On April 19, I scheduled an in-person meeting with a technology prospect in San Jose. The meeting was with procurement and the director of creative services.

A week earlier, I had blocked out time in my schedule to prepare. I remember staring at my blank computer screen wishing I had a plan. I love it when I have a plan. But I didn’t have a how-to-best-prepare-for-a-prospect-meeting plan and I needed one in the worst way.

So I put on my thinking cap. (Visualize me thinking while wearing a funny looking hat on my head.) I thought back to my early days in the industry. (Visualize wavy lines across your TV screen as the images on the screen get fuzzy. The screen loses all color as we go back in time tens year to 2008.) I am sitting in a monolithic room with a few others from our sales and account management teams. Enter promotional item vendor.  The overweight, bald guy begins the meeting with a slightly sexist joke and offers Mars and Milky Way candy bars to all of us. I suddenly desire to be on another planet. The meeting becomes a blur. In those days, the promotional item reps were assigned a territory. They would call each distributor in their market to schedule an hour meeting. The rep would bring unhealthy food and talk for an hour about new and top selling products.

An hour is a lot of time to waste.

Why were the meetings a waste of time? Because the reps never took the time to research our company for the purpose of asking relevant questions. Why show us the latest promotional items for grocery stores if we don’t have grocery clients and don’t have an interest in targeting that vertical?  Instead of taking the time to get to know our challenges and understand how they might be able to help us, the reps went through a checklist. They were not interested in increasing our sales with current clients or helping us gain new business.

(Wavy lines reappear on your TV screen and the color returns) With the above horrible meeting experience in mind, I created my own prepare-for-prospect-meeting plan. Grab your health bars and take a listen.

Ten preparation tips for your initial sales meeting:

1) Make sure the movers and shakers are there.  When scheduling the meeting, make sure that all of the decision makers will be present. It really sucks when you learn that no one in the room has the power to purchase, advise, or influence.

2) Connect with each attendee on LinkedIn.  Include a personal note with each connect request.

3) Read every attendee’s bio. Remember two personal and two business details about each attendee.  These details can be helpful during the meeting. It shows you have done your research and are well prepared.

4) Review your mutual LinkedIn connections. Reach out to two or three of your shared contacts to get as much information as possible about your prospects and their companies. Ask your mutual connections about the prospects’  buying styles, and what makes them tick. The more you know, the better

5) Prepare a deck that is short, clean and simple. Don’t include a lot of text. The deck should establish your credibility in the marketplace and your ability to handle an account of their size. Focus on how your solution is going to solve their need(s). Highlight two or three ways your solution can add value beyond the identified need(s).

6) Open the meeting by asking questions. Get each decision maker talking about her company’s needs and interest in future projects. Don’t talk a lot. Listen and take notes.

7) Demo your product or software. It allows your buyers to get a better understanding of how your software is different from what they have in place today. It’s important for your prospects to see what you offer is easy to use and looks good!

8) Ask about the prospect’s budget and timeline. Try to get a sense of how much time and money has been budgeted to implement a solution.

9) Close the meeting by finalizing the next steps. Schedule the follow-up meeting and provide clear parameters for said meeting.

10) Immediately following your meeting, send a follow-up email with a copy of your presentation deck.

Bonus Tip: Send a follow-up “surprise” package. Think of something affordable, clever, and personal to send each person that will help them remember you. This should arrive three to five business days after your meeting.

If I were to give myself a grade for my April 19th meeting, it would be a “B”.  I discovered that my technology prospect definitely has a need for our print procurement software-only model. I asked the right questions, learning each stakeholder’s needs and what they are looking to accomplish by implementing a centralized print buying system across all their brands and international offices.  I was able to demo our software, show how it addresses their needs, and highlight some additional features that can add value.

was my meeting grade not an “A”? Refer to “Preparation Tip #1.  The buyer that would have been using our software was not at the meeting.  I had scheduled the meeting to have all decision makers present, but the company had a supply chain reorganization two days before our meeting.  A new person was not yet assigned to the print buyer role. Oh the best-laid plans of mice and men.

What is most important takeaway? Develop a plan that promotes your ability to solve your prospect’s problem(s) at a fair price.

This article first appeared in the Print+Promo publication.

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