Thanks to communication tools like Skype, chat, and email, face-to-face meetings sales meetings are less common than they used to be.
But they haven’t grown obsolete -- and may never. After all, nothing can replace the effects of sitting and talking to someone at the same table.
Case in point: An April 2017 study from Cornell University found in-person requests are 34 times more successful than those made over email.
The advantages of face-to-face meetings
Face-to-face communication is often better than online meetings for six reasons:
It’s easier to build rapport
You can more accurately gauge the other person’s mood, desires, and hesitations
It feels more intimate
It can be more efficient, since you can hash things out in one conversation rather than sending multiple emails back and forth
You’re more likely to keep the other person’s attention
You can mirror their body language, which helps you put them at ease and gain their trust
You’re less likely to have miscommunications
When to have face-to-face meetings
Even if you’re an inside salesperson, there are still opportunities to sit down in person with prospects. According to Steve W. Martin’s survey of sales leaders, 20% of inside sales reps can make field sales calls when necessary.
Here are some scenarios a face-to-face meeting would make sense:
It’s a much larger deal than normal
It’s an average size deal, but there’s a big opportunity for expansion
It’s an important deal and you think it’s in jeopardy
It’s a normal deal but you’re going to be in the area
Your champion wants to introduce you to other potential customers
Your prospect is going to be at the same event as you
And of course, if you’re an outside salesperson, you’re going to face-to-face meetings all the time.
So now that you understand the importance and place of face-to-face meetings in the sales process -- no matter what type of rep you are -- let’s dive into best practices.
How to Have a Face-to-Face Meeting
It takes mere seconds for someone to form an impression of you. And once they’ve decided what you’re like, you’ll have an extremely difficult time shaking that perception. If you're going to focus on any part of the meeting, make it the first minute.
Nothing makes you look unprofessional like running late. But arriving too early doesn’t help you, either -- it can make you seem like you’re overly eager or have a wide-open schedule, which can lessen your perceived influence and power.
Try to arrive between five to 10 minutes before your agreed meeting time. That’s the sweet spot between “prepared” and “desperate.”
Being polite to everyone you meet, from the CEO to the security guard, is crucial. Many sales have been lost because the rep was dismissive to someone they considered “beneath” them. Your prospects will correctly take this rudeness as a sign you’re not the best person to do business with.
With that in mind, acknowledge the receptionist, your prospect’s assistant, and/or anyone else who you interact with. It takes two seconds to say, “Thanks for your help, John,” but it won’t be forgotten.
If you’re giving any sort of presentation -- from a casual one in front of three people to a formal one before the entire buying committee -- ask for access to the room beforehand so you can set up.
Run through your slides a few times, test the lighting and acoustics, and make sure all your tech works. Taking these precautions will alleviate your stress (so you’ll sound more confident) and help you avoid embarrassing and/or time-consuming issues during the presentation itself.
Pick your clothes carefully -- they’re a huge component of your first impression. Visiting your prospect’s office? Ask the person handling the administrative details (the date and time, arrival instructions, etc.) what the dress code is like.
If you’re meeting your prospect at an event, go by the event’s recommended clothing style. Maybe it’s jeans and sneakers -- or maybe it’s business casual. Following suit will ensure you and the other person will be wearing similar outfits.
Perhaps you’re meeting them at a restaurant or coffee shop. Do a bit of social media research to get a sense for their style. Do they show up to work in a suit? You should lean formal. Are they always in flip flops? They’re probably going to look laid back for this meal.
When in doubt, remember it’s better to be overdressed than under.
Your handshake should be firm but not overly tight. If you can see their knuckles turning white, or they grimace, loosen up -- literally.
Make sure you stand up when they enter the room. Your posture should be excellent at all times; not only will you look more confident, your voice will sound steadier and more sure as well.
Maintaining eye contact shows poise and power. That being said, too much eye contact will come across as creepy. Try to look at the other person 60 to 70% of the time.
Nod and smile
Visibly reacting to your prospect’s comments will make them feel gratified. When they make a good point, nod your head to show your agreement. When they crack a joke, laugh. When they pay you a compliment, smile. When they discuss bad news, frown.
It sounds basic, but sometimes when people are stressed they adopt a poker face. That can make it seem like you’re cold or unfriendly -- definitely not the persona you want to be remembered for.
Even if you’re there to talk business, make sure to have a few minutes of light conversation before you dive into the nitty gritty.
Talking about non-work things builds rapport and gives you the chance to get to know each other as people. You don’t need to discuss their favorite sport or thoughts on the weather; instead, before the meeting look for unique commonalities or interesting aspects about them you can bring up. For instance, if they just posted a picture of their recent trip to New Orleans, you might say, “So I saw you just got back from New Orleans. That’s where I got married! It’s one of my favorite cities in the U.S.”
When it’s time to transition from small talk to the meeting itself, say something like, “We’ve set aside [30 minutes, an hour] for this. Does that still work for you?”
This shows you’re ready to talk business and is a good preliminary to setting the actual agenda.
Jeff Hoffman recommends asking if you can have a tour of the office or factory if you finish a little early. Not only does everyone love a meeting that wraps up ahead of time, walking around with the buyer gives you a chance to further build rapport and learn more about their company.
Next, highlight the main objectives or discussion items of the meeting.
Finally, ask, “How did that sound? Is there anything else you’d like to go over today?” Making your prospect part of the agenda-setting process makes them feel like your partner, rather than your audience, and ensures you don’t skip a subject they care about.
Prospects are always flattered when you take notes during meetings. You clearly think their opinions are important, or you wouldn’t bother writing them down. Taking notes also helps you preserve your true perceptions of how the conversation went and what the buyer said. It’s easy for your memories of the meeting to change after a day or week.
Make sure you’re not dominating the conversation. Even when you’re giving a demo or explaining your proposal, your prospect should be getting plenty of airtime.
Letting them talk keeps them engaged and makes the meeting feel like a conversation rather than a monologue.
If they’re not saying much, you may need to prompt them. Ask, “What are your thoughts so far?”, “How does this sound to you?”, or “What other questions do you have about [subject]?”
So if they lean forward, do so as well. If they cross their arms, cross yours too. If they tilt their head, tilt yours as well.
Just make sure you’re not being obvious. Wait a few seconds before copying them, and don’t mimic absolutely every move they make (for example, if they scratch their head, you shouldn’t scratch yours.)
When you’re getting close to the scheduled end time, say something along the lines of, “We have [X minutes] left. I want to make sure we’ve talked about everything you wanted to -- I have [Y slides left], but is there anything you’d like to discuss?”
This shows you’re attentive to their needs and value their input.
You should also confirm the next steps. Those will depend on where you are in the sales process; if this was an intro meeting, you’ll probably want to schedule another one, while if you just finished a product demo, you should ask them to review the proposal.
Once the meeting is over, thank everyone and shake their hands again.
The same day -- or the next morning, if you had a later meeting -- send a thank-you note to the person who organized it, as well as your main point-of-contact. (That might be the same person, or it may be the EA and your champion.)
Express appreciation for their time and hospitality. In the email to your prospect, reiterate the next steps, let them know you’re available if they have any questions or concerns, and mention a rapport-building point ( like “Thanks again for the book suggestion. I just finished chapter one, and it had me cracking up.”)
It might seem like a small gesture, but it shows you’re a true professional and will treat them well if they decide to do business with you.
Face-to-face meetings tend to be more stressful than virtual ones. But they pay enormous dividends. Your relationships will be stronger, your presentations will be more convincing, and most importantly, your deals will be bigger.
Originally published Sep 14, 2017 10:34:00 AM, updated June 11 2021