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Face-to-Face Meetings – 6 Great Reasons to Have Them

meetings
meetings

Don’t get me wrong, I love social media and fully embrace all forms of electronic communications. They are woven into the very fabrics of our business and personal lives, and it’s an exciting ride.

But, these days of hyper-digital interactions and an utter reliance on technology, come at a price. it’s easy to forget the impact that good old-fashioned, in-person meetings can have in growing a business.

For most of us, and especially those in direct sales, face-to-face meetings are still by far the most powerful form of engagement. This fact seems intuitive, yet many salespeople continue to ignore them. They often use email or a social channel in situations that would be better served by “pressing the flesh.”

Every dialogue requires us to select the most appropriate vehicle. Sometimes email is best. In other situations, a phone call or web-conferencing makes sense. That said, there are times when sitting across the table from a prospect, client or partner, is the absolute best choice.

My rule of thumb when deciding what to do is to think about the purpose, complexity, impact, and sensitivity of any given situation. Sounds like a lot of decision-making here, but the process becomes fairly automatic if you make it a habit of considering your options.

We all strive to save precious time, so meeting in person has to be for a valid reason with a planned agenda and outcome. If you go prepared, it will be time well spent.

Face-time is of particular importance in B2B sales with high-ticket items or long cycles. In these situations, building credibility and trust is critical.

Key Benefits of Face-to-Face Meetings

#1 – Higher Impact:

Let’s say you just got handed a pre-qualified lead for a significant opportunity. Wouldn’t pushing for a meeting with the prospect be a better first step than a long phone conversation or multiple emails? You should assume the prospect has done their online and other research because chances are they have.

#2 – Leverage Non-Verbal Queues:

You can’t read body language over the phone or from behind a keyboard. Experts say that roughly 93% of communication in meetings comes from body language and tonal queues. Getting to know people, and helping them get to know you, is much easier when you have the whole picture.

#3 – Build Better Relationships:

It’s a fact that people buy more often from those they know, like and trust. I’ll concede that relationships can get built to a surprising extent in the virtual world, but you can’t beat the personal touch! Often you gain an advantage just because your competitors won’t bother to make the effort. And if you’re first in, that’s usually a definite plus.

#5 – Gain Valuable Insight:

Being in the lobby, on a plant floor, in a boardroom, or a prospect’s office can provide valuable insight if you look, listen and learn. The attitude of the employees, signs on walls, pictures on desks, and other clues can tell you a great deal about the company, culture, and its people. These nuances can provide essential inputs for your sales strategy and how you should engage moving forward.

#6 – Personal Fulfillment:

Forget closing deals for a moment – OK that’s long enough! If you like people, and you should if you’re in a job dealing with them all day, a meeting can be a very satisfying experience. If your interpersonal skills are reasonably well-honed, you can turn your face-time into real personal connections that can be rewarding and energizing for all.

Digital technology has enabled us to communicate faster and more efficiently than ever imagined even a few decades ago. But the next time you have a significant opportunity, or need to take care of a delicate issue, I urge you to stop and ask yourself a simple question, “would this situation be handled better with a face-to-face meeting?”

5 Steps to Better Business Communications

Better Business Communications
Better Business Communications

In a previous post entitled “6 Great Reasons for Face-to-Face Meetings” I wrote about the importance of connecting in-person when the situation warrants it and how sales people and others often miss great opportunities by opting not to have them.

That started me thinking about communications in a broader sense and how little we think about it in our day-to-day work. Every time we communicate, it’s a unique situation that happens only once. Most of the time we decide how to deliver the message almost unconsciously and I suspect that comes from years of practice and pattern recognition. Although this is undeniably efficient, there is also risk.

There are many factors that need to be considered when communicating. To keep it simple, I think along the lines of complexity and importance. Where “complexity” is about the nature of the information itself and “importance” is why it matters and how much impact it has. At one end of the spectrum are short “near-binary” snippets of fact – the “simple and usually unimportant.” At the other end, is when we need to express complex ideas and thoughts, or emotion – the “complex and usually important.” If a communication is more on the impactful end, I would suggest the following approach:

#1. Define Your Goals

Before pressing a button, picking up the phone, or grabbing your jacket – take a moment to think first about the purpose and objectives of your communication. Also, define what success will look like afterwards. Be clear about your intention. Are you trying to educate, persuade, smooth over an issue, share, or simply nurture a relationship? Don’t just go through the motions – have a goal in mind.

#2. Know Your Audience

Always the cornerstone of any effective communication, think about who you are reaching out to before you do. If you don’t know them, do whatever research you can ahead of time. If you have some history together, reflect on what they respond well to and what their preferred style of communication seems to be. You will be more effective if you can align with what works for them.

The age group of your audience may also play a role. In an interesting article by Ayaz Nanji called B2B Buying: Millennials vs. Gen X and Baby Boomers, he cites some IBM research that shows the changing communication style preferences between generations. The results illustrate how business people of different ages prefer different modes of communicating. It’s worth a read and you might be surprised by some of the findings.

#3. Choose Your Vehicle

Next comes the mode of communication. Whether you use a text, social media, phone, teleconference, web meeting, or an in-person meeting, decide on the vehicle that’s most appropriate. Make sure whatever you choose will deliver your message in a way that helps achieve your goals. Here are a few helpful hints:

  • Never use email for topics that are emotionally charged – ever!
  • If an email takes 1/2 hour to write or has 30 revisions, pick up the phone
  • Use proper email etiquette – estimates are that we spend 1/4 of our time sifting through them
  • If you’re writing, remember your personal brand is at stake – sloppiness doesn’t reflect well on anyone
  • If using teleconferencing or a web meeting – have the technology figured out before the call, not during the first 15 minutes of it – can you relate?

#4. Get Prepared

If your communication is important, prepare some form of “call planning guide” first and with the right amount of detail. If it’s a crucial conversation of some sort, consider rehearsing out loud before you engage. It may sound silly, but it works. If you have ever done this before giving a presentation (if not, you really should), you will understand the benefits. Also, try to visualize how the flow of the communication might go and if you anticipate any possible objections, prepare your responses in advance.

#5. Execute Well

If you have gone through the first 4 steps, you should be feeling confident and well-prepared – now it’s time to deliver. This should be the easy part if you’re ready and relaxed, and you just be yourself.

I realize some of this may seem a bit obvious and certainly for the large majority of our daily touch-points, we don’t require this much structure. However, if you get in the habit of thinking this way about your communications, they will improve and you will be more effective. Every time you connect with a prospect, client, or anyone else who impacts your business, you have an opportunity to drive an outcome – make it count!

Document Important Things or Pay The Price!

Document
Document

Think about how many times you communicate in a given day or week. Between email, phone calls, meetings, texting, and hallway chats, it’s a wonder any of us remember anything.

I was recently doing a “media buy” for a client and although the process was well managed and on track, there was a problem. At the last minute, we found out that the launch date and even the publication itself were different than what was originally proposed. Without going into painful detail, it was a communication breakdown that caused a great deal of confusion and stress for all parties involved and it could have been avoided with a simple email. Unfortunately, nobody took a few minutes to document any of the conversation and as it turned out, the information was important.

The root cause of the situation was a conference call that took place nearly 8 weeks before the proposed launch date. I don’t remember having that conversation, but apparently we talked about changing the original plan for more impact. A week following that call, I was given an insertion order to sign and a creative deadline that aligned with the initial plan. I signed it and never gave it a second thought. The process moved forward but when we started revising the final design and copy, it became clear something was wrong.

It’s not impossible we discussed the change and I was either not paying close enough attention, or I misunderstood. But that’s not how I remember it. In my mind, there was no reason to suspect anything was amiss. In a perfect world, the meeting organizer or vendor in this case, would have simply documented the highlights of the conversation and send it to us so everyone was clear.

This situation worked out fine in the end, but the lesson was a good reminder for us all. People don’t have perfect memories and information, especially on phone calls, can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. When you have a call or meeting to discuss key milestones, action items, or other information that has significance – get it in writing and make sure it’s fully clarified!

If you’re leading a process in a situation like this, document the key points immediately after the call while it’s still fresh in your mind. It only takes a few minutes and you will save a lot of time and grief later on.

Better Business Meetings: “The Basics”

better business meetings T2G
better business meetings T2G

In a recent post called “6 Great Reasons for Face-to-Face Meetings” I pointed out the virtues of sitting across the table more often with prospects, clients and partners.

In this blog I will walk through some ideas to help run better business meetings when the situation requires one. Before we get to that though, you first need a commitment to meet from your host or guest. Sometimes getting a meeting scheduled is simple. Other times it takes effort. For our purposes, let’s assume the meeting is worth the time for both parties and the date has been set. Now the focus is on maximizing impact and that really boils down to thought, preparation, execution and follow-up. It’s easy to overlook details and that’s why the following tips may come in handy.

#1 The Preparation

  • Once confirmed, book the meeting in your calendar system right away and send an invite to all participants so they can add it to theirs. It’s a nice courtesy, plus it’s more binding than a “verbal.”
  • Create a call plan. This is very important if the discussion has complexity and there will be more than just two of you at the meeting. It’s always a great idea as it helps you focus on what you’re trying to accomplish.
  • If you want better business meetings, prepare your presentations and other materials well before the meeting – not 11:30 pm the night before. You only have one shot to make this a great meeting, so make it count!
  • If you have materials you want to hand out, print them on a high-quality printer (preferably colour). Unless you need to, don’t hand out your hard-copy at the beginning of the meeting. It will be distracting. I prefer to say “I’ll email the materials following the meeting.” This saves you the time of printing and gives you another chance to connect and summarize.
  • Confirm the meeting date and time a couple days in advance by email to all stakeholders. Make the tone assumptive so you don’t open the door for a cancellation or rescheduling.
    Pay attention to your housekeeping – bring business cards, plan your route on Google Maps (if you are going to them), plan the appropriate attire, etc. Sounds obvious, but it’s amazing how when you’re busy these simple things can go by the wayside.
  • Practice your talk-track. Also, think about any possible objections and your responses. The more thought you put into it, the better the results.

#2 Just Before the Meeting

  • When you are visiting:
    • Arrive early, but ask not to be announced until 5 minutes before the meeting time. I like getting there 10-15 minutes early for the reasons outlined in the next few points.
    • If it’s your first visit, take time to learn something about the company. Look around, read signs on the wall, talk to people and get a “feel” for the environment.
    • Think through your talk-track once again and get yourself in the right frame of mind.
    • One of the most important things I do before walking into any high-stakes situation is a short breathing exercise. Take 10 deep and slow breathes. This will clear your mind and get you relaxed. Trust me – it works!
  • When you are hosting:
    • Make sure the office, halls and meeting room are all thoroughly clean. This includes any other areas your guests might walk into such as the kitchen or bathrooms. First impressions matter.
    • Arrange to have some drinks, small snacks, or lunch on hand. Whether they partake or not, it’s a nice touch. As small a token as it is, people appreciate it.
    • Let the staff in your office know you will have guests and to keep the noise in check. Let reception know and if you have a security desk, let them know as well. If badges are required, it’s better to have them ready when your guests arrive.
    • Another thoughtful idea is a welcome sign if you have one – let people know you appreciate the visit and value their time by making them feel special.
    • Set up your technology and make sure it works. This includes web or conference call services if you’re using them. Also, have your title slide on the screen if using a projector and be ready to go.

#3 During the Meeting

  • Need I say it after all these years? Turn your phone off or to vibrate and make sure others on your team do the same.
  • Start with an agenda or verbal walk-through of what you will cover. Ask if they agree with the flow and what they want to focus on. Be sure to help them achieve their objectives as well as yours.
  • Be personable and always professional. Better sales meetings happen when you and the people on your team come across as knowledgeable, but not arrogant; and confident, but humble. Usually this is just a case of being yourself.
  • Try to keep it as interactive as possible. Get feedback, ask questions and make sure you are listening and not just talking at them during the entire meeting.
  • Make sure you or someone on your team takes notes. This is important for obvious reasons, but especially to clarify the key issues and actions.
  • Keep track of time and stay on it. Plan your materials accordingly and stay away from “death by PowerPoint.”
  • Get feedback at the end of the meeting. Leave time for questions, comments, discussion and be sure to get agreement on the next steps.
  • Thank them for their time and personally escort them out. If you have an office inside a multi-tenant building, never let your guests figure out how to find you when entering or leaving. The walk also allows for more conversation.

#4 Follow Up

  • Send a “thank you” email later that day or first thing the next morning. Summarize the action items, who owns them and the due dates.
  • Most important of all! Do the things you said you would do and when you said you would do them.

Having better business meetings takes time and energy. You must do the work and pay attention to detail. But, if it’s worth having a meeting, then it’s worth the investment. Hopefully, having a simple checklist such as this will be a good reminder.

Sales Lessons – 7 Great Ones I Learned From My Dog!

Maggie Sales Lessons
Maggie Sales Lessons

Whether you do it professionally or not – we all sell, all the time! Negotiating with your kids about bedtime, interviewing for a new job, and talking your way out of a speeding ticket are all great examples.

Whether you do it professionally or not – we all sell, all the time! Negotiating with your kids about bedtime, interviewing for a new job, and talking your way out of a speeding ticket are all great examples. It occurred to me one day that some of the best sales lessons I have seen in action come courtesy of a 6-year-old, 24 pound Cockapoo, we call “Maggie.” In her constant quest for attention, a walk, a scratch behind the ears, or anything that tastes better than Kibble, Maggie repeatedly proves that we can take away some valuable sales lessons from our four-legged companions. There are are a few more, but here are my favorites:

#1 Always Adding Value: Not to take anything away from cat owners or those with other pets, but after all, a dog is known as “man’s best friend” for good reason. First off, Maggie acts as a 24x7 security system and alerts us when anyone is near our property. Granted, her stature and demeanor won’t scare off trained Navy Seals – but her “big-girl bark” is at least a deterrent. Like most dogs, though, her greatest gift is the joy we receive from her unconditional affection. Maggie adds real value to our lives each and every day, whether she closes a deal or not.

#2 Identifying Opportunities: Always on the hunt and ever-alert, Maggie reflexively looks for opportunities, especially when “human food” is at stake. The beeping microwave, commotion in the kitchen, or a crinkling potato chip bag from anywhere in the house are all beacons of hope. With her keen sense of smell and exceptional hearing, Maggie always seems to be there when opportunity strikes. Once her commission has been paid however, there are no “high-fives”, or time spent basking in the glory – it’s right back to business!

#3 Influencing Decision Makers: From years of training, along with her keen intuition, Maggie knows her target audience extremely well. She has clearly identified the decision makers in our home and how to best approach each of them. Our dog has taken the time to know and understand her prospects and then executes accordingly. She knows precisely when and how to push for the order with each individual. This is an important and fundamental strategy that often separates the best sales people from the rest of the pack – pun intended.

#4 Patience and Persistence: If you have a dog or have in the past, you will relate to the phrase “like a dog on a bone.” Maggie will sit and stare for what seems like hours when she is mooching for a treat. Her focus is unwavering and she will come back again and again. As smart as she seems though, Maggie conveniently forgets the meaning of the word “no” and usually wears you down. At times this can be a bit annoying, but when you finally give in, it’s always with a smile and somehow she makes you feel good about it.

#5 Continual Learning: Old dog, young dog, it doesn’t matter. Canines can be remarkably fast learners. I’m not sure where Maggie sits on the intelligence scale, but she picks things up quickly. We started buying dog toys from the same store recently and after seeing her new “squeaky weasel” or coloured “chew ball” emerge from the shops’ branded bag only a couple of times, Maggie got the message. When that bag comes in the house now, she goes into overdrive because she has learned that fun and exciting things usually come out. When toys don’t materialize, Maggie goes back to point 4 above and persists until she realizes, this may simply not be her day. With a look that says “how could you do this to me?” she finally saunters off undefeated because that bag will return!

#6 Positive Attitude: Although you wouldn’t know it from the sad, brown eyes leading up to a transaction, Maggie seems to know exactly how “sealing the deal” will pan out. I can’t prove this of course, but she appears highly confident she will get what she wants and I sense that particular movie is playing over and over in her head. The look of expectation on her face loosely translates into “I’ve added value in this relationship through many unique and highly rewarding exchanges – now it’s your turn to give me some of that steak you’re eating.”

#7 Enthusiasm: Regardless of what mood she’s in, Maggie runs excitedly to the door every time she hears the key in the lock. She makes you look forward to this moment of the day and for a brief time you feel revitalized from her predictably warm reception. Whether begging for food, playing with a ball, or engaging in a session of “rub my belly,” dogs are wonderfully enthusiastic. The exceptions of course are daily nap times, baths, vets, and toe clippings. The point is, dogs exude a strong positive energy that’s hard for even the most hardened soul to resist. The lesson – enthusiasm sells! I realize a dog is far less complicated than we mighty humans and that a significant portion of their behavior is instinctual. That said, it’s quite impressive when you think about our beloved pets in the context of selling. Dogs naturally possess some of the most critical sales skills needed to succeed, and they have a gracious, calm way of managing the sales process. They don’t spend time bragging about their company and products because of course they can’t. Instead, dogs work at building long-lasting and meaningful relationships that offer high value to all parties involved. Isn’t that what selling and buying should really be all about? As a side note, if you watch the way young children get what they want, you will see some incredible selling taking place there as well. I hope you have enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it. If you have a pet you think is an exceptional “seller”, or other similar comparisons, please share.

I realize a dog is far less complicated than we mighty humans and that a significant portion of their behavior is instinctual. That said, it’s quite impressive when you think about our beloved pets in the context of selling. Dogs naturally possess some of the most critical sales skills needed to succeed, and they have a gracious, calm way of managing the sales process. They don’t spend time bragging about their company and products because of course they can’t. Instead, dogs work at building long-lasting and meaningful relationships that offer high value to all parties involved. Isn’t that what selling and buying should really be all about? As a side note, if you watch the way young children get what they want, you will see some incredible selling taking place there as well. I hope you have enjoyed reading this post as much as I did writing it. If you have a pet you think is an exceptional “seller”, or other similar comparisons, please share.