The good news is that you can improve your chances of getting a second meeting through preparation and demonstrating your credibility in the first meeting. If you are lucky enough to get into the executive suite, you have to balance your strategy of question-led and insight-led dialogue to create “aha!” moments for the client, proving that you do indeed have a deep understanding of their business.
The first step is to determine, in advance of the meeting, what you’d like to happen at its conclusion. It’s not always going to be a sale; it might be to have another meeting. The way that you build that expectation up front for yourself and communicate it early in the meeting can be an important move.
Be aware that executives will often spend the first few minutes of a sales meeting trying to determine whether you have earned your right to be a part of the conversation regarding whatever initiative is on the table. So, if you begin by being too product-focused or talking only about yourself and your company, most executives will consider that a deal-breaker. You have to demonstrate from the start that you know enough about their business and their industry to be credible, insightful, and a valuable partner, who has new and useful ideas.
The key to getting that second meeting with executives is adding enough value so that they want to know more in which they’ll deem it as a good use of their time and their colleagues’ time to continue the dialogue. If you come to the meeting intending to wing it, what we call “showing up and throwing up,” no executive will invite you back. Why would they?
Showing up and throwing up is a trap too many salespeople fall into either because they don’t know enough to ask good questions or because they might not understand the answers or know what to say next if they did ask good questions. This is why preparation is so crucial, especially at the executive level.
To prove credibility, salespeople need to conduct a balanced conversation with questions and insights that comes across as comfortable and natural. Learning and sharing are part of the process, with the salesperson learning what’s most important to the executive.
Part of the preparation for this meeting should include an agenda — not an overly detailed one if you’re meeting with a senior executive, just something that you can refer to and keep the conversation on track. As you walk through the agenda, be sensitive to any cues from the executive to get a sense of their personal style. Some executives have offices filled with memorabilia that they use to build a quick rapport before getting down to business. Other executives reserve functional meeting rooms because they prefer to focus solely on the business at hand.
The worst thing that you can do is make an assumption, based on level, gender, or functional area, about an executive’s personal style in meetings. Reading the indicators around you, being perceptive, and being prepared to be flexible when entering a sales meeting in those first few seconds can set the stage for what is to unfold.
One other mistake that I’ve seen salespeople make too often is build rapport, make eye contact with, and engage in dialogue only with the person that they identify as the highest-ranking executive in the room. It’s important to engage everyone equally because those people are in that room for a reason. They’re usually the same people that the executive depends on for help in making buying decisions.
So, “know thy audience,” and treat each one as an important member of the team. Any one of them could become either your worst critic or your strongest supporter. You need to be able to handle the concerns and objections of everyone to prove your worth and be invited back as the buying process proceeds to the final deal.