Field reps have one major advantage over inside reps: their ability to establish relationships with prospects. It’s far easier to build rapport and trust when you’re sitting across the table from your prospects rather than talking to them through a computer screen.
But face-to-face meetings come with their own challenges.
Thanks to subtle body language cues you're probably not aware of, it’s much trickier to disguise any nervousness or anxiety when you’re face to face. You also might feel thrown off by presenting on your prospect’s territory, instead of your own.
Over the past 20 years in sales, I’ve developed several highly effective strategies for making in-person meetings run smoothly. Once you see for yourself how successful these are, you’ll learn to give them your own spin, and they’ll be a valuable part of your workflow.
1. Always arrive early
Ask your prospect if you can arrive 15 minutes early to set up. This has several benefits. First, it guarantees your meeting will take place in a conference room, rather than their office — which balances the power dynamic.
Second, this strategy ensures you won’t spend pre-meeting time sitting in the lobby waiting for someone to come get you. Your nerves will be much calmer if you’re focused on getting ready.
Third, it lets you settle in and familiarize yourself with the space. You can figure out how the projector works, which whiteboard markers to use, and where you should sit. Knowing these things in advance — rather than learning them while everyone’s in the room — makes you more confident and less likely to fumble during your presentation.
Lastly, when the attendees walk in, they’ll subconsciously feel like you’re receiving them in your own office. You’ll instantly seem more authoritative and credible.
Wondering how to phrase this request? Try something along the lines of, “I’d like to get the room ready before our meeting. If I come at [time], is there someone who can show me to the conference room?”
2. Ask for a tour
During the initial small talk phase of the meeting, casually request a tour. Hear me out: People find it much harder to act aggressively or unfairly toward you when they know they’ll be showing you around their company in an hour.
Plus, a tour gives them a chance to show off what they’re proud of. You might even get additional insight into their priorities, motivations, and challenges.
This is also a great opportunity to get referrals. While you’re walking around, you’ll probably run into someone your contact wants you to meet. A face-to-face introduction is extremely powerful – and you’ll be getting that intro hours, if not entire days, before the competition.
I usually phrase this as an aside: “By the way, I’d love to see [the rest of the office, the floor, the plant]. If we end early, can you show me around?”
The prospect says sure, usually thinking, “Salespeople never end meetings early.” Well, you will.
3. End on time
On a similar note, never let your meeting run long – even if the customer asks for it. As soon as you go over, you lose control. The extra time is for your prospect, so they’re the one driving the conversation. And that’s the absolute worst time they could be in charge. When the discussion ends, they should remember you as the authority.
Let’s say your prospect says, “I know we only have 10 minutes left, but this is really interesting, and I’d love my colleague Brad to jump in. Can you stay a little longer?”
Reply, “I’m glad you want to continue, but unfortunately I have another meeting.” Then look at your watch and add, “If you want, I can actually come back in a few hours.”
This response accomplishes two things. You imply that your product is in-demand and your time is highly sought-after, both of which raise your status. And you get two additional hours to prepare for your second meeting. (Always treat a request for more time as a second meeting, not a continuation of the first.)
4. Be contrarian with the number of attendees and meeting links
Most reps define the quality of a meeting by the length of the call or presentation and the number of attendees present. But the truth is, when we’re in large meetings, chances are, you’re in a competitive bake-off with champions of your competitor present.
Aim for shorter, more frequent meetings with less people, until you gain confidence in the deal. This also allows you to more quickly identify competitor champions and speak to their objections early and one-on-one.
If a prospect says, “Great, we’d love to have you in. We’ll have six people from our buying team there …” respond by saying, “Hmm … I don’t think I’m ready for that. I want to have more context before I meet with your buying team. Can I meet with your ecommerce marketer first, so I understand their buying criteria?”
5. Don’t appear overly ready for the meeting
I know, this is contrary to most of what you read about conducting sales today. But hear me out. Most reps constantly seek to become more credible. But what are we trying to be credible at? Do you want credibility in preparation or credibility in front of the customer?
Show your customer how little you understand in your meeting. Do the research in the meeting to uncover what you don’t understand. For example, you might say something out of context to allow yourself to be easily corrected by the prospect. This allows you to learn from the prospect, which is compelling.
If you share a conclusion at the end of the meeting that’s based on a premise you decided on before you met with the prospect, they might not agree with that assumption. If you adjust the conclusion based on what you learned in the meeting, you’ll be much more credible, and your prospect will feel that you came to the conclusion together.
It took many meetings for me to hit on these strategies -- they’re not intuitive. Luckily, you don’t need to go through the same learning process: You can start using them right away. Check outmy blog for more sales expertise.
Originally published Jun 21, 2017 7:30:00 AM, updated August 16 2019