The Horse’s Mouth

By Heather Baldwin

Great selling is all about understanding the customer’s point of view – what his pain points are, how much money he wants to spend to address those problems, where the company is headed in the next year. So at your next sales meeting, get that view straight from the horse’s mouth by inviting a customer in to talk about his business. It’s a meeting, says James Dance, author of Get the Most Out of Sales Meetings, that will be “truly life-changing” if you stick to the following guidelines.

The most important part of this exercise is finding the right speaker. Look for a customer who started with nothing and worked his way gradually into a successful, profitable business. Above all, says Dance, “Look for someone who will talk; someone who will tell you nitty-gritty numbers; someone who will talk freely about gross revenue, cost of goods, expenses, profit, etc.” The goal here is for salespeople to understand just how tough it is to make a business profitable and why buyers spend so much time crunching numbers before they plunk down $5,000 for, a newer, better water-filtration system, for instance. “You want your people to understand what goes through a CEO’s or owner’s mind when a salesperson waltzes in and asks for a $3,000 or $30,000 or $300,000 order,” says Dance.

Three other imperatives: First, plan to hold the meeting in a nice hotel with a good meal to show your appreciation for your guest’s willingness to open up and share details about his company. Second, be certain to tell the customer exactly what you’re looking for from him and guarantee confidentiality. And finally, ensure your sales team is prepared to ask intelligent, penetrating questions. Business owners generally love to talk about their business and a well-chosen speaker likely will be happy to answer thoughtful, probing questions.

In the end, remind your team that the reason for this exercise is “for them to learn to bring in better, brighter ideas and proposals that address real needs with real solutions, resulting in better sales and better customer relations.” They’ll walk out of that meeting seeing their clients’ businesses in a whole new light.