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How to Prepare Properly For Client Meetings

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Salespeople are very busy, rushing around finding new clients, developing leads, networking, cold calling, attending client meetings, getting stuck into preparing proposals and later executing the follow through on what has been promised.  Somewhere in this process some key basics start to go missing.  One of those basics is the proper preparation for client meetings. 

This is rather ironic because we salespeople have never had it so good.  In this modern age we have so much information available to us just a few clicks away.  Listed client companies very conveniently include their financial details, strategies, corporate officer information, etc., in their annual reports on their web sites.  

Invariably, we will see a modern besuited business Titan posing in the plush corporate corner office. In addition to the PR division’s photographic efforts, there will be a substantial article or interview with the CEO, outlining the way forward for the company.  The key organisation goals and milestones are on display for all to see.

A few minutes finding this information and reading it will give the salesperson a very clear idea of the key business drivers for the company’s strategy.  The financial section will also tell us how the entity is tracking against it’s declared goals.  It may even get down to a breakdown at the divisional or country level, which is pure gold to someone about to meet a decision-maker from that firm.  

Being able to tie what you sell to the goals they have set for themselves instantly makes the context relevant and places the discussion on the right basis.  Talking about your contribution to their ROI is of great interest to someone in that company, who has responsibility to deliver the goals established by senior management.  So rather than talking about what you want – to sell something – the discussion is better focused around how you can help them achieve their goals. 

How many salespeople though bother to do this prior to calling on the client?  Not enough!  If we turn up to their office and say, "Tell me about your business?", this speaks volumes about our lack of research on the company beforehand.  It would be much better to ask a question that relates to the goals which have been set within the company.  We should be looking for some context where we can show how helpful we can be, in solving their local issues preventing them from satisfying their corporate goals. 

We should be coming into that meeting talking about the most relevant issues facing the team we are meeting.  We might say: 

"I notice that your company President has made it

a clear goal to grow the business by 12% over this next year. 

Given the current business climate, that sounds pretty tough. 

Is that also the commitment you need to deliver from the Japan business?" 

This is a great question because we have indicated we have done our homework on the firm, we are aware of their goals and we are empathetic.  We are also checking if the local business has the same issues or not.  If they answer that the local unit has to grow by 30%, then that sets us up for a very interesting conversation about how they are going to achieve that and why their local goal is so much larger. 

We want to capture the scale of the gap between their current performance and their required performance, plus their chances of bridging that gap without our help.  If we find out the opportunity to grow 30% in Japan is a snap, because business conditions here are so much better than everywhere else for them, we may have a hard time showing where we can be helpful. 

On the other hand if they are really suffering from having such a large target, then perhaps we may be the solution and they will be all ears to hear how we can help.  We could ask them "how is business?" and they may or may not choose to enlighten us to their reality.  Remember, everyone loves to buy but no one wants to be sold.  So the less you have to tell salespeople anything, the less likely you will be sold anything.  

If we are able to lead the conversation into a deeper stage quickly, the more likely we are to find out if we have a new client here or not.  This should be our goal and we should be using the best resources available to us to achieve our goal. 

Apart from the information on the firm, there is also information we will find on the individuals we will meet from the firm.  They will probably have a Google, Yahoo, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube presence.  A quick search on their name will turn up useful background information, which may allow us to draw out some connections we share in common.  If you both studied at the same university or previously both worked in the same industry or lived in the same location (state or town) or have the same hobbies, these are speedy connectors between two total strangers. 

In sales, we need our buyers to know, like and trust us.  The like and trust parts are the difficult bits, especially at the initial stages of the relationship.  Sharing things in common is a great way to quickly establish credibility and a relationship.  

Let’s take my example.  I am a proud Queenslander, grew up in Brisbane, I support the Brisbane Broncos and Origin rugby teams, studied Modern Asian Studies at Griffith University and I practice karate.  There are a wealth of speedy connectors right there.  You can find all of this out about me on-line in about five minutes.  

Start our meeting by commenting on how well Queensland has been doing in the Origin rugby and you and I are off to a great start!  It means you know about the rabid Queensland versus New South Wales State rivalry in rugby and how important it is to native Queenslanders like me to win. 

I am a buyer of goods and services here in Japan.  Over the last twenty 25 years here, not one salesperson has tried to connect with me through knowing some common connectors.  Given what is out there now in the public domain, there is no excuse for salespeople calling on me, particularly over the last ten years, to not try to connect in this way. 

It is the same for most people we meet.  We can get the relationship off to a flying start, if we bother to invest the time to find out their key details.  Yes, we are all very busy but that is not a sufficient excuse.  We salespeople are simply not doing a good enough job to use the tools at our command today.  It is crazy when you think about it.  Trying to build a connection and establish a positive first impression has to be every salesperson’s goal when meeting new clients for the first time.  

Yes there are unlisted companies and yes, not so many Japanese business people use LinkedIn as yet.  However, there are plenty of companies though who are listed and plenty of Japanese people on Facebook etc., so we should make the effort to do our homework on the client before we meet.  In this Internet age there really are no excuses. 

One of the other tricky bits about Japan is the group dynamic of decision-making.  We may not know beforehand precisely who will be in the room.  Often there will be extra people who turn up and so we won’t be able to research them prior to the meeting.  However, after the meeting we can try to find out something about them that might enable us to establish a relationship.  If they support a particular interest, we might send them an article on that subject.  

If they like a certain sport or activity we might arrange tickets as our guest.  However, I am a bit conservative regarding individual gift giving in Japan.  There are often corporate compliance restraints on entertainment and gift giving which we should be aware of.  We don’t want our efforts to cause them any embarrassment or trouble.  On the other hand, we could bring something to eat to be shared with the whole team and that is usually acceptable.  Japan, fortunately has an amazing selection of these types of goodies for just such an occasion. 

This is the age of readily available and free information.  We need to differentiate ourselves from every other salesperson out there. A simple way to do that is to spend some time researching the company and the individuals.  When we have these insights we ask better designed questions, we uncover more key information more quickly and we provide great context for our conversation with the buyer. 

Action Steps 

1.  Go on-line and read through the corporate annual report

2.  Use social media to find out about the person we are going to meet

3.  Use search tools like Yahoo and Google to see what we can know prior to the appointment

 

4.  If new people turn up to the meeting, do a search on them and see if there are ways we can connect with them.

 
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