By Andrew Sobel and Olivier Jacob
It's hard to get the first meeting with an executive. It's even harder to get the second meeting. If you don't make a connection and add value to your conversation, if you don't ignite some sort of spark, it's unlikely you'll suspect interest in a relationship with you.
Here are some of the common mistakes that even the most experienced professionals make:
- You are not fully prepared and have not done extensive research on the executive branch and its organization.
- You are trying to cover too many items on the meeting agenda (three is the maximum).
- The client examples you use, illustrating how you have helped other similar organizations, do not resonate and are too generic.
- You rely excessively on PowerPoint slides or other written materials and fail to have an intimate conversation with the client.
- You talk too much and the client talks too little.
- You try to sell a product or solution rather than enable an interested buyer. You create a buyer by uncovering an urgent need - a problem or opportunity the customer is facing - and building confidence in your ability to solve it.
- You ask tedious questions because they are too general and do not implicitly integrate knowledge of the client's strategy, organization and industry.
- You don't quickly align the conversation with the executive's agenda of critical priorities and goals.
- You take too long to get to the point. You need to have an opening "hook" that immediately engages the other person, like the red thread or title of an article that makes you start reading the first paragraph.
- You "tell" (e.g., describe statistics about your business, talk about methodologies, etc.) instead of "show" (e.g., share short examples of customers, best practices, etc.).
- You lack self-confidence, which is communicated through the words you use, your body language and your overall attitude. If you don't present yourself as a peer, you'll be treated as a supplier, not a potential trust partner. Humility is different - it's actually a powerful combination to exude strong confidence tempered with humility.
- You don't take any risks in the conversation and so you seem boring and immemorial. When you play not to lose, you will usually lose. You have to play to win.
- You focus on your own methodologies rather than exploring the client's problems. In thousands of interviews I've conducted with client leaders, they often disparaged salespeople and consultants who come in and immediately present their solutions rather than trying to understand the client and the difficult problems they face. You should always add value to the conversation, but you rarely do that with a presentation about your company and the products you sell!
- You are allowing the executive to prematurely delegate you to follow up with more junior managers, which may very well undo your efforts. If you end up talking to the executive team members, make sure you have permission to go back to the executive to brief them and resume your discussion.
About the authors
Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on the strategies and skills needed to develop clients for life. He is the world's most published author on the subject, having written eight best-selling books on customer relationships, including the international bestsellers Customers for Life and Power Matters. More than 100 leading firms, such as PwC, Citibank, UBS, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cognizant, Deloitte and many others have used his book Clients for Life to develop trusted advisor skills and increase their clients' revenues.
Olivier Jacob has decades of expertise as a coach, trainer, and conference facilitator on the topics of management and sales. Author of the book "Make your business grow" and passionate about personal effectiveness, strategy, sales, commitment and new technologies, he created Inéa Conseil in 2008 to help companies sell more and better, and managers better mobilize their employees.