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5 Things You Must Do in Every First Sales Conversation

blog author
Written by Erica Schultz
Chief Marketing Officer, RAIN Group

The first sales conversation with a new prospect can be tough. After all, prospects tend to distrust sales people, they're guarded with their information, and they're extremely busy. The fact that they agreed to meet with you in the first place is a great sign. But much of your selling success hinges on your ability to lead an effective first conversation and get them to agree to a second conversation with you.

I equate it to dating:

  • You know very little about the person sitting across the table. If you're going on a first date these days, you've certainly checked out your date's pictures and posts on Facebook to gain insight. In a sales situation, you also turn to the Web before your meeting. You read news items on their company website, "Google" the person you're meeting with, and check out their LinkedIn profile. But you know very little about what's important to them and why they decided to take the meeting.
  • There's much anxiety around the situation. Think back to any first date you had (for some of you this may be longer ago than for others). Think about how you felt-nervous, wanting to be liked, unsure how the evening will go. You experience many of the same emotions when meeting a prospect for the first time. You are often nervous, don't know where the conversation is headed, and are trying to make a connection with the person (after all, people buy from people they like).
  • First impressions count. Imagine your date walks up to the door wearing an old pair of jeans and a baseball cap and greats you with a, "Yo, what's up?" Now imagine a second date walking up who is well dressed, clean shaven, and carrying a bouquet of your favorite flowers (someone did his research on your Facebook page). Which date would you rather go on? In sales, first impressions also count. And it's not just how you present yourself, but what you present. Be professional, look professional, sound professional, and don't deliver a canned presentation in the first meeting (or in any meeting for that matter).
  • You want to make a connection. The first date is often about seeing if there's a connection and if you want to go on a second date. The first meeting with a prospect is very much the same. You (and the prospect) are sizing each other up to see if there is a good fit and if it's worthwhile to have a second conversation.

For successful first meetings, you must attend to these five things:


1. Build Rapport

Which of the following is the most effective way to establish rapport with a prospect:

  1. Comment on something in their office
  2. Discuss an area of commonality
  3. Get to the point of your meeting right away
  4. Make small talk about traffic, weather, etc.
  5. Compliment them

Answer: #3-Get to the point of your meeting right away.

You may have read advice that says don't jump right into shop talk and take a few minutes to get to the know prospect so as to put them at ease. But with today's busy buyers, that tactic is outdated and no longer works. Prospects don't have time to sit around and talk about their love for sailing. By getting right to the point, you show the prospect that you respect their time. So, start the meeting by confirming the amount of time available and giving a quick rundown of what you're going to cover. For example:

"Tom, I know when we spoke on the phone you said you had 30 minutes today. I want to confirm that this is the case. ...Great, during this time we're going to share with you some research we've done on the topic of customer satisfaction and what your competitors are doing to increase their customer loyalty..."

This shows the prospect that you're respectful and serious. And it goes a long way toward building rapport with them.


2. Ask Interesting Questions

This is not the time when you pull out your list of 20 stock questions and start firing away. Ask questions that show you did your research on the company. Ask questions that position you as an expert and help build your credibility. For example:

  • I see X, Y, and Z going on in your industry. How is that affecting you?
  • In your annual report you mention that the key priorities are 1, 2, and 3. How are you tracking towards achieving those? What challenges are you facing in these areas?
  • How is the merger affecting your sales force? Are all of your reps able to sell the new products?
  • How are you dealing with the new regulations in your industry around X, Y, and Z? I know several of our clients are struggling with A and B. How are you handling them?

Download: 50 Powerful Sales Questions

Those types of questions will be customized for each prospect, so you must spend time before the meeting crafting them. They show you took your time to research the company and understand what's going on in their industry. Prospects want to know you have experience working with companies like theirs and that you're an "industry insider." The best way to show this is through the questions you ask. It also helps differentiate you from your competitors who are still asking, "What keeps you up at night?"


3. Set the Agenda 

Buyers today don't want to have to tell providers what to do. They want trusted advisors who will recommend, not react. Be proactive in your recommendations and show buyers the path they need to take to alleviate their pains and reach their goals. Articulate how you are the one best suited to help them do this.

Advise your prospects in the sales process, and give them a taste of what it's like to actually work with you. Don't be afraid to push and ask the tough questions. Your prospects will respect you for this, and you'll set up a peer-to-peer and trusted advisor relationship from the get go.


4. Sell the Vision of the Future

In the first meeting you want your prospect to leave excited-excited about the possibilities and excited about working with you.

To build this excitement, paint a picture of the new reality you will help the buyer achieve. Share case studies and stories. These can be very powerful, as your prospect can relate to the client in the story and "walk in their shoes." When you do this, they see the possibilities in a new light and see you as the knight in shining armor to guide them.


5. Deliver on Your Promise

Whatever the context the meeting was set up under, be sure to deliver on that promise. Often, sellers get their foot in the door by sharing something of value in the first conversation such as best practices, industry research, or what competitors are doing to overcome a specific challenge. If you set the meeting in this context, be sure to deliver on your promise. Nothing kills trust, credibility, and a sale quicker than the bait and switch.

The goal of your first conversation is to engage the prospect enough so that they agree to a second conversation with you. If you do these five things in your meeting, you'll have a good chance of continuing the conversation and getting that second date.

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Download: 50 Powerful Sales Questions


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Topics: Sales Conversations