This session is designed to help you achieve your first meeting with your prospective customer.
The first meeting should be focused on building a relationship through better understanding their challenges and problems, and sharing your experience with helping similar organisations. You should avoid trying to “sell” your products or services – unless invited to by your customer.
A good sign that the meeting has gone well is achieving follow up meetings with additional stakeholders.
Prior to your first meeting, you need to design a targeted introduction letter and have it placed in the hands of your Executive or Decision Maker.
- I have 18 years in B2B sales and have worked across APAC (HK, Sydney and Brisbane).
- When I started, sales leaders appear to me as gregarious, loud and sometimes intimidating.
- I was not a natural at selling, but persistence in the beginning helped me to keep my job in sales. I kept making the phone calls.
- Over time I developed skills that helped me to stay in sales across different industries.
- My best skills is opening doors for new clients and opportunities.
- I have been able to repeatedly grow new sales to $1m in the first 12-18 months.
- Over the last 10 years sales has changed. The Internet has allowed people to complete 60-70% of their decision process via online research.
- This change has been massive – giving customers more options, which means sales people are no longer able to apply pressure tactics.
- Daniel Pink from To Sell is Human, described sales as changing from Caveat Emptor (Buyer Beware) to Caveat Venditor (Seller Beware).
What a non-sales professional can get from this session
- It is okay to have a level of discomfort with sales. That is normal!
- Understand the first steps of building
Outcomes of this session
- How to build your Introduction Letter
- Understand the steps to get your letter to your Senior Executive
- What to focus on with the first meeting
The Four Steps to Break into a New Organisation
This process is divided into the following four parts in order to achieve your first meeting with a Decision Maker (DM):
- Select your target organisations and Decision Maker (DM)
- Develop your introduction letter
- Working with the gate keeper to deliver letter and schedule first meeting
- What to cover in the first meeting
STEP 1: Selecting your target Organisation and Decision Maker (DM)
The starting point is that you have a product – and you are seeking to pair it with the most suitable customers.
From your existing customers, what is the hook that keeps them coming back? How can you improve on this with your new customers?
The following are examples of issues affecting various organisations
- Cost reduction
- Skills shortages
- Decreasing revenue
- Reducing work related incidents
- Large enterprises now having to compete with more nimble startups
Click here for additional information on issues that affect organisations
From 2005 – 2008 I worked for a company called Leaning Seat. www.learningseat.com
At the time when I started, there was only 2 customers in QLD (REIQ and Golden Circle). The majority of clients (approximately 80) were based in Sydney and Melbourne. By the time I left I had signed up about 25 customers which included the following brands: QLD Rail, Volvo, Boystown (Kids Helpline), Wanless Wastecorp, Commerce QLD (CCIQ), Qld Police Credit Union, Lismore Council, Qld Public Trustee and Bundaberg Brewed Drinks.
Clients would generally take between 6-18 months from the initial introduction to sign-off.
My approach to identify the right customer included
- Understanding who would endorse the product to their colleagues
- Including all stakeholders and decision makers in the process
What was the hook?
- At the time many organisations were concerned about employee behaviour risk:
- Compliance with workplace safety procedures
- Sexual harassment, Bullying and Trade Practice issues
- Compliance with green energy and environmental practices
- A breach in any one of the major issues (sexual harassment, bullying etc), would cost an organisation a minimum of $50-100k. Sometimes much higher!
- The cost of implementing an online system that delivered training, and tracked the compliance of employees was usually less than the cost of a single breach.
- The most excited person to use our product was the HR Director/Manager. However they did not usually have the budget or influence to make the purchase. HR needed to be a supporter, but if the opportunity was sponsored by them, it would likely fail.
- The most influential person I found was either the Compliance or Operations Manager. The compliance manager was like HR – did not budget controls, but they did have power to influence/scare senior management into getting their way. Operations Managers have more buying power and on many occasions have experienced employee incidents.
- Find the topics and issues that will cause organisations to move and buy your product. Organisations like people are motivated to either seek Gain or avoid Pain.
- Over time build a model of the typical procurement process for your target customers. This will help you better understand who to approach first, and what other stakeholders need to be involved.
- Target customers that have strong brand recognition. Over time this increases your effectiveness in convincing other organisations to get on board. Organisations don’t like to be the first.
An additional resource is Mark Hocknell’s Profit By Design in the section of determining who is your awesome customer. An important consideration is identifying organisations with a strong value exchange for both Vendor and Customer.
STEP 2: Design the Introduction Letter for your target audience
The Introduction Letter is the most important artefact to open the door to an organisation.
What the Introduction Letter needs to achieve:
- Get the attention of a decision maker – ahead of all other emails and junk mail
- Motivate them to action – not as easy as it sounds
- Designed to get your first meeting – not to sell your product
Structure of Introduction Letter
The letter follows a generic proposal structure – when trained in it, you can apply it to a range of different situations: Proposal, TV Commercial, Sales Pitch etc.
||This is our understanding of your problem or opportunity
||Given that problem or opportunity, these are our objectives for solving or realising it
||Given those objectives, these are the methods we will use to achieve them
||Given those methods, these are our qualifications for performing them
||Given those qualifications and methods, this is how much it will cost
||Given our efforts and their associated costs, these are the benefits or value that you will receive.
(Freed, Freed and Romano; Writing Winning Business Proposals; 1995; p.13)
The letters should focus on the various stages of the customer’s maturity:
- Early Stage: Emphasis on defining the problems the customer experiences
- Late Stage: Introduce the problems the customer experiences, and link to how you solve these problems for similar organisations.
To write our introduction letter first we need to complete the following table:
|Catchy sentence (short length) describing what the purpose of your organisation is and what it does for its customers.
|One sentence (medium length) describing the value you provide to your customers.
Example: We are the fastest growing Digital Media Agency in Australia that helps customers achieve XYZ results.
|Bullet points (or table if there is a large list) of the services you provide for customers.
|List of your most high profile customers – or customer well known to the segment that you are currently targeting.
Once this table is completed we can build Version 1 of the Introduction Letter.
STEP 3: Working with the gate keeper to deliver letter and schedule first meeting
I have developed the following process over many years of making various mistakes. This approach works for me. You may decide to adapt/change parts that better suits your style, product or target customer.
Task One: Call the organisation and ask to speak with the Executive Assistant (EA) to your Decision Maker (DM)
- The job of the EA is to assist with the effectiveness of the DM’s time through:
- Carrying out tasks to improve the DM’s efficiency
- Protect the DM from time wasters
- When you speak with the EA, he/she will be trying to determine how to treat you. If you sound like a “sales person” then they will change to sentinel mode and block you from accessing the DM.
- The best way is, avoid the impression of a sales person – but to appeal to EA’s function to carry out tasks to improve the DM’s efficiency
Task Two: Tell the EA where you are from and that you have a letter for the DM
- By not disclosing the nature of the call or the letter – you are giving yourself the best chance of reaching the decision maker.
- From the EA’s point of view, you could be contacting the decision maker for any number of things
- Buying their company
- About to sue the company
- Needing to discuss important tax matters etc.
- By focussing on the letter you avoid being screened out
Task Three: Offer to send the letter as a PDF to the EA
- In most cases this will allow you to obtain the email address of the EA. This could help you down the track in figuring out email address of other people within the organisation.
- Sending the letter as an email PDF, allows the letter to be sent instantly which will connect you to the letter when speaking with the EA
- Email communication allows limited tracking, such as getting a read receipt confirmation.
Task Four: Discuss with EA about a follow up call to schedule a meeting with DM
- Please remember throughout this process you are listening very carefully to what the EA is saying about presenting the letter to the DM
- Does the EA spend 20 mins each morning reviewing correspondence? Or will the EA just print out the letter and leave in the in-tray?
- Don’t be in a huge rush to schedule the follow up call in the next 1-2 days. Ask the EA about the DM’s schedule and whether a week will be enough time for her to review the letter. This is the opposite approach to many salespeople, who, driven by deadlines will push prospective clients away. Don’t pressure the EA in any way.
Task Five: Make sure you have the EA’s email and direct phone number
- As you explain that you would like to follow up with the EA, ask what time would be convenient to speak with them again. Many times the EA has fixed schedules and you can demonstrate that you are being considerate to their workload.
- Do your best to build a positive and friendly relationship with the EA. After you meet with the DM, you will need to maintain that relationship with the EA. At a more mature stage of the sale, the EA might be in a position to help get sign-off on your first sale. Don’t ever be pushy. The EA has much more power than you realise.
- Occasionally the EA will ask you what the letter is about. Always be measured and appropriate in your response as there is still a risk that you will get slide-lined just like other salespersons. Frame the answer as you are seeking to have a conversation with the DM about [INSERT THE TOPIC].
STEP 4: The Objectives of the first Customer Meeting
The objectives of the first meeting is to:
- Build a connection with the prospect, open the relationship
- Understand their challenge/problem to a deeper level
- Share your experience with to addressing similar challenges with other organisations.
You are not trying to sell your product. Unless they are ready to buy or the industry is transactional, you need to avoid the temptation to go into “sales mode” too early.
The first meeting will be a success if you
- Understand the customer’s problem – at a deeper level
- Understanding of the impact of this problem on their Profitability, Customers, Morale. Needs to be as specific as possible.
- Maps of Stakeholders, Influencers, Users and Decision makers that will have a part of the solution
- What alternatives are they thinking about? (in-house solution, Outsource, competitors)
- The customer’s decision process for addressing this problem
The importance of making a good first impression by Kevin Hale
First impressions make a bigger impact that we realise. The origin story of any good business or personal relationship most likely started on something quite positive. After the relationship develops, the memories of the first impression is replayed helps define the future state of the relationship.
For example if you are on a first date with somebody and you’re having a nice dinner, but you catch them picking their nose! How many of us would consider going on a second date with that person?
But if you’re married to someone for about 20 to 30 years, and you catch them picking their nose, you don’t immediately call your lawyer, you know what I mean, and say, “We have a problem here, but you don’t have to start drawing up papers for divorce.” You shrug your shoulders, and say, “At least he has a heart of gold.”
For most products and services that we use, first impressions are pretty obvious.
People considered great at promoting products and services are those that create many first-time moments with their customers and make them memorable: the first email you ever get, what happens when you got your first login, the links, the advertisements, the very first time you interacted with customer support. All of those are opportunities to seduce.
(Taken from How to Start a Startup by Sam Altman: http://startupclass.samaltman.com/)
This document has outlined a tested approach in the first step of a Business to Business (B2B) sales process: obtaining your first meeting with a decision maker.
Once you have started to apply these steps and have seen initial success, we encourage you to continue to apply the Lean Startup principle of Build-Measure-Learn, which will help you improve your success rates over time.
Please reach us if you have feedback or would like to share your experiences.