Most times when I finish a meeting, I think to myself “that was such a great meeting. I’m so excited for what happens next”. If your meetings aren’t ending like this, then you’ve just wasted everyone’s time.
Here are a few lessons I learnt from having hundreds of business meetings in Australia, Chile, and the USA.
Don’t pitch, listen
Much like my previous post in this series, don’t launch into your product pitch or try to sell something immediately. Listen to what they have to say.
I usually start meetings with a simple, ‘how has your day been?’. This serves two purposes:
- Some people like to talk about things not related to business when they first meet (usually extroverts). This gives them some time to vent or tell you about something they’re excited about.
- This also gives me context on their mindset. If they give a negative answer, then I know that I need to be especially empathetic with them.
- E.g. “My day has been disastrous. My dog just died and our company has no money left”.
- This of course is the extreme, but from this I’m able to adjust my desired outcome for the meeting. It might be as simple as building enough rapport to have another meeting when they’re in a more positive mindset.
In contrast if they say “My day has been fantastic. I just got a new dog and we closed our Series A round”, then i know they’ll be more receptive to being ‘pitched’ on a product. It’ll also help their ego if they’re open to giving ‘tips’ on how they closed the round (oh the irony!)
Once I’ve gotten context on how they are feeling, I’ll usually let them lead the conversation. Sometimes they’ll talk for 1 minute (introvert), other times they’ll talk for 30 minutes (extrovert). While they’re talking, I’ll be drawing out certain anchors that are related to my business, or a topic I want to speak with them about in the future. E.g. ‘What are you planning to do with the Series A money?’, “We’re going to hire and try to scale our operations”. The anchor here is that they’ll be recruiting soon. So even if the meeting doesn’t go well, I can still keep in touch with them (without pitching anything), by asking about their recruiting efforts or even better, help them in their recruiting efforts (adding value to them first).
When the time is right, you will need to refocus the conversation by saying something like ‘So the reason I wanted to meet…’ Explain clearly why your product/service is relevant to them, using anchors they’ve mentioned. This is important because if what you’re saying has no relation to what they want, then you’re wasting both your time.
If you’ve ‘pitched’ them well and it is relevant to them (i.e. solves a problem for them) then the next actions will be obvious (e.g. send more info, set up another meeting, pay for product, etc)
Surfacing the concern
However most of the time it won’t be an ‘easy’ sale. In this case, I apply what I’ve learnt from my good friend Chris Nolet – surfacing the concern. Ask them more probing questions and repeat back to them what you understand. E.g. “I’m not sure we really need this product right now”, ‘Do you think it would be valuable for you in the future?’, “Absolutely! But only once we hit $X in revenue”, ‘OK, so the price is too high for you at the moment?’, “Well, yes, i guess so”, ‘OK what if I discounted the price by 50%. Would that work?” … and so on. The core here is that their pricing concern wasn’t evident from the first statement. Some digging and clarification was needed in order to get to their actual concern.
Finding the next steps
Once you’ve surfaced their concern, the next step is to understand what the next steps are. Normally a meeting would end with “I’ll email you in the next few days”.I’ve found that is usually a bad sign, and that they’ll usually forget or not have it listed as a priority. The way I like to end meetings is to find out what the best case scenario looks like. E.g. ‘If everything goes well and your team loves the product, what are the next steps for you to implement this in your company?’, “Well the next step would be submit this to my manager”, ‘OK, then after you’ve done that, what’s next?’, “After that the manager would put in a purchase order”, ‘OK, and after they’ve put in a purchase order, what happens?’, “Then you’ll need to become an authorized supplier, so you’ll have to talk with person X from department Y”… and so on.
The point of this is to build a mental map of the exact process, start to finish. In this example, I would then ask something along the lines of ‘Can you intro me to person X so I can start the supplier approval process, while your manager decides?’. These questions also give me an approximate timeline of how long the ‘sale’ will take, and I can plan accordingly. (Some companies have a 3-4 month process for internal certification!)
Now that you understand the next steps of the entire process, you should have multiple actions to take away from the meeting. I try to keep this entire meeting ‘process’ to an hour or less. When I get back to the office, I usually like to send a ‘thank you for meeting’ email with either the next actions as a reminder, or something that adds value to something they mentioned (e.g. an intro to a relevant engineer if they’re looking to hire).
I’ll then set a reminder for myself to check back in with them in a few days/weeks (what ever is relevant to the result of the meeting). Some useful tools for following up are: Boomerang, Followup.cc, or your own GTD list (you’ve got one right?)