I think, said Janet to herself, that I just figured out a solution to my problem of letting the prospect run the meeting.
With that thought in mind, she got out of her car and walked into the office building. Her first face-to-face with Harry Whitland, the CEO of Whitland & Sons Furniture Factory, has been rather easy to arrange. One of her existing clients, at her suggestion, had arranged for the appointment. Nothing like asking for a referral, thought Janet as she was led into Harry Whitland's office.
"Mr. Whitland," began Janet, "I appreciate your taking Gabrielle Deprey's suggestion and meeting with me."
"Ah," responded Harry, looking up towards the ceiling for a second, "Gabrielle and I go back a long way... I've tried my best over the years to hire her away but she's always telling me that we'd fight tooth and nail if we were in the same company."
"Why would that be?" asked Janet, thinking to herself that this meeting was going just like she wanted.
"Not that it would matter, but Gabrielle has an incredibly strong personality and very definite opinions about running a business. The problem, you see," Harry said, looking at Janet, "is that so do I." He concluded and stared at her.
Janet decided that she had nothing to lose at this moment. Either she wimped out and let Harry Whitland start running things or she would keep control. Taking a deep mental breath, she remembered her question.
"I appreciate that you also have a similar personality and definite opinions about running a business. If we could agree on one thing at this point, I think we could both get something out of this meeting." Janet knew that was a statement, but she wanted to see if he would interpret it as a question.
Harry looked at Janet for a moment; the puzzled expression lasted a few seconds and then faded to one of curiosity. "What might that be?"
"Gabrielle thought that you and I might be able to work some business. Neither of us know at this moment. Can we agree to ask each other questions to find out?"
He thought for a moment and smiled. "Sure," he said, "you start."
Janet got up-front agreement on how the meeting would be conducted.
How rare is a salesperson who can comfortably approach an initial meeting with a prospect, knowing that there may be no business? Doesn't this go against what every salesperson is supposed to believe, that every prospect can be a close if you are good enough to beat down the objections?
Janet could have taken the easy road, the one that leads to the mindless "salesperson now dumps information." She could have started in on what she had just sold Gabrielle, assuming that would be of interest to Harry. Or, if she sensed that was not working, she could have pulled back and talked in general about the wide range of products she represented. And if neither of those appealed to her, she could have asked Harry the question he had heard from every salesperson, "What do you need?"
Of course, what Harry would have heard with that question is, "What can I sell you today?"
Instead, Janet got Harry to agree to an up-front contract on how the meeting was going to be held. Both of them would be answering questions. Nothing unusual? Actually it is. Rarely does a prospect ever expect to answer any question other than "Will you buy it today?" Janet is now free to ask as many questions as she needs to find out whatever she needs to know.
All you have to do is ask the question, "Can we agree to ask each other questions?"
What's a prospect going to do? Say "no"? If that's the case, then the sooner you find out, the sooner you can leave. "I appreciate that you don't want to answer questions; it sounds like it's over. Can you validate my parking sticker?" If the prospect doesn't stop you by then, you never had a chance to sell anything.
So when he says "yes," asking him something, get him talking. You are not there to provide free information or give away consulting time. You are there to evaluate whether or not he qualifies to do business with you. The only way to find out is to ask questions, unlike the vast majority of salespeople who will immediately launch into their one-sided sales monologue.
The only way to find out what the prospect or the customer needs is by asking questions. By getting an up-front contract that they will answer questions, you are no longer viewed as the run-of-the-mill salesperson who makes run-of-the-mill earnings.