Oh, for the day when we will—through the magic of big data, hypnosis and robot assistants—win the meetings we desire while avoiding all those that are wastes of our time. Until then—and don't hold your breath—knowing when to press for a face-to-face will continue to be the difference between being welcomed as a problem-solver or shunned as a calendar-crowder. And who wouldn’t rather be welcomed? According to an Oxford Economics study, in-person prospects are more than twice as likely to become customers.
As you navigate the sales process, here's a guide to the three meetings you have to have:
The Planning Meeting
It’s a cold, hard fact of today’s cold, hard world. Few potential clients have the time, or inclination, to accept the get-to-know-you drop-in. That’s okay, you’ll be better served by a get-together once you’ve secured your target’s attention anyway. So expend your persuasive wiles scheduling a planning session to outline the project and align expectations. Then use the time to begin to establish a bond of trust.
These tasks, of course, rely heavily on communication, and because 93% of how we communicate is through nonverbal cues (i.e., body language and tone) a face to face is really the only way to guarantee engagement. Voice and text don’t necessarily indicate wandering attention. Conversely, a firm handshake, a relaxed stance and deep eye contact can tell you everything. In fact, a recent Cisco study found 82% of business leaders feel better understood when they communicate in person.
Just as paying attention to nonverbal cues can provide insight into your prospect’s level of engagement, so to will your tone and gestures indicate your level of commitment. In other words, meet a firm handshake in kind. Demonstrating seriousness and attention says you’re here to create something lasting and mutually beneficial, and not just make a sale.
The Progress Report
Your client will be happy—and, admit it, you will too—if you make further status updates by phone or email. But schedule one more session about halfway through the sales process. Practically, it will allow you to respond to questions and concerns in a more direct way.
More critically, however, it will give you another chance to add your personal touch at a key moment in the funnel. A little strategic face time can only strengthen the trust you began to establish in the first face-to-face and boost the perceived value of the service in your prospect’s mind. That, in turn, can’t help but soothe any pre-procurement jitters.
The Post-Game Review
This last meeting might be the most important. Here’s where you cement your reputation, and set the stage for future business. Show your confidence by asking for the client to assess the final result. Continuing to show interest after “sealing the deal” moves the relationship from business to personal, humanizes your firm and differentiates you from the competition. The next time your client or one of his connections needs similar services, you’ll be the first person he recommends. And who doesn’t want to be that guy?