How to set up a successful sales meeting

July 22, 2014
A properly planned sales meeting makes it easy for the customer to do business with you.

How many sales meetings have you or your sales people attended where, at the end, the client is in a position to make a good decision? The answer to this question largely depends on how well the sales meeting was planned.

The purpose of a meeting plan is to help us prepare for, and execute, client interactions. The best vending and OCS owners/salespeople I have worked with over the years have only confirmed my belief that those who sell at “peak performance” plan for every significant client phone call or meeting.

They ask the client to decide something. They cultivate a no-pressure environment by providing the client options, including the option to say “no.” They are cognizant of the fact that the client’s time and their time is valuable.

They meet with the right people. They plan for possible client objections, questions, and have back-up data to prove their statements and claims. They set clear expectations for the meeting.

I am constantly amazed by the lack of preparation by salespeople. Recently, I had a meeting with a representative from my mortgage bank to discuss refinancing. One of the first things he said to me was, “Great…why don’t you come in and we can chat.” Holding back the “yeah, I’ll be right over,” I outlined my current situation, where I wanted to be in the future, and asked him to present me some possible options when we meet.

When we met (at the place of my choice) he and a co-worker were late. Traffic in the area can be a problem at times, but I would at least expect a phone call before the start of the scheduled time to let me know. Despite not having any options ready for me to discuss, his co-worker started to talk about investing in mutual funds. You can imagine how that meeting ended!

Maybe it’s because I have been in sales for many years, but I really enjoy talking to those who are well prepared, value my time and provide insight, advice and options. When in the market for something that requires a salesperson, I always buy from this type of person.

Do you do the same? How about your customers and prospects – how many of them have invested in your vending or OCS because your salesperson treated them accordingly?

Back in 2005, a salesperson I highly respected at the time – and still do – brought a sales methodology, called “Helping Clients Succeed” to my attention. It was developed by Mahan Khalsa. After reading his book, I was inspired enough to put the methodology into practice. The reason: it is a down-to-earth approach to sales and matched closely my style of selling.

I am not one of those sales people that believe “my sales system is the best.” But I do believe that sales people should use a system, be it one developed themselves or one of the many choices available today. In the 12 years I spent in the vending and OCS industry, I met many good sales professionals. The number of great sales professionals is a lot fewer. The difference? The latter always worked to be the best at what they did and they always (consistently) followed a sales methodology.

Do you have a plan?

The cornerstone of any good sales methodology is a meeting plan or call plan. The purpose of this article is to provide you with one option for a meeting plan so that by the end you can decide if it makes sense to use it in your upcoming meetings and calls. It is a tool we use to coach thousands of sales people at Fortune 500 companies and one I have personally experienced as game changing in my own sales and in others’.

Our meeting plan is divided into two main components, prepare and execute.

1) Prepare

  • End In Mind (EIM): At the end of the meeting, what do you want them to say, do, or decide? What will you say to introduce your EIM?
  • Key Beliefs: What key beliefs, intellectually and emotionally, must the client resolve to agree with the EIM?
  • Proof/Action: What will we do to address and satisfy the key beliefs?
  • Questions: Determine the questions we want to ask and how we will ask them. What will the client likely ask? How will we respond?
  • Yellow Lights: What are likely stalls, doubts, concerns or objections?
  • Next Steps: What next steps might we suggest to the client at the end of the meeting?
  • Agenda: What is the agenda/critical path for the meeting? Can we get buy-in before the meeting?

2) Execute

  • Preconditioning How will we prepare the client for the meeting to gain agreement that the agenda is appropriate, complete, and (if covered) will enable them to make a decision regarding the EIM?
  • Opening Statement: What will we say at the beginning of the meeting to gain agreement on the EIM?

Why would we start with the “End in Mind”? If we agree that the client should make some sort of a decision, tell us something, or do something as a result of the meeting, then we should be clear on that outcome. It will set up the framework – not only for our meeting plan – but for the meeting itself.

Key Elements Of A Good EIM

A good EIM should be clearly defined, short and not have one outcome. The decision called for should be in the client’s best interest and it should include the option for the client to say “no.” It should be realistic and appropriate for the meeting, presentation or situation. We should get agreement in advance or at the beginning of the meeting to make a decision at the end of the meeting. It should not include your questions, agenda or next steps.

Examples of a Good EIM

Ends in mind examples usually fit into one of four categories and can be applied to new or current customers.

  • Should we meet? (beginning of sales cycle)
  • Should we keep talking? (early in sales cycle)
  • Should you do something? (middle of sales cycle)
  • Should you do something with us? (latter stages of sales cycle)

The customer should be able to answer the following questions at the end of the meeting:

  • They should be in a position to determine if it makes sense to evaluate our company for vending and coffee needs, or not.
  • They can decide if our vending and coffee services align with what the employees need, or not.
  • They can tell us if it makes sense to change vending and coffee suppliers, or not.
  • They are in a position to say if what we have to offer provides the best match for their vending and coffee needs, or not.
  • They can tell us how we are doing with regard to providing the best service for their employees so that it makes sense for us to continue to do business, or not.

The Client's Key Beliefs

Key beliefs are those beliefs – said or unsaid – the client (prospect or current customer) hold about you, your company, and your service offering. We should recognize that prospects hold beliefs about vending and coffee suppliers despite the fact they may have never met you. They may believe vending suppliers only offer unhealthy products and OCS suppliers don’t offer variety.

Those beliefs are not always commonly shared among key people at the client company.

We are more likely to enable the end in mind if we can address the underlying beliefs that support the decision.

Examples of Key Beliefs

The client’s beliefs stem from their experiences, their observations, and their dialogues with you or others, be it internal or external to the vending and OCS industry. Here are a few examples.

  • Meeting with you would be worthwhile, a good investment of time.
  • You understand their situation.
  • There is sufficient expectation of value to take next steps.
  • The food and beverage issues are important relative to other issues.
  • There appears to be a fit between the parties.
  • The timing is right.

Address The Key Beliefs

What will you ask, present, say, do, or show that would cause the client to adopt the key belief? Options include:

  • Demonstrate client-specific knowledge.
  • Illustrate your personal commitment.
  • Compose an explanation.
  • Assess your behavior: implicit – how does it move us toward creating good chemistry?
  • Disclose financial information.
  • Identify a third party endorsement.
  • Reveal a client endorsement.
  • Propose installation and/or service plans.
  • Schedule a site visit.

Consider Your Questions

The quality of the information you get is directly related to the quality of the questions you ask. If your client will tell you anything, what do you want to know? Ask fewer rather than more questions – you don’t want to come across as an interrogator!

Anticipate Client Questions and Objections

What are some expected questions and objections?

  • Tell me about your company and why you are different than other vending and coffee companies?
  • You need to talk to vice president of human resources.
  • I am not interested.
  • Send me (or prepare) a proposal.
  • I have a friend at XYZ Company who said your company did not provide the best service in the past.

What next steps might you suggest to the client?

  • Request information.
  • Set up a pre-meeting phone call with others.
  • Meet to review service needs/situation.
  • Decide if further investigation makes sense.

Set an agenda

From my experience in the industry, people often show up for meetings for which an agenda has not been sent until very recently and has not been read. 

A meeting set up this way is often unproductive. The sales cycle can be unnecessarily lengthened and you have another “we’ll get back to you” or “let’s stay in touch” prospect. Not to mention, this type of unprofessionalism feeds into the ‘unsophisticated’ perception of the vending and OCS industry.

Qualify the terms for the meeting

It is extremely important the client knows – ahead of time – why you want to meet with them. When we meet with salespeople without knowing what they want to talk about, we often don’t listen to what they have to say until our brain registers, “Aha, so that’s why you are here.” If we only have 30 minutes to meet with a client it and it gets’ side-tracked with other discussion topics, including chit-chat, all of a sudden we find ourselves with 10 minutes left to talk about the item at hand. But if we do a good job of preconditioning, we can ask the client to come prepared with information that helps to achieve the End in Mind.

Many salespeople in the industry do some sort of preconditioning. The best get client confirmation that the End in Mind and agenda are appropriate for the meeting and do it consistently.

Consider the Opening Statement

You may already be well aware that after you finish informal introductions and conversations, clients tend to change personas. They become more alert and are now wearing their "business hat." At my company, we call these next five minutes The High Risk 5. It is now time for your (already practiced) opening statement.

Elements of a good opening statement include:

  • Makes a favorable human to human connection.
  • Provide context and confirm or gain agreement for the End in Mind.
  • Clarify the path, topics or agenda that will lead to the End in Mind.
  • Invite approval or modification to the approach.
  • Practice beforehand so as not to seem trite or pre-scripted.
  • Is not all about us!

After reading this article you may think there is no way you will spend the time it takes to develop a meeting plan for all customer meetings. Here’s my suggestion: if what you have read makes sense to you, start with four upcoming significant client (prospect or current customer) interactions. Spend the extra time on the End in Mind – the rest will automatically flow.

If at the end of those four calls or meetings, you have found value, visit and tell us what worked, where did you get stuck and what you would do differently next time. If you don’t find value, adopt this meeting plan to your style, develop your own or find one that works.

You will find it will make you a more efficient and effective sales person.

For sales managers and owners I know you wear many hats running businesses. As a result, it’s hard to find time to review your sales people’s ideas in the pipeline and it’s difficult to know what questions to ask your salespeople with regard to those deals.

If you were to ask me, “What is the one thing I can do today to be more effective at selling our vending or coffee services?” I would advise you on instituting a good meeting plan – make it mandatory for your sales people, at least for significant client interactions. What’s outlined in this article is just one example.Taking the time to understand the elements of whatever meeting plan you choose will provide you the basis from which to ask the right questions of your sales people.