Getting The First Customer Meeting is Hard Enough – What About the Second One?

By Michael Perla on Nov 3, 2017

“It’s only getting harder to get a meeting with a decision maker today," the SVP of Sales was telling me, “and getting a second meeting can be even tougher.”  When I ask groups of sales professionals whether it’s harder getting a sales meeting with a decision maker or key influencer today, they all invariably agree that it’s harder.

These days, with the amount of information available online, a seller can’t be a ‘walking brochure’. And, when he/she initially engages with prospects or customers, they are often already behind the curve on their need if they didn’t create the demand.

The infamous 57% statistic from CEB research on how far along in the purchase process a typical B2B buyer is before engaging with a supplier has been debated (for example here and here). But the core message is very important.  If you didn’t create the demand or ‘write’ the RFP, you are already behind.

The First Meeting

In terms of the getting the second meeting then, it’s all about what drove the reason for the first meeting with the prospect or customer.  I’ll highlight three common scenarios:

  1. There is no current need  the first meeting is an introduction meeting focused on establishing who you are and your capabilities.  In subsequent engagements, you want to secure top-of-mind status when a need arises or potentially create a need, which you couldn't do in the first meeting.
  2. There is a need and they are in search and evaluation mode to see what you offer, including value, outcomes, and fit.  It’s key that you differentiate who you are and provide some insights and value that the prospect wants to meet again.
  3. The need is unclear or unstated, but you created demand in the first meeting for your prospect or customer to learn more in a second and third meeting.

 

Prospect or Customer Meeting - Scenario #1

In the first case, which is quite common, you are introducing a prospect to your capabilities, which, in some ways, is a guided marketing effort by the seller.  Some pundits have talked about responding to an RFP or pursuing an opportunity that you know you will probably lose, but will help to introduce your capabilities and get your name out there.  This scenario is similar to a politician that has to lose a few races before they become better known and finally win.  Consider the statement below:

“The most successful politicians are those who keep coming back after a loss.  They know that running for office isn’t just about one election cycle; it’s about running a continuous campaign that raises their name recognition and familiarity each time they are on the ballot”.[i]

Obtaining a second meeting in this case is a bit of a guessing game around when the client will have a need for your services.  You want to stay top-of-mind with them so a ‘nurture’ (marketing) campaign often makes sense.

Prospect or Customer Meeting - Scenario #2

The second scenario might be called a typical selling situation.  The prospect or customer is in search and evaluation mode and wants to understand what each vendor offers.  Obtaining the second meeting is dependent on the seller’s ability to differentiate themselves and create a compelling reason for the customer to continue the conversation.  The first meeting is very important and requires some serious thought and preparation.  If you don’t get a second meeting, the debrief areas should include the following, at a minimum:

  1. Was the opportunity a good fit to begin with?
  2. Did you develop some relationship and rapport with the key decision makers and/or influencers?
  3. Did you differentiate in a way that outlined your compelling value?
  4. Was the prospect or customer ‘shopping’ you and already had a vendor ‘pre-wired in’?

 

Prospect or Customer Meeting - Scenario #3

In the last scenario, which many people would say is ideal, is where the seller creates demand for their services and is in control of shaping and defining an initiative or project where their offerings are central to the solution.  Sometimes this scenario ‘plays-out’ with an existing customer where you talk about some new capabilities you have, while other times you obtain a meeting with a prospect based on a compelling story around the value you could create for them.  I’ve seen three main drivers around obtaining this type of meeting:

  1. You have a compelling story around the value you can create
  2. You research and determine what companies/roles can best realize the value you can create
  3. You understand when your best fit companies/roles can most take advantage of the value you can create

Writing this in a more prosaic way, it’s the process of sharing the right story with the right person at the right time.  Getting enough ‘at-bats’ to share your story (or stories) is a major challenge for many sales organizations – obtaining the first meeting in a world of constant ‘interruptions’ (email, texts, marketing messages, ‘me-too’ offerings, etc.) is enough of a challenge.

Summary and Call to ‘Question’

In summary, in analyzing why you get a second meeting, you need to look at the drivers for the first meeting and what you think the meeting objectives were for the prospect or customer.  The meeting could consist of you doing more ‘marketing’, ‘being shopped’ [ii] or you could be shaping and defining an unrealized need.

Per our writing around a buyer-aligned sales process, you want to understand what the buyer is trying to achieve (overall and, if applicable, with a project) and where they are in their buying process.  And lastly, be sure to identify the selling scenario you are in and how best to drive a second meeting (or not)[iii] to continue the conversation.

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[i] http://www.politicalcampaigningtips.com/why-you-sometimes-have-to-lose-a-political-race-to-win/ 

[ii] The prospect or customer is generally just interested in a price from you so they can ‘play’ vendors off-one-another or use it to lower the price of a pre-selected vendor.

[iii] There is a well-known rule-of-thumb in sales to ‘lose fast’ vs. losing late in the cycle (with often equals a higher cost of sales).  A second meeting may not make sense if you are being ‘shopped’ and don’t see a compelling reason to continue the conversation.

Topics: selling skills

Michael Perla

Written by Michael Perla

Michael Perla is a strategic leader and co-author of Symmetrics Group’s book "7 Steps to Sales Force Transformation." Michael specializes in providing actionable insights to marketing and sales organizations to help them increase pipelines, win ratios and productivity. Having sold and led projects with the Global 50 to Fortune 1000 companies, Michael provides the analytical rigor of a financial analyst with the holistic skills of a strategist to help Symmetrics Group clients improve marketing or sales performance. He has worked as a sales overlay, head of sales operations, and head of strategic marketing planning, in addition to a sales effectiveness consultant. In his spare time, he enjoys working out, reading, and watching his kids play sports.

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