The first 30 seconds of your first meeting with a senior decision maker has a major impact on the outcome of your appointment.
If you’re a Key Account Manager or Director, it can determine your success with the account relationship on an ongoing basis.
If you’re a Business Development Professional, these first few seconds can be the deciding factor on whether or not you will win new business.
So what factors make these first 30 seconds so crucial?
For a start, senior execs are busy and tend to trust their instincts. This means that you need to make a high impact in the first few seconds of the meeting in terms of building rapport, credibility and a sense of potential value in return for the exec’s invested time.
In today’s selling environment this is getting much more difficult and needs be achieved even earlier in the meeting. This is because most execs are having to work much harder in today’s economic climate. Today’s execs tend to only get involved in ‘strategic’ purchase decisions that have a direct impact on the strategic success of the business.
So if you start by talking about the features, advantages or benefits of your company or products, most senior execs will immediately decide that you are wasting their time and – at best – you’ll get passed on to meet someone at a much lower level in the future.
Second, senior execs tend to have big egos and (most) are highly professional. They therefore expect a significant level of professionalism and respect in return. They expect you to ask them for their opinions on subjects that are topical or relevant to them, but you must also demonstrate credibility by quickly making it clear that you have done your own research and have your own ideas.
Third, senior execs are typically fast-thinking individuals and highly focussed on outcomes. They will grab control of the meeting unless you set the theme and direction right up front and quickly get their buy-in. Regardless of the size of the organisation they run, their perspective of their own position (compared to your position as a potential provider) will cause them to naturally start talking down to you unless you assert an adult-to-adult conversation right from the start.
In summary, you have to immediately establish rapport, credibility and interest while demonstrating a high level professionalism, insight, credibility and potential value if you’re going to succeed in the first 30 seconds of your first sales meeting with a senior exec.
On top of all of this, if you’re going to successfully sell to their organisation, you need to get the exec to tell you about their most pressing existing or future pain-points (in terms of organisational performance) and their primary objectives (in terms of desire for improvements in that performance).
On first appearances, to achieve all of this in the first 30 seconds of the meeting – without losing control, interest or credibility – seems like an impossible task! But it’s easier than it sounds…
So what do you need to do in the first 30 seconds of a sales meeting to ensure a successful outcome?
To make a high value sale you need to get the appropriate senior exec’s support and, to do this, you need to set the direction for the meeting right from the start. By ‘setting the direction’ for the meeting, we mean being able to set the theme and tone for the dialogue that will guide the conversation towards your desired end result.
We propose two sales techniques that can be used in sequence and will bring you success every time. These selling techniques are known as signposting and the powerful question.
Signposting is a great sales technique for creating a high impact when you introduce yourself to a senior exec. It involves using the following “3 P’s”:
1. Purpose – inform the exec of your responsibilities and the background to the meeting.
2. Process – let them know how you would like to conduct the meeting and/or a recap of the agenda (which you have already agreed prior to the meeting).
3. Pay-off – tell them the benefits that you are committed to delivering by the end of the meeting or as a follow-up.
Headlining the ‘pay-off’ is probably the most important element of signposting as it creates the exec’s interest and gives you the right to:
a) Control the direction for the meeting; and
b) Ask your powerful question and probe when you are given the answers.
But remember, the ‘pay-off’ is what many sales people fail to mention during their introduction. The result is that the exec is left thinking “So what’s in this meeting for me?”
An example of signposting:
“As you know from my mail, I’m the new SellCo account manager for your organisation. I wanted to meet you today because I’m committed to making sure that our solutions meet your strategic requirements.
I’ve conducted a significant amount of research but I’d like to check my understanding of your priorities by asking you some specific questions.
Once I’ve qualified your priorities, I’d like to come back to you with some outline proposals that can really make a difference for you and your organisation. Is that okay with you?”
Once you’ve got agreement to your signposting, you’ve earned the right to ask your powerful question. That’s the succinct pre-planned open question that:
i) Sets the theme for the conversation in the sales meeting.
ii) Gets the exec to trust you enough to tell you about their current and potential pain-points.
iii) Gets the exec to treat you as an equal and have an adult-to-adult, strategic conversation with you.
Examples of powerful questions:
To a retailer when you want to open up a dialogue about using the internet as a new channel to market:
“How will the new low cost online competitors entering your market affect you, given the economic pressures on your client’s disposable income?”
To a chief of a local council when you want to open up a dialogue on the opportunities for the provision of automated services:
“How is the increased demand for 24 hour services affecting you in the light of the government spending cuts?”
Notice that these questions are not fully ‘open’. A fully open question would be something like: “What are your biggest problems at the moment?”. This can bring a response from any direction (including “You at this very moment” from the more mischievous execs!).
Yet they are also not ‘closed’ questions. They do not demand a “yes” or “no” answer. Rather they are slightly leading questions that ‘frame’ the direction or theme of the conversation through the choice of the context they present.
Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase