If you're a sales leader or sales professional working in the staffing industry (or any industry for that matter) than you are no doubt striving to position yourself as an authoritative thought leader. If you attend your virtual (video) sales meetings with little or no preparation then you will likely continue to ask silly questions and be perceived and treated as a transactional commodity vendor. At best you will get referred to the HR department.
Meeting preparation, especially when preparing for a virtual sales meeting is critically important because it is what provides the context for the meeting and how you will frame the conversation. It is your preparation that enables you to engage in consultative dialogue. If you want to run your sales meetings in which you’re perceived as a consultative and authoritative thought leader, which I suspect you do, and not a trivial commodity supplier, you should plan on spending twice the amount of time on preparing for your meeting as you do in the meeting itself. Your preparation will have a lot to say about the overall quality and productivity of your meeting and whether or not the client commits to a next step.
So how do prepare for a virtual sales meeting? In this blog post, Preparing For Your Consultative Virtual Sales Meeting: What to Say, What to Show, I'm going to share with you six tips for meeting preparation and how to incorporate that research into what you will say and what you will show (via screen share) your customer.
If your customer is publicly traded, go to your prospect’s website and the investor relations section and take a minute to download or print and review the following documents:
- The most recent annual report
- The most recent 10-K statement
- The 3-5 most recent press releases
- The 3-5 most recent news articles
This may sound like a lot, and it is. But bear in mind that the expectation is the prospect account or customer you're meeting with should have already been qualified which justifies the time commitment required to properly research the account and prepare for your meeting.
The Annual Report
The purpose of the annual report is to educate and inform people-potential investors who may want to purchase stock in the company-of their business. The annual report contains at least three financial reports: Income Statement, Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flow. I won't bore you with all of the details but as you read the annual report, you want to learn is the answers to the following questions:
- Is this company growing and investing for the future or, are they losing market share and/or downsizing?
- Is this company expanding into new markets and launching new products and services or, are they divesting and selling off parts of the business?
- Are they making revenue and generating a profit? Are they losing money?
- If you owned or managed this business, would you be excited about it’s future or, would you be hunkering down and taking little risk and trying to cut costs and save money?
- If you had the money, would you invest in this company?
The 10-K Statement
An even better place for detailed corporate information than the annual report is a statement that all publicly traded companies must complete and file with the SEC. This statement is referred to as the 10-K statement. Companies are more forthcoming with sharing information in the 10K statement than the annual report because they’re required to by the SEC.
The 10-K statement provides a wide variety of information that can be overwhelming. Don’t get bogged down in the details. Instead, focus on the Business Overview and Risk Factors.
Business Overview and Business Strategy
This is a quick and easy place to begin for understanding the business including who they are and what they do, who their customers are, and how they sell to their customers. These sections will also help you gain a deeper understanding of what their strategy is to outperform their competition. Again, without this knowledge you can't possibly engage in a consultative discussion and ask thought provoking discovery questions.
Pay close attention to the risk factors section. This is where the company explains their perceived threats and risks that stand in their way and could prevent them from achieving their goals. Be sure to focus only on the risk factors that you and your solution or service offerings can help the company avoid or overcome.
If you're a real pro and possess the requisite sales skills then you know you are sitting a gold mine when reviewing your customer's Risk Factors.
Press Releases & News Articles
One effective way for uncovering new business opportunities is to monitor your prospect’s press releases and news articles. When something important happens-something so important that they want the world to know about it-you can be notified of a great opportunity to initiate communication that relates to the press release. We also refer to this as trigger event selling. Many of the comments you find are forward looking and contain information about the future of the company or industry.
Another great source of information for researching your customers, especially for privately held companies, is industry publications such as CIO.com, Gartner, Forrester Research, CIO Insight and IDG. These web sites and publications serve executives and technology decision makers in the information technology field and the role of Chief Information Officer. They’ve been built and designed to deliver CIO-focused news, features and commentary on emerging technologies and products, industry trends and research, innovation in the tech industry, and legal and regulatory implications of technology. Often times you can even find the CIO’s and VP’s of your prospective clients interviewed and quoted in their stories.
Talk to Individual Contributors and Consultants
I've found that the best way to prepare for a virtual sales meeting is to speak with consultants and individual contributors working for the client company. Why? Because these people are closest to the problems. They know the "real deal" of what is working and not working in the department, on the team or with the project. These are the people that "bubble up the issues" to management; the same management team you're meeting with. Only by speaking directly with these people can you get the juicy details in real-time about projects, upcoming initiatives, the customers challenges and future goals.
One common approach to meeting preparation applied by many staffing sales professionals is reviewing and referencing job postings on the careers page. I encourage you to avoid this approach. I have found that by referencing open job postings and making statements like “Ms. Customer, I noticed you have a job posting for a data architect, we have candidates that fit this skill set” typically results in the salesperson getting referred to the HR department. This is classic transactional selling at it's best.
As an alternative, review the careers page and familiarize yourself with the open job postings. By reading through the job descriptions in detail you will start to gain insight regarding the types of technologies your prospect is using or trying to implement and the nature of the projects underway and/or projects they may be planning. These data points will serve as conversation paths for you to engage your prospects.
You could say, “in preparing for our meeting today I discovered that you are designing your MDM strategy using Informatica. Tell me about your project and the plans currently underway?”
By sharing what you have learned in this context you frame the discussion for a more open-ended consultative discussion between you and your prospect. By wrapping what you learned from your research into your questions you will position yourself as a thought leader and a salesperson who is not focused on their self serving agenda but one who genuinely cares about the customer and their goals. That is consultative.
Share, Show Your Meeting Preparation with Your Customer
To really impress your customer, organize your notes, reports, press releases, news articles, charts and any other relevant information you have in a series of online folders such as Google Drive or SharePoint. Or, bookmark key web pages from your customer's website and be prepared to share those pages with your customer. While sharing these pages with your customer be prepared to "speak to them." For example, you might show a press release that talks about a new product launch. Show the press release web page and talk about what you learned from reading it and how your service offering ties into the press release. Perhaps your team can help them deliver the product or drive user adoption of the product.
You want them to see how much time and effort you put into learning about their business. You're going differentiate yourself by sharing with the customer how much you know about them, not talking about yourself or your offerings. The more you know about your customer’s business the more likely you will be able to ask intelligent questions which will lead to productive consultative sales discussions.
Another approach l like is to simply pull to 2-3 key points from the customer's 10-K statement or some other resource from my research and put it into a PowerPoint slide. I put the customer logo on the slide with just the 2-3 bullets. Than I say, "Mr. customer in preparing for our meeting today I discovered three key things about your business that I'm hoping we can explore." I speak to each bullet point but more importantly, I use each bullet as launching point for asking open ended discovery questions.
This is a great way to have a deeper discussion with your customer and not be perceived as "just another staffing sales rep."
Open the Meeting by Speaking Like a Thought Leader
You should open your meeting by leveraging your research and speaking like a thought leader. For example, you might say, “Let me start by sharing with you why I’m so excited to build a relationship with you and your organization, and why I have been so persistent in wanting to meet with you. In the research I conducted prior to this meeting I discovered that one of the goals you’re pursuing is “X”.” From what I understand, your situation is very similar to the one we encountered when working with our client, ACME Corporation. Like yourself, ACME corporation was also trying to achieve “X” and we were able to help them achieve "X" by overcoming the challenges of "A,B & C." As a result, they have been able to accelerate their time to market with new products. In our time together today, I'd like to give you a little background on how we address these and other related issues for our customers and find out how your team is performing in these areas with the objective of determining if and how we may be able to work together. How does that sound?”
This approach is much different than simply saying "tell me about your team and department and types of consultants you hire." Keep asking these questions, if you want to be treated like a commodity supplier.
To get started with consultative selling, you might want to check out our blog, Seven Consultative Selling Skills to Master and Eight Sales Exercises to Improve Your Consultative Selling Skills