by • November 14, 2012 • Pitching & sellingComments (4)328

How to lose at meetings

Every meeting is either won or lost. There are no “good” meetings.

You’ve lost the meeting when you leave with a compliment or a stalling tactic. The parody version is “Let’s talk again after Christmas… Don’t call me, I’ll call you[1].” Still, we accept the more subtle versions every day:

"Brilliant -- let me know when it launches!"

Compliment + stalling tactic = They don't care

We spent a bunch of time setting up (and going to) a meeting, and all we got is worthless wishy washiness. How did we get ourselves into this mess?

How to screw it up

I’d bet my socks you’re falling for one of two traps:

  1. You’re asking for their opinion about your idea (e.g. fishing for compliments)
  2. There’s no commitment to a clear next step
"Do you think it's a good idea"

You are begging to be lied to when you ask for opinions.

How to win

You win the meeting by getting what you came for. Depending on the stage of your company, you came for either facts about the customer’s life or some commitment to advance the relationship.

Commitment (sales guys call it “advancement”) can be cash, but doesn’t have to be. Some strong signals of commitment are:

  • Permission to contact again and/or clear next meeting (giving you time)
  • Introduction to decision-maker (giving you social reputation)
  • Commitment to run a trial (giving you business reputation & install time)
  • Pre-purchase (giving you theoretical cash)

All of these are wins. A win I had recently ended with them asking to buy 50 speaker intros to lock in the current pricing. After another ones, the guy said, “Hey, do you have 10 more minutes? I want to introduce you to my boss.”

A lost meeting can often be saved by just pushing for a commitment at the end while you’re being brushed off with a compliment. For example, if someone stalls with the potentially good, “I can introduce you to some people when you’re ready,” try getting the specific conditions of what ready is and who they can introduce you to. It’s gone from wishy-washy to a more concrete commitment.

If they say your idea is great, ask if you can come in and work through some wireframes with their team (asking for time). If they say they’re eager to give it a try, ask if they’ll use the beta and be one of your case studies for launch.

But don’t be annoying

You aren’t trying to strong-arm folks into handing over their wallet, but you are trying to cut through some of the polite rejections and find out if they’re actually going to become a partner/investor/customer or not.

If they aren’t excited, then good news: you got the information you came for. Assimilate it, decide if it matters enough to change your strategy, and then keep on keeping on. The goal isn’t to convert every single meeting–it’s to learn from the meetings whether you’re on the right path.

[1] I’ve actually been told this. I was so clueless that I excitedly re-entered the office and told the team, “That went great! We’re going to talk again after Christmas!”

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4 Responses to How to lose at meetings

  1. Rob:

    Good stuff. Agree with much of it.

    Surprised by your point of this being good:

    – Permission to contact again and/or clear next meeting (giving you time)

    How is this not the same as the stalling example above.

    • Colin says:

      This way you have a commitment to speak again, not just a vague notion of talking at some point in the future.

      After finishing a meeting or phonecall with a potential client, it is important to establish next steps, whatever they might be.

  2. Lorrie B says:

    I haven’t been in sales for a while, but often that crucial moment comes down to price. One strategy is to do a tight, impressive pitch, and then ask for a decision. A smart decision-maker knows within minutes if he/she is interested, but needs to know the exact cost of that decision. I would almost always get a follow-up visit (with closure in mind) by saying that I could crunch the numbers overnight and bring costs back the next day.

  3. Yotam Ariel says:

    Thanks! Excellent post,
    and what I really liked is the way you presented it.
    (I mean the letters, photos, colors, content)