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How to Get Appointments with Prospects

Almost every business depends on effective selling. I know ours does, and ditto for most of the people I talk to.  And in selling, there’s no substitute for talking to potential customers face to face. But that’s no easy thing to accomplish. It’s an age-old question, “How do I get the opportunity to talk to the right person at the right time?”.

I came across an interesting podcast the other day. Brian Burns shared his perspectives on why salespeople don’t get appointments, or don’t get the right appointments. He also has some very straightforward advice on how to change that and I think he has a lot of good ideas.

You can listen to Brian’s podcast here. (It lasts about 20 minutes.) But I’d like to share some of the things I took away from listening to it.

Things Salespeople Do That Work Against Getting Appointments

  • Rushing Things. Many sales organizations are structured to maximize the number of contacts made, as if the amount of activity exerted was the only important factor. In doing so, some important steps are missed, ensuring that many potential appointments don’t happen, and those that do are often doomed to failure.
  • Failing to Research the Company. It’s time-consuming, but there is probably no more valuable way to use your time. It will not only get you more leads, but get you the leads you want. By looking more closely into the company you are calling on, you will better understand the ways your product or service can help. By doing so, you demonstrate that your prospect is important to you, and not just another name on a list. You also can make much better case for getting that phone or in-person appointment, since you can present yourself as solving a problem instead of merely selling something.
  •  Failing to Research the PERSON.  First, many salespeople fail to meet with the right person. Many think that you should aim as high as possible, getting through to the CEO or upper management. That is not always the best idea. Those people often don’t want to deal with you or your offerings, and consider your call an annoyance. With a little investigation, you may learn whom your product will impact most, and focus your efforts on the real decision maker(s) on that type of purchase.

Even if it is the right person, many salespeople are content to stop there. That’s a mistake. Your prospect is not merely a job title, but a living, breathing person with interests, concerns, hobbies, children – you ge the idea. With a little more digging, the salesperson can uncover common ground that will help break down walls – not just to make a sale, but to establish a relationship. You’d seek out and enjoy the company of these same people at a party or kids’ soccer game, so why not think of your prospects that way? Suddenly, it’s a not-so-cold call!

  • Failing to Listen. According to Brian Burns, this is a big one. Many salespeople are so intent on frenetically generating activity, they don’t really receive the signals their prospects may be sending (consciously or unconsciously) about how they prefer to be “sold.” By only skimming the email response, or not picking up on between-the-lines messages, a salesperson might miss a strong clue that, if acted upon, might help bring about that precious appointment.

Five Tips to Help Get Appointments

Here are some tips that may help you or your salespeople lock in appointments with promising prospects.

  1. Slow Down. It’s not a race to the sales call because it’s truly about building a relationship (even a virtual one, through email, etc.) not just selling. Take the time to know what you are doing and do it right.
  2. Do the Research. You aren’t just a walking brochure because your prospect can get that stuff on your website. Figure out how your product can make a difference when applied to the prospect’s business. They care about their business, not your sales quota. Learn enough to make it all about them. And don’t forget to listen.
  3. Find Commonalities. This is the human dimension. Does your prospect coach Little League? Love jazz? Work out at your gym? Cheer for the Pittsburgh Steelers (for some foolish reason)? People are more than what they do for a living, and they probably have something in common with you! Try making a friend first, and you just might make a sale. Even if you don’t, you’ve expanded your network.
  4. Be Creative. Be nimble, and keep your ears open. If you aren’t talking to the right person, find out who the right person is! Talk to other people at your prospect’s company, like those in marketing or production, or their sales people. They might be happy to share their knowledge, and even become your ally in determining just the right approach. And be creative with that approach. For example, your prospect may not be eager for a formal meeting, but if you ask for five minutes since you’ll “be in the neighborhood” it might be much easier to say yes. (If you hit it off, that five minute limit will be quickly forgotten.)
  5. Bring Something Extra. Once you get the appointment, make your visit unforgettable. Bring along something they will keep around on their desk, like an unusual office item or a custom promotional item. Custom calendars are great because your prospect will think of you all year. Check out my post on 10 tips to creating the perfect calendar to catch your prospects attention all year long HERE. Or hand them a current business book – something you “thought they might be interested in.” They’ll think of you whenever they see it!

To me,  the podcast and my experience suggest that your appointment success record will improve if you  add your own energy, creativity and elbow grease to the contact management software and spreadsheet data. Remember, these days it is not about selling, it is truly about building relationships that help your prospects do better. If you have any other thoughts on the subject, or some tactics not touched upon here, I’d love to hear them. I’m also happy to brainstorm some interesting leave-behind ideas (we’ve got a bunch) to help your prospects remember you afterLet’s talk!

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