Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Put The Prospect At Ease

In the last post I said that we’d discuss “…what you can do to put your prospect at ease, make them more likely to open up to you and ultimately help nudge them along the path to forming a positive perception of you.“ Body language isn’t used to make people do your bidding (although that thought has a certain charm to it), but instead to help you connect with them.

Where we pick up is when everyone has just sat down. When I discussed a meeting plan in an earlier post I suggested that you – or everyone on your team – lean against the back of their chair unless they were speaking. When you are speaking, I recommended leaning forward a few inches so the prospect(s) will know whom they should pay attention to. There was a second reason I didn’t get into at the time. By leaning back you are signaling the prospect that you are not being pushy; that they are in charge. Remember, the meeting is in their house. As you are sitting back don’t cross your arms. Why? Well, we probably all know the answer to that one. It suggests to the viewer that you are not open; that your mind is made up. It’s a deep hole to crawl out of if the prospect adopts this belief.

You may recall the mirroring and matching behavior I previously discussed. The idea is that you will mirror and match your prospect as the meeting progresses. Done in a reasonably natural manner, it will make the prospect feel you are both on a similar wavelength.

When she leans forward, refers to a piece of paper in front of her, and begins to make a point, you wait until she begins talking and then lean forward – perhaps half as far as she is – and give her your full attention because you want to show that what she says is important and interesting. If she continues to hold a sheet of paper or a pen as she talks, perhaps you can pick up a pen and hold it over a pad of paper as though you might take a note.

Any other members of your team stay leaned back against their chairs unless they are literally speaking. Why? Because several of you leaning forward “weigh more” than just her, and she may feel a vibe that suggests a lack of balance or symmetry in the moment.

Now she has made her point or finished her question and leans back. You stay forward where you were and then, after you begin responding, either stay where you are or gradually lean back and continue talking. Do not lean further forward, even though your instinct may compel you to. The reason is that on a gut level she may sense you are “chasing” her. It simply feels awkward when one person is leaning all the way forward and the other is leaned all the way back, and she will sense that awkwardness.

Gestures are easy to mirror and match. Just be natural about it. If the prospect talks with his hands, you should also be somewhat animated with yours, but perhaps half as much. If they smile, you smile. If they become intense and start talking more rapidly, you speed up just a bit so you remain in sync. If they exhibit really high energy, then you do the same, but to a lesser extent.

It is all about making the prospect feel comfortable with you. If they sense coherence in your body language, their comfort level rises, they are more open to what you have to say and at the end of the meeting you will walk out with your message clearly communicated.

Many years ago I worked with a VP of sales who had a bad habit of actually standing up in customer meetings and walking around the room as he spoke. Everyone else would be seated and Ralph would be roaming around; sometimes crossing over behind the customer and forcing them to not only turn around but also to look up at him and he stared down and pontificated. It was truly artless and the customer’s discomfort was obvious. After a few minutes of Ralph’s performance I would routinely see them sneaking glances at each other and exchange one of those, “What the …. is with this guy?” expressions. Ralph never had a clue.


ProjectSystemChoreographer said...

I am probably not your target audience or someone who follow blogs a lot but I stumbled on you when I searched for an engineering related topic. I have read all your posts so far and am very intrigued with your perspective on successfully executing the face to face sales call.

So far, it appears to me that what you are offering has wider applicability than your stated audience. For example, I am part of a two person consulting partnership and we have blown almost 100% of our first time client encounters to date. We do get some work, but only as part of larger teams where someone else does the initial sales. Of course, we are also terrible at getting that initial meeting with a prospect. I know a lot of my colleagues [we all go to the same conferences and frequent the same online destinations] who have similar negative business development / sales cycle experiences.

What we do for the client, once we are on the payroll, frequently adds significantly to their bottom line in very short order, but is not typically viewed by them as a "must have" service such as is the case with legal representation or a CPA.

Any hints on how to do a better job getting that invitation to make a sales call, for smaller firms in niche markets, would be appreciated.

I look forward to future posts.

Craig Weeks said...

The biz development process for almost any of the professional service providers (engineers, consultants, lawyers, accts, surveyors, etc.) is essentially the same. For any given niche market, an approach that is almost always successful is to create some sort of fact sheet, newsletter, info package, etc. that will offer your target audience something they can't easily find elsewhere. Distribute it/them via the means you choose and invite people to ask questions or for more information. When you respond you can begin to ask questions about their circumstances with the goal of eventually connecting the value of your services to the inquirer's needs, wants, etc.
Hopefully, this will lead to an engagement now or in the future.
Good luck.