Rarely, if ever, does a company call and hire you on the spot, sight unseen. The more likely scenario is they request you to come in for an introductory meeting, the standard format for which is a 60-minute meet and greet where you are called upon to present an overview of your company and its capabilities. In preparation for such new business opportunity meetings, most companies prepare as follows:
STEP 1: Open PowerPoint
STEP 2: Call up the last version of your canned overview/capabilities presentation
STEP 3: Swap out the prior prospect’s logo from the previous presentation and replace with the new prospect’s logo and do a “find and replace” to remove any mention of the last company
STEP 4: Update the “Experience” slide to reflect the names of clients with relevant to industry expertise to the prospect in an effort to demonstrate how good of a match you are
STEP 5: Do a “Save As”
STEP 6: Print and bind the required number of leave-behinds
Sound familiar? If so, that’s a problem. At a time it is imperative you make the best first impression possible, you are communicating to your prospective client that they are no different than every other client you serve and that you have a one-size-fits-all solution for them. Yikes.
The good news is, there is another approach, and it’s better. It’s called consultative selling.
Put the Overview Presentation in Your Back Pocket
While it may seem counter-intuitive to abandon your company’s canned overview presentation on your next introductory meeting, that’s just what you should do. You can have it on hand in case the client demands it, but if they really didn’t think you were qualified to help them, they wouldn’t have called you in the first place. The fact that you’re meeting with them means they already knew enough about your company and its capabilities, likely from your website, and already think you are qualified enough to meet with them. Keep in mind, your brand and your reputation get you the meeting. How well you can demonstrate your business acumen, ability to listen and enthusiasm for solving their problems is what wins you the business. You just need the opportunity and the time to show it. However, spending the first 30 minutes of an hour-long meeting talking off a canned series of bulleted slides is not an effective way to do it.
Let Them Take a Test Drive
When making any kind of significant purchasing decision, the most persuasive gauge for judgment is direct experience. It’s why companies offer free samples, trial offers and money- back guarantees. Before buying a new car, don’t you test drive it first? When buying a new outfit, wouldn’t you prefer to try it on before purchasing it? That desire isn’t any different when hiring a consulting firm. Your prospective client called the meeting to experience what it would be like to work with you. To see if you are the right fit for them before they hire you. Which is why rather than spending the first half of a 60 minute meeting clicking through a PowerPoint deck that talks about what it would be like if they became a client, you should leave the presentation in your briefcase and demonstrate, first hand, what a perfect fit you are by treating them like they are a client.
How do you do this? Simply sit down and, after introductions, act as if you were already hired and treat your time with them as if it is an actual working session. In short, just do your thing. Ask questions, let them do the bulk of the talking, actively listen and learn about their business and the challenges they face. Then, after securing an understanding of their issues, begin to offer your ideas and insights and advise them as you would any other client.
Leave Them Wanting More
Just recently, we had a first meeting with a large professional service firm that was interviewing multiple agencies to design and develop their new website. It was scheduled for an hour. Although they specifically asked for an “overview presentation,” we elected to use a consultative strategic approach to the meeting. After an hour and fifteen minutes, they were still fully engaged. We spent the entire time asking questions that made them think, letting them talk through it while we actively listened and then then followed by offering some insights, suggestions and ideas. Although they did 80% of the talking, we helped them realize several additional marketing needs beyond just the redesign of their website, and a chemistry between our two teams began to take root. By the end of the meeting, they had shared with us insights and details about their company that are typically reserved for an already established, trusted advisor.
Even though the meeting was still going strong and they had clearly enjoyed the “test drive,” we had accomplished what we needed to do. However, I wanted to leave them wanting more, so I concluded the meeting citing respect for their own self-imposed meeting time parameters as my reason and then asked, “What would be good next steps?” Their response gave us a pretty good indication of our chances to secure their business:
“If we were to move forward with your team, what kind of timing would you need before you could get started with us?”
It was an extremely encouraging comment, since they originally stated that they planned to hold “overview presentations.”
Although they had planned to meet with five additional agencies, three of which would be invited back for a second, “more in-depth” meeting before awarding their business to one of two finalists based on their proposals, they just hired us a week later. There was no second “more in-depth” meeting or a proposal showdown with another agency. They simply called us the following week and asked when we could get started. As for our capabilities presentation, we never fired up the laptop and actually left the meeting without even distributing the printed version as a leave-behind.
You Might Get More Than You Bargained For
Taking a consultative approach to an introductory meeting can often result in more than just winning the business at hand. By facilitating an honest, objective discussion where you are not selling but simply doing what you do best, advising, you will likely open the door to additional opportunities to help your client. In our case, we went in hoping to land a website redesign job. In the end, we were engaged to become their agency of record and will now be partnering with them to create a new brand identity, development of a strategic marketing plan and management of the tactical execution of that plan, which happens to include the redesign and development of their new website.
If you’d like to learn more about how to maximize your new business efforts and strengthen your client relationships, feel free to send us a message or give us a call at 440-449-6800.