Too often very early stage companies assume that a customer sales call is a pitch involving a lengthy PowerPoint presentation. But there’s another way to go when your company is in the early stages of customer development: that’s holding a conversation with your prospective partner, not pitching them. Basically people hate to be sold to, but most people like to talk about their business and what makes it tick. So leave the PowerPoint in the office and prepare yourself for a conversation and listening carefully to what your prospect has to say.
When you set up an appointment to meet with a prospect, do your homework which includes two parts. One, know the company and two, know who you’ll be meeting with.
- What competitive or substitute products is it using already?
- How long has the company been using them? If it recently switched it will be harder to get them to switch again. Conversely, if they’ve been using the same product for years it may be time for them to survey the market and see what else is out there.
- Know who you are talking with. What’s her or his role in the sales process? Economic decision maker? Influencer? User? How long has he or she been with the company? Newbie’s are often afraid to make decisions. If he or she doesn’t have one of those key roles then your job is to get an introduction to someone more involved in choosing what products the company adopts.
- How well is the company doing? Companies that are knocking it out of the park can be arrogant and not interested in changing their winning formula. Companies that are busy fighting fires wont’ be able to pay requisite attention to you and your new product. Companies that are also-rans may be looking for help in catching up with the leader.
- Who are their competitors and what products are they using?
- What are the megatrends that are affecting the company and how do they relate to your product? You want to be able tell your prospect something important that they don’t know already.
Next come up with the three to five points you want to make in your conversation and that you want your prospect to be thinking about when the meeting is over. Those points usually are focused on what are the benefits of your product, how are you different and better than the competition, and what are the hard and soft costs of adopting your product.
Finally be prepared to answer these questions about your company and your product. Remember, this isn’t a pitch and you aren’t a politician who answers a question not with an answer but with something they want to say, not what the questioner wants to hear.
This is a generic list and needs to be tuned to the specific company you are talking with, their company, your product, and the market you’re in.
- What does your company do?
- Who are your current customers?
- What are the services and/or products you can provide to my company?
- Why should we do business with you?
- What problem are you solving?
- What new opportunities are you providing me?
- What are the benefits of your products/services?\
- Can you quantify those benefits?
- Why are you better than the competition?
- Why are you better than what I’m using now?
- What will my upfront costs be, if any?
- What ongoing costs, if any, are there? What would I be paying for?
- How long until I break even on my upfront and on-going costs? What’s my ROI?
- Do you have a financial model I can use to enter the variables specific to my business?
- What are my “soft costs”?
- Training my staff?
- Moving data?
- Changing software?
- Integrating with legacy systems?
- Educating or training my customers?
- Promoting the benefits to my customers?
- Switching from the product/service I’m already using to your product/service?
- Who else is using your products or services?
- Can I talk to them?
- Why did they decide to adopt your product or service?
- How do I know you will be around in 3 to 5 years?
- How long have you been in business?
- Who is backing you?
- What do I do if you go out of business but I want to continue to use your products or services?
- Are you licensed and insured to operate in my state?
- What type of warranty/guarantee do you offer?
- Who is on your team? Why are you qualified to service my company?
- What can you share about your future plans – product roadmap?
- Who will be my contact person at your company?
Finally, the goal of almost all initial meetings is to get the next meeting, the one with the decision makers. Make sure you have concrete next steps when you close the meeting.
Remember, you don’t learn when you are talking, only when you are listening.