I have a dream that, one day, all people will take to sales meetings will be a pen and notepad.
I have a dream that PowerPoint slide decks or corporate literature will be left in the office and we will be equipped with only our ears and a long list of open questions.
I have a dream that when sitting in front of potential clients, we will ask a question and then…wait for it…be silent and listen.
What would your reaction be if I said “Stop taking slide decks and generic corporate materials to client meetings with you. They are killing your business development”? Some of you might be relieved. No more staring at PowerPoint, slide after slide, in the hope that something might stick. Others may feel there is no other way to get your offer across.
The phrase “death by PowerPoint” exists for a reason. So why are companies and individuals reluctant to let go?
Marketing professionals usually wince when I suggest the age of the corporate brochure is also over. Look around your office and count how many you have kept. Ok, if you have a few lying around, when was the last time you brushed the dust off them and looked inside? Websites give us most of our information these days. When we want to know how you specifically can help me with my business issue, we talk.
Having something in your hand or saved on your laptop is more often than not, a security blanket. Without something to look at or read through, it means you will have to focus your preparation on open questions and honing your listening skills. This can push all of us out of our comfort zone, but it is the only way to unearth real business issues and win work.
“My client says they want us to present to them”. I would challenge the assumption that a presentation will help you to build a partnership. I regularly explain to clients that they will get more out of the discussion and better solutions for their business if we simply talk. No one has disagreed yet.
“They want me to email a credentials pack, so I have to give them what they’re asking for, right? They’re the client.” You’re the expert at what you do and you will know how to deliver your expertise in a way that gets the best result for both parties and in the least amount of time. Emailing credentials packs and proposals without the due diligence required to get under the skin of a client is an easy way for companies to get rid of unwanted salespeople. Don’t waste your time. Keep pushing for access. Any serious customer with a real business issue will give it to you.
Don’t get me wrong, an intelligent schematic or infographic can be a great visual aid when explaining something to the client, but don’t pull it out unless it’s relevant. And don’t pull it out before you have engaged in a detailed fact-finding, unless it’s helping you do just that.
Your preparation needs to anticipate what the client’s issues might be based on what you know about their industry or business and to write down a sensible list of open questions to uncover them. That’s it! No drawing diagrams, importing company logos or photos of the team looking “pensive”, “connected” or worse, “having fun”.
And when you’re done asking questions, it’s usually time to delve deeper. Don’t just ask what issues your clients are having or what their needs are. Ask them why they are having these issues, or why they think they are, if they are unsure. The “I don’t know” bit might be an opportunity to sell them something.
So, next time you are preparing for a client meeting, leave the security blanket in the office. Not only will you increase your chances of winning the business, you will ensure that when you do win it, you will deliver something the client is actually looking for.