Is There A Real Sales Opportunity or Is The Prospect Just Being Nice?

You’ve been calling on a new prospect for months, maybe longer with little to no success. You’ve been trying to get a lunch, a meeting with the decision maker, or uncover a sales opportunity, but you can’t seem to get past the front desk.

Sound familiar?

I’m not talking about the office with the receptionist who barely acknowledges you’re standing in front of her even though it’s been what feels like 5 minutes. And I’m not talking about the prospect that keeps telling you there’s no need to come back because, “they’re all set.”

I’m talking about the one that’s always nice to you. They know your name, maybe even a bit about your family.

In fact, they’ll say things like, “I wish she (the owner) would give you a chance.”

But still nothing. It’s the worst.

Until that one visit, where you ask one more time, “I’d really like to see if there’s a time I can meet with (the decision maker). Is there a time that would be convenient?”

And your ally from the front office finally says, “Yes. In fact, we have a staff meeting next Thursday. If you want to bring in lunch, we have 45 minutes available. Would that work?”

Inside you’re thinking, “Would that work? WOULD THAT WORK? Duh! This is what I’ve been working towards for 6 months. FINALLY!”

But being a professional you simply say, “Thursday works great…see you then.”

What Typically Happens

Having worked so long towards getting this appointment, you’re under a lot of pressure. You know this is likely a one and done. If things go well, you have the opportunity to acquire a new client. If they don’t, it’s 6 months of persistence down the tubes.

All this pressure ends up being the undoing for most reps. Knowing you only have 45 minutes and with so much at stake, what do you do?

You start talking, presenting, featuring, and benefitting. You talk about all your value, service, loyalty programs, etc. You leave little room for discovery and exploration. And what was supposed to be a dialogue ends up being a monologue.

As the meeting progresses, you realize your 45 minutes is nearly up and you don’t have anything concrete – no next steps, no commitments, nothing.

You thank everyone for their time. Ask if they have any questions. And let them know you’ll be back in a few weeks to “follow up.”

And you get back to your car and realize you are no closer to a new client than you were before the meeting.

Where Things Get Off Track

The same place they usually do, at the beginning. It’s the early missteps that cause so much frustration later in the process.

The biggest mistake in this scenario is not taking the time to better understand “why” the client has invited you in after all this time.

Think about it. Based on the scenario, there are really only two reasons you finally got the appointment:

  1. The prospect has a business need (problem, opportunity) and they think you can help.
  2. They can see you’ve been trying so hard. You’re consistent, pleasant, and professional. In other words, they feel bad and want to “give you a chance.”

Number two may not be what you want to hear, but it’s not only true, it happens all the time. How many times have you let a sales person go through their “pitch” even though you have no interest? But because they are so nice, you let them do it anyway?


Try This Instead

The key to productive meetings is clear objectives. Why are we meeting and what do we hope to accomplish?

Here’s how that might sound in this scenario:

“Thank you so much for inviting me in today. As you know this is something I’ve been working towards for several months. For that reason, and because I very much value your time, I want to be as effective and productive as possible.

Before we get started, I am curious about one thing. In situations like this where I’ve been coming in for several months and have a good rapport with a few of you, there are usually two reasons a meeting like this is scheduled.

Some clients have a specific business need they think I might be able to help with and want to explore that further. On the other hand, and this might sound strange, sometimes I get this opportunity out of generosity. Since I’m persistent, sometimes offices feel like they owe me a chance to make a presentation. Either one is ok, but if I’m more clear on the reasons you wanted to meet that will help me understand the best way to use our time together today.”

I’ll acknowledge it takes a little practice to pull this off and you may need to modify the specific language to fit your particular style, but let’s consider what an opener like this does.

First, you are communicating that you appreciate the time they’ve set aside and you want to make it productive.

To do so, it’s important to know what the goal or intention of the meeting is from the client’s point of view.

Second, in a very professional and honest (two traits that are important in building relationships and trust) way, you are acknowledging that you’re aware it’s quite possible this is nothing more than a favor.

What If It Is Just a Favor?

If they say they are doing this because you’ve “been so nice” and “they want to give you a chance” you have several options. Here’s one I like:

“Thanks for being honest. So here’s what I’m thinking would be a productive use of our time. I have found that most of my clients are facing similar challenges. Let me share what a few of those are and if any sound like problems you’re facing, we can talk about some ideas or strategies that others are using to address those challenges.

How does that sound?”

What This Accomplishes

Instead of spending 40 minutes in a monologue, you get a chance to have a dialogue. Specifically a dialogue where you can communicate that you understand common industry challenges and that you’ve helped other clients address them. Done correctly, you are demonstrating expertise, while at the same time uncovering potential ways you could be working with this client. If all goes well, this meeting ends with something like:

I think this was a really productive meeting. Based on what we’ve discussed, I think we’ve identified some common ground where we could begin a business relationship. Based on what we’ve discussed, what next steps do you think make sense?”

Try this strategy next time you “finally get that meeting.”

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4 Responses to “Is There A Real Sales Opportunity or Is The Prospect Just Being Nice?”

  1. kevin emery September 9, 2013 at 6:42 pm #

    great piece Joe. Thanks

    • Joe McGonigal September 9, 2013 at 8:07 pm #

      Thanks Kev!

  2. Karen September 10, 2013 at 2:07 am #

    Definitely a keeper – will probably refer back to this piece multiple times during my rookie years as I begin to pull away the onion layers. Thanks Joe!

    • Joe McGonigal September 10, 2013 at 6:57 am #

      Karen, this is a scenario that pops up well past your “rookie years.” The good news is, if you learn to handle it effectively now, you’ll be better off in the long run. One of the most underrated skills in sales is the ability to know what leads to pursue and which ones to let go of. Sounds like another blog post!


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