In my last column, I divulged six key strategies that CPA Insider™ readers can utilize in landing meetings with prospective clients. Here are five more fool-proof methods on how to land a meeting with your prospective clients:
- Acknowledge the Prospect’s Point of View: "Whether it’s a question, a comment, a point of agreement or a bona fide objection, your first step is to acknowledge in a nonjudgmental way what they’re saying. By acknowledging, you are letting them know that you respect their right to have a point of view — even if it’s different from yours. Acknowledgement is not agreement nor is it disagreement. It’s neutral.
- Keep Them Talking: When calling prospects, resist the impulse to jump in too quickly with a pat response. The truth is, no matter what the prospect says initially, there’s usually a bigger story behind their words. Knowing the more detailed version of their thoughts will expose their motivations and give you a better idea of what the real problem, concern or idea is behind those words.
- Play It Again: As the prospect speaks, pay close attention to exactly what they’re saying, and even to what they’re not saying. Your real power here is the ability to reflect back to the prospect your understanding of what they are sharing, but also to offer insight into the deeper issues that may be weighing on their minds. This kind of listening through paraphrasing tends to get responses such as, “Exactly!” and “You’re right. I hadn’t thought of it that way.” These are huge compliments coming from a prospect. It means that they feel understood and probably see you as a credible, insightful thought leader on the other end of the phone. Now the call is red hot.
From here, you’ll be in a better position to assess the real issues facing the prospect — and, perhaps, to offer even better solutions than you were originally prepared to talk about. And — this is the most important part — you’ll also find that the prospect will be more receptive to listening. It’s not just because you listened to them. It’s also because you added to your own credibility by demonstrating that you really understand what’s going on for them. It’s called “insight,” and clients will respect you for it.
- Little “c” Close: You may be tempted at this point to try to “sell” the client — to go into detail about how you will solve their problem, and close the deal (big “C” Close). Here’s an alternative: Use your new-found credibility to get the meeting. It’s easier to cement a relationship when there’s the chance to look someone in the eye and for them to look right back at you.
The keys for this kind of close are two-fold: offer an action (“Let’s meet on Tuesday.”) and ask an open-ended question (“How would that work for you?”) rather than a yes-no type question, which is also called close-ended. The specificity of your invitation gives the prospect something to do; it moves the discussion toward a definite time and place. The open-ended question provides them with an opportunity to respond without giving them the chance to say no. Remember, at this stage if they start to talk, the discussion continues. If they say no, the discussion will come to an early — and non-advantageous — end.
- Lock In the Details: As a final step, be sure to restate a few points:
- Your name (they may not have caught it in the beginning of the call);
- Your phone number (in case anything changes);
- The time, date and place for the meeting;
- The reason for the meeting which is the business problem that’s being solved for them (this will remind them about why they should keep the meeting);
- And a promise to e-mail them a summary of the discussion along with a proposed agenda (this gets you more information about them, and gives you a way to stay in front of them between the call and the actual meeting).
Using these techniques add up to good pre-call planning, great listening skills and a focus on getting the face-to-face meeting – all skills necessary to increase your success in developing business. Avoiding cold-calling you can avoid getting the cold shoulder from prospective clients, but you definitely won’t gain any new customers. Is that what you really want?
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Molly Sargent is the Principal of Norwalk, Connecticut-based Professional Impressions Consulting. She has trained and coached thousands of financial professionals and client-facing executives in professional image, presentation skills, business etiquette and sales effectiveness. Since 1985, Molly has helped major accounting firms and Fortune 500 companies, including Aetna, American Express, AT&T, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan, Key Bank, MasterCard, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Prudential achieve breakthrough results.