February 2002
Make your first meeting count
You scored a meeting with a hot prospect. Now, make the most of it
Today, more than any other time in recent memory, getting in front of a customer is one of the most challenging aspects of being a sales professional. Many buyers use voice mail as the ultimate screening mechanism. So regardless of when you call—early morning or late in the day—you never get a human being. I have dealt with this challenge in previous columns, so I will not revisit it. However, when you do get the opportunity to make a presentation to a prospective customer, it is absolutely necessary to spend this time in a meaningful, worthwhile way. You must be sensitive to the fact that your new prospect probably feels the meeting is nothing more than a waste of valuable time and the only reason you have been granted an audience is that somewhere in the job description it states that he must be receptive to new ideas and suppliers.

If we can agree about the accuracy of this statement, then reaching a consensus about what to do during this meeting should be fairly easy. However, I have a feeling that many of us have made presentations to new customers without doing the homework and fact finding necessary for identifying us as a valuable resource to buyers.
Please remember, you have been allocated about 20 minutes to establish that you are different from other sales reps currently calling on this person and that your knowledge of his business and industry should warrant being put on the supplier A-list.

Obviously, considerable thought and some careful planning is required. It’s logical to assume that you have made the effort to arrange this appointment because you are currently doing work in this industry and want to take advantage of the knowledge and experience you have amassed. Or you might just have some particular business in being a supplier to an industry about which you have extensive knowledge because of a hobby, an association, or a feeling that it’s going to be the next huge growth story. Whatever the reason, it is essential for your new customer to realize the potential value that you bring to him and his organization.

For background information, read any recently published articles in trade magazines if your prospect is an industrial-product or supply-type organization. The business press, such as The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, Forbes or Fortune magazines, is a good source if your prospect is an international company. Visit its Web site. Read its annual report and, possibly, talk to other suppliers. Use this knowledge and information to augment your existing knowledge of what goes on in this industry and to produce a presentation that indicates you have prepared extensively.

To further enhance your value use first-hand experiences, along with printed samples as a backup, to explain how you and your team were able to solve specific problems for other customers. There are many ideas you can bring forward at this time. It might be useful to think in terms of being able to build your story around the concept of doing work faster, better and cheaper. While these three words can in a small way guide and shape your sales presentation, the real key is to always state the benefit to your customer after you have given him a fact. Remember, the number of employees you have on staff, the number of years you have been in business and the type of equipment you have on your plant floor are really quite meaningless unless you can equate these facts to how they will benefit the customer.

Score a second meeting
Ask your customer questions during the meeting, not only to make certain he is listening and involved, but also to create a situation that will require you to do some follow-up and see him again. How else can you be certain that another meeting is possible if you have not created the opportunity for it?

Needless to say, you should write a thank-you note that evening thanking him for the time he spent with you, confirming the mutually understood facts that were discussed and indicating when you will be able to send him the information you promised. Knowing that you have another meeting practically guaranteed with this terrific prospect is a huge incentive to do as thorough a job as possible. You must show the customer that you are serious about your work and that you keep your promises.

Your second meeting will build on the professional approach you projected during your initial appointment. However, when your customer sees the work that you have put into researching information for him, as well as other information and relevant new samples you have brought with you, he will certainly realize that he has an opportunity to deal with a professional who brings a great deal more to the business partnership than a piece of paper with some specifications and a price on it.

Selling printing is quite possibly the best job in the entire graphic arts industry. You work in a creative atmosphere, you deal with nice people, you are essentially your own boss and, best of all, there is no limit as to how hard you can work or how much you will be paid. It simply does not get much better than this.
Duncan McGregor was president of the former Arthurs-Jones Inc., a Toronto-based, award-winning commercial printer. He led the $5 million-a-year firm to a five-fold increase in sales. He is now a consultant to the printing industry and can be reached at (416) 487-7666.
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