It happens all the time. Founders work hard to get a key meeting in the diary, feel it went really well, then wonder why the opportunity never moves forwards.

They ask themselves what they could have done better in the meeting but chances are it was a mistake before the meeting ever took place: they didn’t prep properly.

I get it, as a founder, you’re incredibly busy. So why spend time on prepping for meetings when you could be doing any one of a hundred other important tasks? Put simply, if your meeting matters and you want to turn the opportunity into a ‘win’, then you need to take the time to prep properly. Any successful sales professional knows that it’s the time they put in before the meeting that has the most bearing on how the meeting will go. And as the founder, you are your company’s first and most important salesperson.

You’ve got 3 areas to nail before a meeting:
  • Research
  • Gameplanning (with you and your team)
  • Logistics (with the people you are meeting)

Research

Doing a small amount of research will help you build relationships with your customer, help establish your credibility and enable you to tailor your sales pitch so that the message resonates most with the person/people you are meeting.

You’ve heard that sales is all about relationships right? But how do you get that relationship off to a strong start? Well it’s all about creating rapport in that first meeting and to do that you need to look for talking points to equip yourself with. Use linkedin, twitter, blogs and media interviews to understand as much as you can about the individuals you are meeting — that way you can look for things you have in common that you can casually drop into conversation as an ‘ice breaker’ when you first meet e.g. a shared hobby, a contact in common, you both attended the same university.

An easy way to establish credibility is to show you understand their business by referencing information you have found out about them. You can then focus your questions on uncovering new information from them that is not publicly available. That way you won’t waste valuable time asking questions for which you could already know the answers.

And finally, how do you make them care about what you are selling? You need to position your product/solution in such a way that they understand how it will drive clear value for them. Going through their company website and annual statement (for limited companies) will help you find out about their strategy and top priorities. You can then reference these when you talk about the benefits your product/service can deliver for them e.g. if one of their main objectives is excellent customer service, instead of listing out all the amazing technical features in your product, focus in on the features of your product that facilitate better customer service.

Gameplanning

Have you ever been in a meeting where you were stumped by a difficult question or you and your colleagues were so intent on listening to the client that no one took any notes? And what about realising some time after the meeting that there are a bunch of questions you wish you had asked the client that would help you write a compelling proposal? This is easily fixed by having a quick chat ahead of time with your team, to plan how you want the meeting to run.

Firstly agree who is going to the meeting and why — avoid taking too many colleagues and think about an appropriate number to balance out the number of people attending on the client side. Anyone attending from your side should be there for a reason.

Then you need to agree roles e.g. who will take the notes; answer the tricky technical questions; run the demo? Once these roles are assigned, make sure the relevant people are fully prepared e.g. the person doing the demo needs to have it set up on their computer and they need to flag in advance any equipment they may need in the room (you can reference this in the next section on logistics).

Finally, think about what questions you want to get answers to: who are the decision makers; in what timeframe are they looking to implement a solution; do they have budget? And then most importantly: what is the desired outcome of the meeting? Is it to set-up a follow-up meeting with another stakeholder? Is it to run a working session to determine a project scope? Whatever it is, make sure you go into the meeting with a clear idea about what you want and most importantly, make sure you ask for it before the meeting ends! Don’t wait until after the meeting to secure the next meeting via email (which can easily be ignored), get them to agree to it and book it in whilst you are still sitting in front of them.

Doing this will enable you to go into your meeting looking professional and prepared. You are also much more likely to get the outcome you are hoping for.

Logistics

Ever found yourself halfway to a client meeting only to get a call from the client’s PA saying that ‘something urgent’ has come up and unfortunately the meeting needs rescheduling? Or perhaps you have found yourself in a meeting with someone who listens politely and then says that really the person you need to speak to is X and that they recommend you come back in to meet with them another day? These types of situations happen all the time, but with a little bit of planning you can avoid your time being wasted.

A couple of days before the meeting, get back in touch with the meeting organiser to re-confirm the meeting and the names of those attending. Send through an agenda (based on the work you have done in the research and gameplanning stages) and invite them to add any agenda points they would also like covered. This does 2 things: firstly, it gets the client thinking about the meeting ahead of time and if they send through some agenda points, it means you can prep for them rather than being confronted with them for the 1st time in the meeting; secondly, it may prompt the client to invite other colleagues to join the meeting thus guaranteeing you have the right people in the room from the outset which will speed up your sales cycle (and it also means you can research any additional attendees to find out what matters most to them). At worst, the organiser will come back to you asking to reschedule but at least if this happens, it has prevented your time being wasted by a cancellation on the day.

In summary, prepping these 3 areas will ensure you get the most out of any customer meeting. You will feel more confident going into the meeting; ready for anything difficult they throw at you during the meeting; and you are also much more likely to walk away with the result you needed to move the opportunity forwards.