Richard Smith is the Head of Sales for conversation intelligence and coaching platform - Refract. He is passionate about developing sales people, analyzing the science behind sales conversations, and changing the broken culture and mindset towards sales coaching.
As part of any Sales 101 course, we are forever being told about the importance of ‘getting next steps’. Getting next steps from our prospect to assist with our sales process, is almost too obvious that for me to be writing an article on this topic, may appear to be patronizing to the naked eye.
Yet incredibly, time and time again, it is a key aspect of a sales conversation which is sadly missing.
And often the concept is so incredibly simple. So incredibly simple that I bore myself as I harp on about it so much. The simple concept of ‘getting the next meeting’.
I say this to my own sales team all the time. Don’t, whatever you do, get to the end of your call with a prospect without trying to schedule the next meeting. And when I say ‘scheduling’, I mean ‘scheduling’ by agreeing a specific time/date with your prospect, which is solidified by you sending an invite which falls into their calendar. This achieves a number of things:
- It formalizes the next stage in your discussions with the prospect. There is a shared agreement that the next time you will be talking will be at a time that you are both available, but importantly - HAPPY to speak with each other again.
- It enables you to receive some level of confirmation from your prospect, that you have delivered enough value thus far that they are happy to move further forward with you.
- It provides you with a gauge as to their level of urgency, but also the steps that THEY need to take in order for them to ensure your next conversation is meaningful. For example, if they want that next conversation to be in two days time rather than two weeks, it gives you a good sense that they are looking to move quickly and/or they probably have less internal processes or stakeholders to work through.
Scheduling the next meeting also achieves something else, and possibly more powerful than any of the above pointers. The very fact that you have solidified (with a calendar invite) your next conversation, provides a mental reminder to your prospect that they now have a milestone to work towards. The blocked out time on their schedule which they are probably looking at two or three times a day, encourages them to take the necessary steps internally, give additional thought to your discussions, or bring other stakeholders into the buying opportunity. Salespeople often forget that the buying process is not just happening in the allotted time when we are speaking with prospects. The majority of that buying process is happening behind the closed doors of our buyers. Scheduling the next meeting, is the gentle nudge to ensure the cogs of that buying process are moving round.
On the flip side, what gets in the way of sales people ‘scheduling the next meeting’? Typically, I’ve found it comes down to these three key things:
- The salesperson is not personally convinced that the prospect is serious or sees true value in their product, and thus is dubious to ask for next steps by scheduling the next meeting
- The prospect is reluctant to be held down to a specific time/date to speak next and so gives an instruction along the lines of ‘if you haven’t heard from me by the end of the month, get in touch’. Typically this suggests a lack of urgency and thus a prospect who is yet to see the true value in what the sales person is selling.
- The sales person lacks conviction and confidence to pin their prospect down to a specific time/date to speak next, and so verbally agrees a rough timescale which lacks any type of specificity e.g. ‘I’ll try and reach out to you next Wednesday to see where you are up to’. The likelihood is, this results in the sales person chasing the prospect and appearing desperate.
The reason why attempting to properly schedule the next meeting, is key to addressing the first two examples, is because it gives us as sales people the confirmation that the prospect is not yet ready to be taken to the next stage of the sales process. If we think our prospects don’t see value in what we are selling, then the sooner we realize this, the sooner we can do something about it. Here’s how I handled this scenario just this past week at the end of a discovery call I had with a prospect:
Me: ‘It feels like Mr Prospect, that we’ve identified three key areas we can help you with based on our conversation today. Typically the next stage in conversations, would be for us to schedule a specific time on our calendars where I can give you a demo of our platform, and I can show you exactly how we can solve these three challenges. Would it make sense to book in a time to do this next week?’
Prospect: ‘Actually, I’ve got quite a lot of things happening at the moment. Maybe try reaching out early September and we can maybe look to set-up a time then’.
Me: ‘Being completely candid with you Mr Prospect, when I get to the end of these conversations and people are reluctant to firm up a time with me to speak next, it suggest that they are yet to be convinced about how we can really help them. If so, that's absolutely fine as we aren’t going to be a fit for everyone, but is this the case with yourself’?
The result of the conversation was that the prospect informed me they did struggle to see how we could help them, and that they were overall reluctant to bring technology into their business at this point in time. I essentially qualified them out of my pipeline, and saved myself all of the wasted time I would have invested chasing them blindly, and instead enabled me to concentrate on better fit prospects.
This wouldn’t have been possible had I not looked to ‘schedule the next meeting’. Simple stuff. But oh so powerful.