You only get one shot at a first impression. And in sales, that means that you can very easily miss out on new opportunities, if you don’t get that initial coffee meeting with a new customer right first time.
Kiwis love coffee and although I can’t easily find solid stats around the numbers, estimates suggest that we spend in the range of $1bn-$2bn a year in New Zealand café’s, which is a shedload of dollars.
In conjunction with that info, according to a Canstarblue survey, around 20% of all business meetings in Auckland and Wellington are held in coffee shops.
Now, even being conservative in my estimates, I would say that at least half of those meetings had a sales focus, which means that there are lots of businesses who are investing a large amount of their limited sales resources into a cup of coffee, hoping that it will in turn lead to new business.
Sales people themselves actually prefer to have their first new customer meeting in a coffee shop (as opposed to on a client’s site), because of the perceived higher probability of truly connecting with the customer in the more informal environment of a café setting and which will hopefully lead to actual new business, (rather than just another tick on their KPI score in their monthly performance review).
Having been in Sales for over 18 years, I’ve realised that relying on ‘hope’ isn’t going to help you sell. It demonstrates you have a desire to sell something, but to actually achieve tangible results; you also need a plan of action.
Unsuccessful sales people don’t like a plan of action, because it means they are taking personal responsibility for making something happen, whereas ‘hope’ keeps that responsibility externalised, thus protecting their own ego. (Wow, that’s deep!)
Truly successful sales people realise they need to take control of the sales process.
The ‘Business to Business’ sales process won’t all be completed at the first meeting and you will likely need to have a number of sales meetings over a period of time, to actually convert an opportunity into an actual sale.
That’s why it’s important to understand the purpose of the meeting at each stage along that process.
The following guide is aimed at providing some assistance around purpose and structure to your first customer coffee meeting, so that businesses and sales people who want to make the most of the hard work they have already done in getting a meeting with a new customer, improve their chances of turning that $10 coffee investment into an eventual sale.
The first meeting (especially in NZ) is about building trust.
It isn’t about getting commitment to buy your product or service, or a chance to pitch for their business, because in their eyes you haven’t earned the right to do that yet.
The customer has already demonstrated that they have a need, because they are making time to meet with you, as they feel you could possibly help them provide a solution to that need.
You have your own reasons for having the meeting in a coffee shop, but they agreed to meet you in a coffee shop away from their business, because they want to know they can trust you before inviting you into their professional home.
This first meeting is about them trusting you enough to share with you what their need is and your aim is to demonstrate that both you and the business you represent, is trustworthy and credible enough for them to feel comfortable to open up to you.
How you go about developing that trust and credibility is a whole separate article in itself, but it’s an ever changing recipe of ingredients such as empathy, body language, listening, questioning and storytelling.
As a sales person, you in all likelihood asked for the meeting, which means you have to provide the structure to it.
Use 3 stages to better structure your first meeting with a new customer.
This 3 stage approach is in line with both the expectations of many (if not all) of the customers that you will meet, as well as the traditional format of a 45 minute meeting in a café.
Stage 1 – Trust in you
Whilst ordering and waiting for the coffee.
This should take up approximately the first 15 minutes of the meeting.
This stage is about you building a personal rapport and connection with the customer sitting across the table from you.
People don’t buy from people; they buy from people they like, so they need to like you.
Be yourself, be genuine and be personable.
Stage 2 – Trust in who you represent
Whilst drinking the coffee.
This should take up approximately the next 25 minutes of the meeting.
This stage is about you building your own and your company’s professional credibility in the eyes of the customer.
It’s not just pitching the services you offer, but a demonstration that you (and your company) know what you are doing, that you have the ability to solve a problem and have successfully done so many times beforehand.
You can demonstrate this not only by talking of your own experiences, but by asking the right questions that show the person that you are an subject matter expert and have an understanding of their world.
Stage 3 – Trust in your vision
Whilst winding down the meeting and saying goodbye.
This should take up approximately the last 5 minutes of the meeting.
This stage is about you allowing your customer to picture working with you, so that they can come to the desired conclusion themselves.
You shouldn’t get desperate and grasp at the sale, but instead it’s always better when a sale is mutually beneficial and especially in high value B2B sales; the customer needs the space to be comfortable that they are making the best decision.
Of course you can suggest what next steps could look like if they were interested and you should definitely tell them what they can expect from you in regards to follow up communication after the meeting, but don’t undo all the hard work you have done by scaring them off by being pushy.
Remember, the meeting wasn’t about closing the deal, but was a step along the process in providing a solution to their need.
Top 10 Tips
- Confirm – Double check attendance with the customer a day before, because this helps qualify whether they really have a pressing business need for your product/service. Some sales people don’t do this in case the customer pulls out, but if they pull out then you’re not important to them and they would have wasted your time anyway. Remember, good sales people want a sale, not a tick on a KPI scorecard.
- Be on time – It shows that you’re organised in your day to day activities and respectful of their time, which demonstrates personal stability and empathy with their needs.
- Be first – You called the meeting, your responsible for welcoming them to it and making sure they are comfortable. You wouldn’t invite someone to your house for dinner and then make them wait outside until you got home would you?
- Wait to order – Don’t worry about looking like ‘Billy no mates’ and react by ordering a coffee before they get there. Make sure you both order at the same time. This way you can keep greater control of meeting by pacing when it finishes.
- Turn off your phone – If you need me to explain this one, I’m wasting my time.
- Don’t look at your watch – You may want to know how long you’ve got before your next meeting, but getting caught looking at your watch can be interpreted as you being bored of what they are saying. It’s not worth the risk.
- Stand up – If you’re there first, stand up when you greet them. It shows you’re not an arrogant prick.
- The right café – Choose a café where you can actually hold a conversation, not one that is too loud or too crowded.
- Take notes – If the customer is sharing something of importance with you, show them that you can be trusted to know its worth, by writing it down. Don’t take notes if the information is of a sensitive nature.
- Pay the bill – They may indeed offer, but as you called the meeting and you want their business (and they know it), be polite and pay the bill.
Many thanks for reading my first article of 2018 and I know it’s a long one, but I’ve had 4 weeks to reflect, reenergise and to RevUp.