Imagine that you’re in a prospect meeting. You’re meeting a client (or prospective client) for the first time ever, and you’ve got seven really cracking questions that you’re going to ask them.

You might be using Spin Selling (which teaches us to use troubling questions) or Conceptual Selling (which is somewhat more of a bespoke for each opportunity). Still, whatever approach you’re taking, you’re certainly going into that meeting armed with some great questions that are insightful and penetrative.

With a breath, you asked your first and wait – using golden silence. Your prospect considers your question and answers that the issue doesn’t really impact them. Together you explore their answer – you because you want to dig deeper and they because they’re being polite.

But the question still bombed. That’s OK; you have six more.

And so, you ask your second. Despite you both giving it your best, it bombs too. Not because the question was wrong or poorly asked, only that this issue – the one you had hoped would surgically unsettle them – just didn’t impact them.

And then question three bombs too, and you both lose faith. You have lost control of the meeting. So, where do you go from there? How do you plan and run the perfect prospect meeting that lets you explore the whole story?

There are a few hidden pitfalls on the way to a perfect meeting

In this scenario, question four might have been the one that was going to strike a chord, but you never get to find that out because after failing three times, you don’t get to go forward. So, how do you set up the meeting to get through your whole agenda and ask question four?

There’s actually more to the question. Certainly, we need to get through our whole story with the prospect. We need our story to stick as well – rather than just appear like a fishing expedition of multiple unrelated questions.

We need that for a couple of reasons:

  • So we can actually discuss the prospect’s core issue, focusing their thinking on this one problem and not other tangential issues.
  • In case the core issue isn’t front of mind for the prospect right now (but knowing it will be one day, and we want them to come back when it is).

So, the question really becomes how can we create a compelling story which asks lots of questions, enables us to get through the whole agenda, and make it all stick?

Before we get into the answer to that (multi-faceted) question, we face some challenges going into and during prospect meetings we need to be aware of.

1. Imperfection is rife

The prospects’ listening skills are imperfect. Your communication skills are also imperfect (sorry). The idea transfer is, therefore, going to be imperfect. You thought you asked the right question; they thought they heard a different question and so answered a different question.

2. Your questions could be interpreted wrong

Going through your list of questions runs the risk of looking somewhat like a fishing expedition. Your multiple questions may have something that holds them together, a big picture, but that something won’t be clear unless you make it clear. Numerous questions can easily impact the flow of the meeting, making everyone unsure where we’re going here. If the meeting fails a couple of questions in, you’ve lost the opportunity for the big idea to stick long-term because they didn’t get the whole picture.

3. Your audience is guarded

Your prospect will likely be automatically guarded. They know that you’re selling. They’re going to have their filter up a little bit – even if you’re warm and charming and you’ve earned the right to be there.

4. You’re presenting a complex story

You’ve homed in on a core problem that you’re really good at solving – great. But that problem has many causes. It also has many triggers. (Triggers are different from causes. Causes are going on, and triggers suddenly make the problem an A-Lister.) Then there are the consequences of the problem. So, your idea is complex, making it harder to be received and harder to stick.

3 things you should always do in a prospect meeting

Considering all these points, it becomes clear what we really need is some way of running the meeting that lets us do three things:

1. Let the prospect scan ahead. If questions one, two and three just aren’t striking a chord, but question four will, then let them guide you to that point. Certainly, let them see the whole picture; don’t keep it a secret.

2. Explore prospects’ perception of their problem. While they might be set on a primary cause for their problem, show diligence in briefly exploring some other causes. Have the prospect explain why they think another cause isn’t causing the issue. By doing this, you can expand their thinking and potentially find multiple unconsidered ideas, causes, or problems that strike a chord. This allows you to…

3. Create a bigger problem. And to a certain extent, re-position their problem to the one you solve. It’s not uncommon for a prospect to have a collection of problems or causes that resonate with them. By widening their thinking, you can help reframe, in their mind, the problem that they should be solving.

Let me use’s own sales conversations as a framework. When I’m having the first meeting, I don’t know whether the prospect’s problem is that they lack marketing skills, sales skills, a combined process for sales marketing, or skilled marketing execution.

So, I need to keep an open mind. But ultimately, in each case, all of these issues are caused by one key problem: my sales and marketing engine is underperforming.

A lot of people look at their problem statement and say, “I don’t have an engine, let alone one that’s underperforming.” Well, that’s their version of their problem. The core problem is still “my sales and marketing engine is underperforming” – it’s just that it could be caused by a whole range of things.

Because there will be several potential sub-causes of the core problem, you need to flush out which ones impact the prospect and to what extent.

Bring it all together with a Meeting Tool

Each business you meet with might look different – and certainly, their idea of their problem and causes will be different. But a well-constructed meeting tool can be utilised again and again in prospect meetings to ensure you cover all bases and flush out key problems.

How you use the tool might look different depending on who you’re talking to (a whiteboard for a room full of multiple prospects, a printed card for just one). But it will help guide your prospects (and yourself) through the core problem, causes, triggers, and consequences.

Whatever the delivery case, your meeting tool should always include:

  • allows the prospect to cycle ahead a bit,
  • allows you to explore each of the subtopics deeply,
  • allows you to create a coherent whole,
  • resonates both at the time and in the future, and
  • lets you reframe the perceived problem to a bigger problem that you can solve.

By including these details, you set yourself up to achieve the starting goal: to create a compelling story that asks lots of questions, enables us to get through the whole agenda, and make it all stick in every meeting.

Beyond including these five key details, your Meeting Tool should also be accessible to and useable for all members of your team who might be carrying out prospect or client meetings. It should also be consistent with your overall brand and messaging.

It can take some work to get your tool to a place that can be useful and effective. We’ve recently worked on some great meeting tools for our clients – if you’d like to see some examples or need some guidance with running your own ‘perfect’ prospect meetings, give us a shout.

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