This article was originally published on Sales & Marketing Management on May 21st, 2018.
We’ve all been caught in a tricky text thread, the kind where you absentmindedly respond to a friend’s question with a simple “OK” and then suddenly find yourself getting the cold shoulder. If only you’d had that conversation face-to-face!
Perhaps that’s why so many people in sales — a full 65 percent, according to Chief Marketer’s 2018 B2B Lead Gen Trend Survey — prefer in-person meetings. Anyone with face-to-face pitching experience knows it’s true that body language and tone shifts are much easier to lose over the phone or internet. You witness facial expressions, noticing smiles at light parts and (hopefully) shock at the impressive parts. You can also count clock checks or yawns and know it’s time to switch tactics.
When someone meets with you in person, he’ll be more engaged with your presentation. Emails can go unanswered for ages, but sharing a meal or a cup of coffee makes the meeting more human. Even if your pitch falls completely flat, you’ll understand that much more quickly and move on from what’s clearly a dead lead. That means less wasted time for both parties.
An in-person lead meeting doesn’t always mean your performance will be better, however. The same Chief Marketer study showed that 59 percent of sellers feel their biggest struggle lies in engaging targeted prospects, which often comes down to knowing how to make the most of your time in front of a potential client. It’s critical to know how to use an in-person pitching opportunity to your advantage so you can nurture every lead.
Avoiding Engagement Missteps
In my time in the lead generation industry, I’ve seen several approaches to meeting with leads in person — some good, some not-so-good. If you want to create a truly engaging and effective pitch meeting, avoid these common mistakes.
Don’t start with a long stretch of rapport-building. Ten minutes of “I think my sister’s husband’s brother’s nephew goes to private school with your kid” feels mostly stilted and fake. Spending a minute on icebreaker topics is fine, but after that, get straight to the point. Everyone knows what you’re in the room to discuss. Avoiding your pitch for too long can make the situation uncomfortable.
Don’t ask questions that lead to answers you already know. If you do, you’re just avoiding real questions for the sake of being right. Your questions should be challenging for your prospect — smugness is a selfish setting. Change your default setting to “genuinely helpful,” and your prospect will enjoy and engage in the conversation a lot more.
Don’t be a passenger; be the driver. The best salespeople can feel when the power dynamic has shifted. You start to spend most of the conversation playing catchup or answering questions that are “relevant” to the prospect, and those answers are likely less focused than you’d like. Instead, take the conversation where you want it to go. Make the points you need to make, and guide the conversation to poignant places.
Don’t look for “gotcha” moments. Don’t build your line of questioning to “catch” the prospect saying something you know to be untrue. This type of quest risks the prospect crossing the line from “We definitely have some opportunities” to “This person is making me feel stupid.” You never want to force the second option. They’ll close up quickly to protect themselves from saying anything else that will demonstrate their lack of knowledge. Once they’re closed off, you won’t be able to reach them.
Nailing a Stellar Pitch Meeting
Now that you know what not to do, take your pitch meeting to the next level with these tips for a successful pitch.
Do share compelling data at the right time. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of telling a compelling story that visibly engages your prospect, then backing it up with hard metrics to support your claims. If your product or service is amazing, he or she might be thinking, “This is too good to be true.” The moment you sense that thought, reference a case study you have on hand or can send directly after the meeting. Show them your word is more than fluff.
Do challenge at least one thing the prospect says. Your lead wouldn’t be considering your product or service if he or she had all the answers. So if there’s a moment in your meeting when the prospect has made an assumption that comes into conflict with what you’re certain is true, don’t be afraid to push back. If you do so politely and confidently, you can establish your lead’s trust in you.
Do ask at least one open-ended question. Questions that start with “talk to me about” or “tell me more” significantly broaden your sales conversations. These open-ended questions allow you to receive a lot of information in a short time. They also have the potential to bring problems or concerns to light that you might not have uncovered with a typical on-the-tracks line of questioning.
Do embrace enthusiasm. If your prospect is excited, be excited. Whatever you’re offering will likely solve some real problems for your leads, so don’t be shocked if they get caught up thinking about that impact. Match their enthusiasm, because their business is good for you, too. That’s why you’re there.
Meeting face-to-face is the most valuable channel I’ve found for nurturing leads. The next time you have the opportunity to pitch a lead in person, keep these tips in mind as you’re preparing your conversation. You’ll be more likely to engage your prospects and spend less time chasing the ghosts of disinterested email leads.