Friday, October 23, 2009

10 First Steps


Off the Wall: A Column by Alan Weiss, Contributing Editor

Everyone is concerned about whether or not a prospect will be amenable to what's being presented. We spend a lot of time on everything from first impressions and "dress for success" to whether or not to use PowerPoint (NOT!) and how to deal with committees or individuals.

Prospecting Dos and Don'ts
The Right Stuff: Building Your Best Prospect List

Promiscuous Prospecting: Why More Isn't Better with Cold Calling

Practical Tips for Making Prospecting a "Win-Win" Proposition

So, I thought I'd distill this down to how to ensure that a prospect—that is, a prospective buyer—will love you. Here's what YOU can do and control so that you can stop worrying about things you can't control. You may be doing some or all quite well, but it's useful to create your own checklist, since you only get "one first chance."

The Key Factors

  1. Be professional: easier said than done, and hardly a "no-brainer." Do you show up on time? Do you present a professional image, or are you burdened with stuff that makes you look like a pack animal in the Andes? Your image, your language, your demeanor will set the scene. If you're walking into the meeting with a cup of coffee from Starbuck's, you're not doing well right at the outset.
  2. Look professional: in addition to the advice above, are you alert or distracted? Are you "in the moment" or desperately thinking of your next sentence? Do you act as though you've been in this situation a thousand times, or are you a rabbit caught in a locomotive's headlight? Would you belong in that office or conference room yourself, naturally?
  3. Show up: have with you—in your head or on a pad—all the information you need to intelligently conduct business. Don't plan to learn about the organization from an annual report on a table in the lobby. What have you prepared that is intrinsically helpful to this buyer? Will they feel as if you're focusing on them and not merely a "prospect"?
  4. Follow up: provide what you promised ahead of time, at the meeting, or after the meeting, in the manner discussed. Use Fedex. Have enough copies for everyone present. Don't rely solely on electronic or physical materials, provide both. Bring duplicates.
  5. Innovate: suggest new ideas without fear of being questioned about them. Don't focus on a problem your prospect wants solved; focus on reaching new levels, which is far more valuable than merely restoring past performance.
  6. Add value: eschew the mindless, dumb advice that you shouldn't share your intellectual property. Make the buyer feel that you're providing so many insights and new approaches during this meeting that the ROI for hiring you would be huge.
  7. Act like a peer: don't patronize with platitudes, but don't allow yourself to be patronized, either. Act as someone who normally interacts with executives and cite examples of such interactions to help prove your points. Address yourself to the buyer, not primarily to others in the room.
  8. Be assertively patient: this is similar to "hurry up and wait," perhaps, but it means be definitive about next steps, dates, and times, but then wait for them. I'm besieged by consultants asking, "What can I do between now and our next meeting?" Do nothing other than what you promised, or you'll appear desperate. But DO have a next date and time before you leave.
  9. Don't waste time or money: activities such as "needs analyses" and endless interviews (and any visit to human resources) are wastes of time. Don't accept such suggestions, and certainly don't suggest it as a "toe in the water." You don't want a pilot project, but that's what you'll get if you suggest it.
  10. Accept victory and defeat with grace: you win some, you lose some, and some get rained out, but you have to suit up for them all. Learn something from every interaction. That will make you that much better the next time. That's the secret to perpetual learning and improvement, and making the next prospect love you still more!

Why So Important?

It's one thing to walk on thin ice, but it's another to do so with a flame thrower strapped to your back, and still another with the flame thrower ignited and pointed at your feet. You control certain aspects of your meeting with a buyer, and you should maximize the chances for a positive and constructive outcome to counter those factors you can't control (competing priorities, competing interest groups, time pressures, budget pressures, and so on).

These are 10 simple factors, often overlapping. Only the gifted few can wing it, and if you have to wonder if you're one of the gifted few, then you aren't!

So prepare. You'll be surprised by how much preparation creates "good luck."

Alan Weiss, Ph.D. is a contributing editor to and is the author of 32 books appearing in nine languages. His newest is The Talent Advantage (with Nancy MacKay) from John Wiley & Sons. He runs the unique Million Dollar Consulting® College three times a year. He has won dozens of writing and consulting awards and is a member of the Professional Speaking Hall of Fame.® Contact him at or via his blog,

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