you can build on over time and a need set that you can – when the situation is right – engage the prospect to solve.

Set clear next steps – So you had your 30 minutes, or 45, or even more, with the prospect. What happens next? It may be a proposal, but more often than not a proposal is premature. Another possibility is a summary email confirming for the prospect what you understood as the key issues they face. Another option is to send a “discussion letter” which might include:

  • Your understanding of their situation
  • Your understanding of their needs
  • Your assessment of how you can help
  • Your suggestions on how to get started

Whatever you do, clearly articulate what you believe to be a helpful next step. Then get agreement from the prospect that this is a good next step, set a time when the next step will take place, and deliver on whatever you might have promised the client.

Follow-up – Since business development can be a long process, think of the first meeting as just that, the first meeting. Assuming the prospect is a good eventual target for your services, plan how you will stay top of mind with them after the meeting. Send the discussion letter. Send articles about their situation, news items, direct mail pieces, etc. It all adds up to creating a continuous positive impression of you and your firm. It is not unusual for the first sale to come as long as 12 months after your first introduction.

In the end, cold meetings are in reality just as their name suggests: cold. Unlike the referral or lead that may come in ready to buy, the proactive outreach meeting usually starts at square one. It is your responsibility to heat it up through proper targeting, planning, and process management.

This doesn't necessarily sound like the most palatable proposition, but the grey cloud of cold meetings is truly lined with gold if you can turn those meetings first into relationships and eventually into clients. Why? You can influence, but you can't truly control, how many referrals you get. Most professionals can, however, set up as many meetings with their target base as can fit in their schedules. Learn to turn the cold meeting into a new client, and you will soon develop the Midas touch that turns cold to gold.

About the Author:

John Doerr is Co-President of Wellesley Hills Group. He is also the Founder of and co-author of the book Professional Services Marketing (Wiley, 2009).

Reprinted with permission of the Wellesley Hills Group, 2010.

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