Inside Sales Tip: Treat a Sales Appointment Like a Corporate Meeting, Part I

phone-screen-smAuthor Michael Lopp, blogging under the pseudonym “Rands in Repose,” presented an outstanding treatise this morning on how to run a meeting that brilliantly captures the essence of your average corporate pow-wow—but also contains some striking parallels to sales appointment setting.

What is a “sales cycle” after all, if nothing more than a series of “mini-meetings,” each designed to progress the sale and provide value for both parties?

As Lopp states, a good corporate meeting should decide whether it is about alignment or creation, should have both an agenda and a referee, and should avoid creating a culture of “having meetings for having a meeting’s sake.”

All three ideas are eminently applicable to sales appointments.

Part I of this two-part discussion will compare the similarities between a corporate meeting’s purpose and agenda to a sales appointment, while Part II will discuss refereeing and “appointment culture.”

Part I

1. Decide whether an appointment is about alignment or creation.

Alignment meetings are about implementing specific actions, and getting them done. In sales, alignment meetings are fairly rare until the end of the sales cycle, when the conversation shifts from the “if there’s a sale at all” to “how do we make this thing work.” They often involve the prospect’s checklist of items to be completed before the “sale is final.”

By Lopp’s definition, most sales appointments lean to the “creative” side. They are careful negotiations addressing needs, that often “require a unique solution.” These typically require energy, engagement, and collective thought from both sides, and have the potential to quickly get derailed—which leads to the need for effective “refereeing,” which we’ll discuss in Part II.

The concept seems self-evident, but one mistake inexperienced sales reps make is they jump into “alignment appointments” too soon. They assume the sale is done, now it’s just time to “connect the dots,” when the prospect is still in the “solution creation” process.

2.1. “A meeting has two critical components: [one of them is] an agenda.”

Lopp states that an agenda is the answer to the question, “What do we need to do to get the hell out of here?”

Don’t go into an appointment saying, “Well, we just need to talk about what they need.”

Define it. Be specific.

An actual agenda shows the prospect that you value their time. Create three short “idea statements” and use them—”We’re going to discuss the key pain that needs to be addressed and find our best product / service solution, we’re going to discuss their budget limitations, and we’re going to discuss the time frame they need to implement it.”

If possible, give it to the prospect at least a day ahead of time for approval. If this isn’t possible, present it when the meeting starts. In either case, if the prospect doesn’t approve the agenda or you sense some ambivalence, resist the temptation to just plow ahead with the appointment because “it’s on the schedule, and we might as well do something.” Define with the prospect what the agenda SHOULD be, then reschedule the appointment when you have the appropriate information ready.

Part II coming tomorrow.


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