You have asked your prospective client for a first meeting and they have agreed to give you their time. This means you have knowingly or unknowingly committed yourself to a number of obligations that you must meet to win the client’s business.
1. Being Prepared
Your first obligation is to prepare for the meeting. Some salespeople believe that because they have had many sales conversations, they don’t need to prepare. Lack of preparation makes it harder to present yourself as an expert and authority, which undermines your ability to bring certainty to the client. It also makes it harder for you to ask questions that you and your client can learn from. Opportunities are too rare and important to ignore this obligation.
2. Understanding Their Business
You need to walk into the first meeting with a working understanding of your prospective client’s business. When you don’t, you can ask questions that expose the fact that you know little about their company. A good way to meet this obligation is to speak with your peers who have clients with similar businesses to learn what they know. At the very least, read the company’s website and annual report and take notes.
3. Understanding Their Industry
You are responsible for having a working understanding of your prospective client’s industry. The vast majority of salespeople will not do the work to meet this obligation, leading buyers and decision-makers to complain that salespeople know too little to be helpful. You can read about the industry—especially if there are trade magazines and websites—and ask your peers about what they know.
4. Headwinds and Tailwinds
Every industry faces headwinds, forces that cause problems, and some may also experience tailwinds, forces that create positive opportunities. Understanding headwinds can help you uncover the root causes of client problems, anticipate challenges, and develop an effective plan to help your client reach their goals. If a client is lucky enough to experience tailwinds, you must be able to help them capture the related opportunities. Seeing these forces is a key part of business acumen.
At this point, you should be better prepared to meet these obligations, but if you’d like additional help preparing, see: How to Research Your Strategic Targets - A Template.
5. A Working Theory of Problems and Pain Points
You are always going to ask questions to learn from your clients, but without a working theory about their problems and pain points, you can seem like you lack experience. In this environment, buyers are looking for experts. You should have learned enough from your experience to develop a working theory about the challenges they are facing and how to fix them.
6. Educating Your Contacts
One common mistake salespeople make in the first meeting is believing they are there to learn from their contacts. While this is partially true, your primary focus in a first meeting should be helping your contracts learn how to improve their business. If they don’t feel that you can provide them with valuable information, it’s unlikely that you will book a second meeting. When you only ask questions that help you, you fail in this obligation. Solid preparation will allow you to educate your contacts while you learn a bit more about their company.
7. Creating Value
Most salespeople believe that their value proposition creates value, so they use it too early in the sales conversation. Creating value means engaging in conversations that benefit your contacts. In early meetings, buyers are unlikely to find your value proposition useful, so it comes across as a self-oriented pitch to make a quick sale. Your contacts are trying to make a decision that will impact their company, and they know their choice will have either a positive or negative effect. You create value when you enable them to make a good decision by educating them and providing expertise based on your experience. By meeting this obligation, you create a preference to buy from you and your company.
8. Acquiring Stakeholders
When salespeople don’t recognize their obligations and fail in their first meeting, their contact often lacks the confidence to introduce them to other stakeholders. Your contact in a first meeting can become your sales champion—if you are able to prove that you create value. If your contact is not impressed by what you share in a first meeting, they will think it’s risky or a waste of time to connect you with the rest of their task force. When you pass this test, your work isn’t over. You need to create value for the other stakeholders who are going to help make a decision to change and who they will choose as a partner.
9. Leading the Buyer’s Journey
You are obligated to lead your clients because they don’t buy what you sell often enough to know how to best approach their buyer’s journey. You have the experience of watching your prospective clients succeed or fail, so you are obligated to help them have the conversations that will give them the information and insights to change and improve their results.
10. Providing Certainty
No one wants to buy and fail. Your contacts need to know that they are going to succeed. Without certainty, your buyers are likely to do nothing or look elsewhere for someone who can provide them with the confidence they need to change. No one wants to take a risk and buy from a salesperson that doesn’t provide certainty that they will succeed.
The More You Exceed These 10 Obligations the Better Positioned You Are to Win Deals
It is easy to go through the motions, believing you are selling effectively, only to lose deals you thought you would win. These 10 obligations rely on your professionalism, business acumen, and preparedness. Fulfilling them shows that you respect your clients and appreciate the value of their time.
There is too little conversation about what we do in sales today. In part, this is because so many sales organizations have shifted their focus from effectiveness to the illusion of efficiency. The greatest variable in winning or losing deals comes down to the value you create in the sales conversation.
The more you meet or exceed your obligations, the better positioned you are to win. But avoiding these obligations will make it harder to create a preference to buy from you. Study these obligations and start building the skills and capacities to fulfill your responsibilities and best serve your clients.