Bringing in the Customers

By Lain Ehmann

Bringing customers to the factory for a meeting can be as anxiety producing as asking your significant other home to meet the parents. While no blockbuster movies have been made to document the trials and tribulations of these events it’s probably just a matter of time before Hollywood senses the comedy and disaster potential. Before you become fodder for a Glengarry Glen Ross-Meet the Parents flick, follow these tips from Jill Konrath, author of the soon-to-be-released Selling to Big Companies (Dearborn, 2005) and chief sales officer of Minnesota-based Selling to Big Companies.

  • Go for the wow factor. Long PowerPoint presentations aren’t the way to anyone’s heart. Instead, urges Konrath, ask customers beforehand what they’d like to get out of the visit and what would make it worthwhile for them. Then make sure you hit each of those points.
  • Tailor their visit. Konrath warns against handing over the meeting’s planning and details to the corporate types because they’ll see it as just another customer visit. These individuals don’t have the time or the knowledge to create a personalized experience for your customers. “They don’t understand the critical nature of the meeting,” says Konrath. Instead, the folks who know the customer best should be responsible for arranging the trip details.
  • Don’t bore them to death. Sure customers want to see your facilities and what makes your company tick, but a three-hour tour of the sewage disposal processing equipment and the employee parking lot is going overboard. Pick the highlights and forget the rest.
  • Prepare the troops. Handpick the team that’s going to participate in the meeting and brief them on what’s important to your customers, what will impress them and what will make them turn red with anger. Konrath suggests getting all the participants together, at least by phone, and walking through the meeting agenda and visit details so everyone is on the same page.
  • Close your mouth as much as possible. “The best thing you can do is to get the customer talking,” says Konrath. To that end, why not start out the meeting with an opportunity for your customers to present information about themselves? Ask them well beforehand, of course, to tell you what’s important to them, what their biggest issues are, what their goals are and anything else they think is important for you to know about them as a company.
  • Forget about the dog-and-pony show. Too many salespeople and companies are eager to “strut their stuff,” says Konrath. “They need to back down and realize this is all about the customer. Customers primarily view most products and services as commodities. The way customers determine who they’re going to work with is the process that is used.” Konrath encourages salespeople to focus on asking how they can help customers achieve their goals instead of how they can convince customers that they are the best. “Use the meeting to show how you’re going to work with them, not how you’re going to sell to them,” she says.

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