Running a successful client meeting is one of the most important skills a salesperson can learn. Understanding your meeting purpose, building rapport, and engaging in productive conversations can be the difference between a meeting that gets you closer to closing the deal and a waste of valuable time. These steps will help you prepare and plan for your next client meeting.
1. Understand Your Meeting Purpose
There is a variety of different types of client meetings, and every meeting has a different purpose. Having a clear understanding of why you are asking a client to meet with you goes a long way to setting yourself up for success and is a critical component of sales management. In fact, if you can’t articulate a clear purpose for a meeting, you shouldn’t waste anyone’s time by having one. That means having an objective that you can both define, as well as easily determine whether or not it has been met.
A few examples of purposes for your client meetings include:
- Introductory meeting: Whether it’s a new client, or simply a hand-off between account managers, an introductory meeting is one of the most important meetings since it serves as the foundation for a good relationship. Introductory meetings should be focused on making a connection and building good rapport, which will make future meetings more productive.
- Consultation: A consultation is a sales meeting that seeks to understand a client’s or prospective client’s needs through a dialogue and a series of questions. As a salesperson, your purpose should be to understand, not to sell. Successful consultations are when you leave with information you can use to prepare a solution that matches your customer’s needs.
- Proposal: A proposal presentation often feels like a high-stakes meeting. However, it’s important to keep in mind you’ve gotten this far for a reason. Your primary objective at this type of meeting is to share with the client how you address the specific needs they have articulated, and why your solution is better than the competition.
- Check-in meeting: Regular follow-up and check-in appointments, especially with your major accounts, can help you discover both new sales opportunities for upselling and address any ongoing concerns. Being intentional about meeting with your clients on a regular basis gives you a chance to reinforce the customer relationship, foster rapport, increase customer loyalty, and grow their business.
Pro tip: Be prepared for anything at a check-in meeting. The customer may be perfectly satisfied—or you might be overwhelmed with a list of concerns and questions. If you don’t have all the answers, that’s OK. Make a follow-up action item list and schedule another meeting to address any issues.
2. Get to Know Your Audience
The next step in preparing for a client meeting is “pre-call” research. Pre-call research involves getting a keen understanding of who you’ll be meeting with. Having a holistic view of the account makes meetings run far more smoothly than if you show up unprepared.
Your preparation will be different if you’re meeting with a client rather than with a prospect, but you should always make sure to do your research. This will give you the information you need to guide the conversation. For example, if your meeting is a consultation with an existing client, take time to review the account, both in terms of their overall business as well as their history with your company.
On the other hand, if you’re having an introductory meeting with a prospective client, you’ll want to spend more time researching the specific contact you’ll meet with, as well as their business. This will help you create a list of questions you want to ask, and prepare the information you need to be able to address any needs and concerns they may have.
To prepare for a sales call with a prospect, do the following:
- Review available information in your CRM: Other employees may have tried to do business with the prospect in the past. Conversations with the prospect may be logged in the customer relationship management (CRM) software notes. This information will strengthen your sales call. Always make sure to check your CRM history to uncover any facts or history about the prospect.
- Research your contact and their company: Make sure to do a Google search on the contact and their company. Skim LinkedIn, Twitter, the company website, and their press releases. Sites such as Crunchbase are an excellent place to start to get an overview of their company.
- Have a plan for the call: Once you’ve researched the company, you should have gleaned some talking points. Connect your knowledge of their business to the benefits of your solution. It doesn’t have to be a formal outline, but make sure you have a list of what you’ll cover. This provides structure for the call and gives you confidence.
Preparation for an account review with a client should include the following:
- Set an agenda: Be sure to state the agenda at the beginning of the call—or even better, send it to them the day before. A plan preps your clients and allows them to prepare their own talking points. The agenda should make the goal of the call clear. Having a goal prevents you from getting sidetracked and wasting the client’s time.
- Review the account: Know who’s going to be on the call. Map out stakeholders and familiarize yourself with those relationships. Review all notes on interactions so that you’re up to date on the account. Do a SWOT analysis (SWOT stands for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats). It will give you a roadmap for how to conduct the call.
- Gather feedback from the client: Make sure the client feels heard. Ask them what you could be doing better. Receiving difficult feedback is crucial to preventing churn. Even if there have been significant hiccups in the account, let the client air out their grievances. After the client has shared feedback, summarize what they’ve said so they know you’ve listened. Then share the action items you’re going to take based on that feedback.
Keeping track of your client meetings and their outcomes is important to your sales process, and a CRM such as Salesforce can help you manage your customer relationships effectively. With the Essentials plan, which starts at $25 per user, per month, you can manage leads and contacts and keep all of your customer communications in one place.
3. Arrive Prepared to Answer Questions
After researching the client, it’s time to focus on what you need in order to make the most of your time with them. For example, what resources do you need to create or bring to this meeting? Plan ahead and prepare the materials or resources you’ll need so that you can have them at hand when you need them.
Here are typical examples of what effective sales leaders use during client meetings:
- Pitch decks: The marketing team usually crafts pitch deck templates to inform the client how you can help improve their business in a visual, informative way. Customize the pitch deck to portray your prospect’s logo. Personalization shows that you prepared for the meeting and went above and beyond.
- Reports pulled by other departments: This will depend on what numbers you need in your meeting and how your sales operations are set up. For example, you may determine a usage report or a record of payment will help you with upsells and renewals, but might not be able to pull the specific report from your CRM yourself due to user permissions.
- Specific marketing materials: Bring varied marketing materials if the goal is to cross-sell the customer. Explaining additional products is more natural when assisted by marketing materials. Brochures and videos can help the customer understand and make faster buying decisions.
- Other subject matter experts or vendors: Include other subject matter experts on your call. They’ll be able to provide additional insight on how to solve customer issues. These could be your colleagues from different departments or other vendors you partner with. Proving that you have adequate support helps build credibility. Turn your colleagues into resources for customers.
4. Control Your Environment
Where you meet with clients matters. In fact, different types of meetings benefit from different environments. For example, if you’re conducting a new client introductory call, meeting with the clients at their office or place of business can create a more relaxed environment and helps you better understand their business. On the other hand, if you’re meeting to check in, it may be more valuable to meet for coffee or over lunch at their favorite restaurant.
Pro tip: An off-site lunch meeting can also increase the chance your contact will accept your meeting request. If your prospect or customer gets the chance to enjoy a free lunch talking with you, it can be well worth the cost if you sign a new client agreement or upsell a current customer.
The key is choosing the environment that will most benefit your client meeting. That means minimizing distractions like noise or interruptions. It also means choosing the location that best matches your purpose. This will let your client be relaxed and allows you to conduct the types of conversations that lead to successful outcomes.
5. Build Rapport
Building rapport is essential to connecting with customers and getting them to lower their guard. However, following a script on how to build rapport is where most salespeople go wrong—you want to avoid asking the same cookie-cutter questions. Instead of discussing the weather and other generic icebreakers, inject some personality. The majority of the meeting will be business-focused, so take at least two minutes to talk about something more personal.
Here are a few tips for building customer rapport:
- Be yourself: It may sound cliche, but, if you don’t know anything about sports and the client is a huge sports fan, don’t try to relate to them over that. People can detect inauthenticity and it makes them uneasy. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable the client will be around you. Know what you’re interested in and own it, even if it’s different from the client.
- Provide value: People will grow to like you if they feel you’re genuinely trying to help. Being driven by your own motivations is off-putting. People buy from those they like and trust. If they trust that you have their best interest at heart, the sale will be the aftermath.
- Be candid: Even if it feels a little uncomfortable, being candid and authentic builds trust. Customers are cautious of salespeople telling them whatever they want to hear. Being a straight-shooter sets you apart. If your product doesn’t have a feature that your competitor does, be honest about it. If the client is asking for something unrealistic, be frank about what your company can and can’t do—don’t promise what you can’t deliver.
- Listen deeply: Most people think they’re listening when, in reality, they’re just waiting to respond. Don’t start forming your response in your head while you’re listening—you won’t fully hear what they are trying to tell you. This is a key strategy for successful consultive selling and can mean taking a pause and letting what they said digest before you have an answer. Real listening means you’re able to repeat back what the client has said to you. Become a deep listener.
6. Be Clear & Focused
It’s crucial to focus the meeting on the steps that move you toward your objective. Don’t leave the client wondering, and don’t leave this step to your follow-up later. You want to guide the prospect along the buyer’s journey. When appropriate, agree upon another follow-up appointment or call with them before you leave the meeting. If they don’t commit to that, make it known that you’ll be following up to get that next time slot.
How you end the meeting affects everything that happens afterward. Be intentional about wrapping up your session rather than leaving it to chance. Like setting the agenda, your wrap-up puts you back in control. Dictate next steps so that the customer knows when to expect further communication. This is especially important during initial sales calls. It can be hard to get prospects back on the phone to close them once you’ve had the initial call.
7. Follow Up
What you do after a client meeting can be as important as the meeting itself. Write down any follow-up tasks so that you don’t forget. This is especially important if a client has asked you to provide them with additional information or has needs that you plan to address. Nothing ruins a great client relationship like dropping the ball on the commitments you made during the meeting.
Consider standardizing how you record meeting notes using an agenda template. Be sure to include an area that calls out next steps, who tasks are assigned to, and when each task is due. We’ve helped you get started by creating a downloadable template that you can use to ensure your meeting is as productive as possible.
In addition, it’s a good practice to send a thank-you note after a meeting to demonstrate that you value the client’s time and the relationship. Follow-up should occur the same day or the next day. When it comes to follow-up, promptness matters. Your follow-up should include:
- A brief “thank you” for taking the time out to meet with you.
- Restating that you’re excited to potentially do business with them and move on to the next step.
- A recap of the critical points that were discussed in the meeting. If you can’t give them the deliverables discussed in the meeting, tell them when you’ll have them.
Pro tip: It’s great to send a follow-up email right after your meeting, but it’s also an excellent idea to send a handwritten thank-you note. In our digital age, many salespeople leave this out, so sending one helps make you stand out. I even once met with a customer in person and he had a folder with all of our printed communications—and my handwritten thank-you note.
5 Tips for Making Your Client Meetings Effective
In addition to the steps above, there are best practices you can use to make any meeting more effective. Your time is valuable, and the same is true of your clients. Honor their time by keeping these tips in mind the next time you sit down to meet with a client.
1. Know How Much Research Is Beneficial
The amount of research you should do is based on your industry, your product, and your sales cycle. For more transactional sales, your research will be a bit lighter. Be conscious of time management. You should be able to gauge when you’ve spent enough time researching.
2. Always Be on Time
Being on time for the meeting is the easiest way to make an excellent first impression. Being late is a sure way to ensure a rocky start. Timeliness shows that you’re reliable and respect their time. Your prospects will be late for meetings, but that doesn’t make it acceptable for you. Don’t ever be late to a meeting you scheduled.
3. Take Notes
Jotting down notes during the meeting enables powerful follow-up. Your client will be impressed that you remembered the details. Relying on notes allows for more active listening. You won’t feel pressured to remember everything discussed. If the meeting is in person or a video call, make sure to maintain consistent eye contact while taking notes. Plus, you can let them know you’re taking notes while you talk so they know you’re still engaged even if you aren’t looking at them.
4. Know Your Competition
Salespeople have to be experts in their industry. Part of that is being knowledgeable of your competitors. The purpose of knowing your competitors is to understand how your solutions differ. You become an industry expert who’s truly able to guide the customer toward the right solution. Knowing your competition is part of being prepared. Your customers will most likely bring them up during your meetings.
5. Focus on Your Value
Instead of speaking ill of your competition, focus instead on your unique value. When you insult your competitors, you appear untrustworthy. Whether the customer is conscious of it or not, negative comments only reflect on you. If customers vent to you about negative experiences with your competition, remain unbiased and focus on how you can help handle their concerns.
Salespeople spend a majority of their time building client relationships through face-to-face meetings. Knowing how to make the most of those meetings can often be the difference between meeting your sales goals and missing out on growing your business. This guide will help you plan and prepare to get the most out of your next client meeting.