August 21, 2019

I Almost Screwed Up a Big Client Meeting…

Earlier this week three people from a large client came to visit my business partner and me in St. Louis. We’d never met with these particular individuals before, although we did have some email dialogue and a preliminary phone call before this meeting was scheduled.

As my team and I were preparing for the client’s visit (which included securing great seats to the Cardinals game Monday night), I kept finding myself tempted to create a presentation. You see, we knew why they were coming to see us, and we had a pretty good idea of their challenges and desired outcomes for their sales team because they’re an existing client that has used me in various capacities for a few years. And since three of them were making the trek to see us, it just felt like we should be ready to blow them away with a slick presentation. In fact, you could probably even make the case that the info gleaned from my previous work with the company along with our preliminary conference call gave us enough info to craft a decent presentation. But every time I sat down to sketch out what we would present it just didn’t feel right.

On Saturday, I took a walk at my favorite local park to get my head right for the big meeting. While admiring a family of ducks perched on rocks next to the pond it hit me like a ton of bricks. The reason I’m not comfortable presenting a solution to this client is because we had not yet done thorough enough discovery. Duh! I teach this concept to sales teams almost every week, yet, here I was trying to craft a presentation for people I’d never really met, about whose situation I only had surface level understanding. I smiled, shook my head, and said aloud (to myself) the mantra I so often tell others: Discovery must precede presentation. Always. 

My partner, Shane, and I met Saturday evening. I shared my embarrassing epiphany and then we reviewed the flow for an effective discovery (consultative) sales call. That’s right. Two very accomplished sales professionals with a combined 40+ years of experience, one of whom is the author of three bestselling sales books, sat at a table in the Whole Foods Café and reviewed the stages for conducting an effective sales call.

I share this with you because we all mess this up at one time or another. Our instincts often mislead us. This seemed like a situation that required a presentation. After all, three people were making the trek to see us because they obviously had a significant need and thought we had a potential solution. The easy and typical sales approach would be to just do what everyone else does and what would have been expected by the client/prospect. And that would have been a mistake.

I’ll spare you the details, but we spent ten hours with the client – we met for three hours the first afternoon, spent three hours at Busch Stadium, and then were together for four more hours the next morning. I couldn’t be more thankful we didn’t lead with a solution or prematurely present what we thought they needed. As you can imagine, we learned a ton from this extended discovery/exploratory meeting. We gained a much clearer and deeper understanding of their history, situation, challenges, and desired outcomes, and decision process. Oh sure, during the final 25% of the meeting, we showed off our stuff, began discussing the possibilities for co-creating an optimal solution, and came to agreement on mutual next steps. But with 100% certainty I can tell you it wouldn’t have been this type of super-high-quality meeting if we had screwed up the entire dynamic by leading with a presentation.