How would you like to be among the top 10% of the sales population? Condition yourself to properly prepare so you perform at your best consistently, and you could be!
Having worked as a sales & business manager, I know first- hand the importance of comprehensive preparation. Years ago, I had an important client meeting. A member of my team and I were due to meet with, and present to, a number of senior decision makers from a public organisation. The business proposition, the team, the product portfolio and our service offering were all strong, but so was the competition.
To prepare for the presentation, the salesperson met with the client to understand their requirements. This provided us with the insight we needed, and we designed our presentation around meeting their true needs. We were also aware that they wanted to see how committed we were to winning the business and supporting the teams working in the organisation. I had this in mind as I researched the organisation and I uncovered the CEO’s blog. In it, she wrote about a recent challenge due to severe flooding. She recognised the efforts of the teams working in the organisation and their commitment to their own clients and service users. There was a story about a member of staff who had borrowed her father’s tractor to overcome the floods and get to work to keep the organisation functioning. I was impressed by the commitment this team member had shown and by the fact that the CEO had recognised it. I took a screen shot of the blog and included it in the presentation.
During the presentation, I referenced the commitment of the clients’ team (this team member in particular) and drew a comparison with my team members – who were committed to the client and their service users. Several companies submitted proposals to compete for the business, but our team won. We received excellent feedback, especially in terms of how we demonstrated our commitment. This was due largely to our preparation. Preparation is without a doubt a key to sales success.
The importance of preparation
I know that talk of preparation and planning can seem unnecessary, perhaps even boring. But there’s a common misperception that good salespeople don’t need to prepare – they can ‘wing it’. While they may well achieve short-term results, these same people could double or even triple their performance if they invested time in preparation. Give yourself the opportunity to be in the top tier of salespeople.
When you’re occupied with a task, you adopt a state of mind without conscious effort or thought. This mental state may or may not be the ‘ideal’ state of mind with which to engage your clients. You can make a hugely positive impact on your performance simply by getting yourself into an enabling state of mind: one where you have an outlook and attitude that enables you to perform at the highest possible level.
Your mindset is a vital component of success.
Revisit your performance goals. Now recognise that you’ll achieve them faster if you develop the habit of preparing for each sales interaction with your clients. In your journal or notebook, write ‘The reason I need to prepare for each of my sales interactions with clients.’ Then write down your reason. Now that we understand why preparation is important, let’s look at the Prepare2 framework.
For many people, preparing for customer meetings can feel overwhelming. They don’t know where to start, so they don’t start. They don’t do any preparation and risk being not only ill-prepared but also drastically reducing their chances of success. If you or the team you manage are having low success rates with client meetings i.e. the client isn’t choosing to work with you or your team, it’s likely to be one of two things: poor preparation or a poor sales process.
Some sales teams I led in the past often didn’t prepare because they made it seem more complicated and time consuming than it needed to be. With the right framework, preparation can be simple and powerful.
Over the years (and through many mistakes and successes), I identified four areas on which attention should be focused when preparing for a client meeting. I call it the Prepare2 (or ‘prepare squared’) framework.
We should always start here. The client is the most important factor in any sales interaction. We must orientate ourselves around them, their business and their perspective. Without the client, there are no sales. There is no growth and no business. It’s obvious but often overlooked.
This is about researching the client and what’s happening to them in their business. Consider the following when seeking information about a potential client and their organisation:
- Strategic vision and plans
- Company announcements
- Website and social media channels
- Network and third parties
- Key decision makers
By understanding our potential client and their business, we are stepping into their world. We can be empathetic. Once we know about our client and how we can serve them and create value, we can have more meaningful interactions with them.
However, don’t make too many assumptions. Be informed in advance of a meeting, but still ask questions. Be infinitely curious about the potential client’s business and how you can best serve them.
This is about understanding what’s happening in the client’s marketplace and external environment. Consider these areas to gain further insight:
- Future market trends
- Competitive activity
- Market landscape
- Potential opportunities
- Potential threats
Once we understand what’s happening externally for our customers, or potential customers, we can start to align our messaging and preparation. We must consider how we might help them navigate these external factors more effectively, now and in the future.
After preparing on behalf of our client, we must prepare ourselves.
We must make sure that we know our products and/or portfolio. We need to be clear on our value propositions, our points of differentiation, our unique selling points, the benefits that our product or service provides and how we can position these benefits in a way that is meaningful for our client.
Consider these areas when doing internal preparation:
- Personal preparation
- Insights and knowledge
- Relevant experience and examples • Sales system
- Tools, assets, resources, programs
It’s critical to think about our business from an external perspective. Many clients will want to see external validation of our work or services, and that external validation must come from independent and objective sources. If it doesn’t, it won’t seem valid and could actually work against us.
Here are some areas to consider in terms of external preparation:
- Use cases and/or studies
- Results data
- Whole-life cost models/return-on-investment
- Models and systems
- Testimonials, references and referrals
The Prepare2 framework is a powerful model for preparation. You can download a copy of the template I use to help my clients prepare for every important client meeting here.
By using this template in advance of any significant client meeting, you’ll drastically increase your rates of success. Combine this with a proven sales process and you’ll be unstoppable!
Sales Mastery: Preparing for success and engaging your client
To be at your best, you must tap into your most resourceful state of mind. Before an important competition, athletes get themselves into ‘the zone’ or state of flow to heighten their performance. You can do the same.
Here’s a proven way to create this powerful, positive state of mind. I recommend doing this preparation immediately before every interaction you have with a client. Complete this exercise as a starting point, and then revisit it before each client meeting to create a positive experience for you and your client.
In your journal or notebook, write the answers to these questions:
- Who does your client need you to be in order to choose you?
- What attitude and mindset do you need to adopt to be at your best?
- Think of a time when you were at your best – confident and in the zone. What did you see, hear, feel or say to yourself?
- Imagine the perfect interaction with your client. Both of you are enjoying the discussion, and the client thanks you for supporting them to make the right decision. Capture what you see, hear, feel and say.
Take a few moments to read through your responses. Allow the full potential of this exercise to resonate with you. Become aware of how excited and positive doing so makes you feel. Capture what you notice in your journal or notebook.
The importance of this preparation ritual will become apparent once you start using it as part of your sales practice. You’ll be able to consistently bring your best self to your clients. And they will notice this and appreciate your intention to be your best self for their benefit. While it takes effort at first, if you prepare this way for every client interaction for the next three weeks, you’ll not only realise the benefits but also create a habit that will take over. You’ll no longer have to think about doing this. In fact, it will seem easier to prepare than to ‘wing it’.
Simply returning to this page and reading your notes will help you to develop this ritual and form a positive habit for the future.
Engaging your potential client
If you’re in a field with a longer sales cycle and your role involves pre-arranged client meetings and developing relationships over time, there are important additional considerations when it comes to preparing for meetings.
Regardless of whether you’re tasked with engaging your clients or working from leads passed to you from your organisation, the way in which you engage with your clients and manage your meetings with them will be similar.
• Research your client
• Engage your client (the ‘hook’)
• Set meeting objectives
• Prepare personally
We’re going to work through these in order.
Research your client
We live in a wonderful digital age. People’s interests, activities, successes and even failures are likely to be posted somewhere on the internet. With this wealth of information, you would be remiss not to use it in preparation for a client meeting. Here are a few pointers on how to go about conducting research.
Google your client:
You may be surprised by what you find. I once found out one of my clients was involved in a charity. Learning this about him gave me a new level of respect for him and also gave us a topic for a discussion that created a stronger relationship.
Check out their social media profiles:
If you find your client on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, you’ll see what they like and share. Which groups are they a member of and who or what are they following and contributing to? You’ll also see who they’re connected to and which of those connections you have in common. You’ve probably heard about six degrees of separation? In my experience, it’s now closer to two or three.
Review their organisation’s website:
Look for the organisation’s vision, mission and values.
If it has a strategic plan, read the headlines and get an understanding of what your client’s aspirations may be. Knowing about your client’s organisation, whatever their position in it, will help you to create some common ground which is critical for building rapport.
Engage your client (the ‘hook’)
Now that you know a little about your client from the research that you’ve completed, you’re in a great position to engage them with a strong ‘hook’. The hook is a statement (or series of statements) that does one or more of these things:
- Highlights potential common ground between you and the client
- Identifies potential issues the client may have and hints that you might have a solution
- References a relevant connection, interest or mutual acquaintance
- Share evidence of how your service or organisation is helping clients or the industry
- Ask for a meeting (or call) to discover how you might work together
- The hook should not be an attempt to sell to your client, it’s too early at this stage of the relationship. If you position your hook (either over the phone or in an email) in the right way, conveying only a benefit to your client, your likelihood of getting a positive response is high.
Whether you prefer phone calls or emails, I suggest you try both, in that order. Ask yourself, ‘If I received this call or email from a complete stranger, would I respond?’ If the answer is no, look at your script and reword it until it’s so compelling and focused on you (as the client) that you’d be convinced by it and respond. This will create a template for you to work from – and it will likely be relevant to a number of your clients.
Here’s a template you can download and use to guide you in writing your hook.
Set meeting objectives
So, you’ve engaged your client. Now you need to confirm the meeting and share your suggested objectives for the discussion. Here’s a structure I recommend for setting meeting objectives – it will prime the meeting for the sales process:
1. Discuss your client’s current and future priorities and challenges.
2. Provide examples of [your organisation’s] successful client programmes.
3. Discuss possible solutions and next steps.
This structure will integrate into a standard email template and look something like this, a fictional email to Daniel at Success Trading Ltd:
Many thanks for the confirmation of our meeting next Wednesday, the 20th of June, at the London office of Success Trading at 9.30am.
Here is my suggested agenda for the meeting:
1. Discussion about Success Trading’s current (and future) priorities and challenges.
2. Examples of Inspire Ltd’s successful client programmes.
3. Discussion about possible solutions and next steps. I hope this agenda meets your expectations and approval.
I’m happy to discuss other topics during the meeting. If there is anything specific you would like me to prepare or bring with me, please do let me know.
I look forward to seeing you next week and to a productive and inspiring meeting.
Having a format that you know works and that you can use to communicate with your clients in advance of meetings will make you more effective, save you time and deliver more value to the client.
To ensure that you go into your client meetings in the best frame of mind and give yourself the optimal chance for success, it’s important to prepare yourself on a personal level.
Make sure you have what you need. Necessary items may include some or all of these things:
- Literature folder
- Product catalogue and codes
- Demonstration product
- Samples (where appropriate)
- Case-study documents
- Client testimonials
- Technical data sheets
- Pricing workbooks
- Discount structures
- Distributor details
- Promotional literature
- Notepad and pen
- Business cards
- Laptop/tablet/projector (if relevant)
This may seem obvious to those of you in sales. But the number of times I’ve been in client meetings with salespeople who realise that they don’t have everything they need to hold a meaningful discussion about their company, the product or the service is truly incredible. Always be prepared.
Over the years I’ve learned that while I don’t always like the process of preparation, when I’m fully prepared, my confidence, ability and performance skyrocket. I’m sure you have experienced this yourself. Appreciate the value of preparation, it pays dividends.
The following is another simple visualisation script. Read through it to familiarise yourself with it, and then follow the instructions.
Relax and take three deep breaths. When you’re ready, close your eyes and imagine this:
• You’re at the end of the meeting with your client
• You’re both smiling as you shake hands to say goodbye
• The meeting has gone better than you expected
• The client shared a number of relevant priorities and challenges with you
• You understood exactly what your client needed
• Your client agreed you were the one who could help • You have agreed on a plan that will help them and deliver the results you want
• Notice how good this feels
I hope you enjoyed this activity. Remember, when you practise visualisation regularly, it will become a formidable force in your preparation for client meetings. You’re now ready to work through the INSPIRe Secret Sales System. But before we move on, reflect on this article and write down your thoughts in your journal or notebook.