Here are the things to keep in mind:
1. Framing the Discussion before the “Discussion” – Prior to a formal meeting or discussion, schedule time with the person requesting your product or services. “Thanks so much for your call, Ms. Prospect. I appreciate your getting in touch regarding our services. In order to make the upcoming discussion with our team valuable for you, I’ll be asking some preliminary questions now so we can come prepared with information specific to you and your business. How’s that sound?”
Always be sure to get permission before moving to the value questions. Without the proper framing, jumping right to the questions can feel intrusive, impersonal and like a data collection process for your prospects and clients.
2. Asking The Value Questions – What do they need? Why did they contact you? What do they expect? How are things working for them today? What are their immediate concerns? What do they see as long-term requirements? What’s their budget? What else do they want you to know so you can make this an effective connection for everyone involved?
Yes, it may feel like 20 questions, but it’s imperative you understand the requester’s needs. Your goal for each preliminary framing discussion should be having your prospect or client say, “Wow, what a great question. I never thought of that.” It helps them know you get what they need (even if they don’t know what they need yet.)
3. Rallying Internal Troops Prior to Scheduled Discussion – Don’t throw anyone under the bus! If you’ve invited team members to participate in your discussion with a prospect or client, make sure you all are on the same page with knowing specific roles in the discussion. This means having a preliminary meeting with them as well to frame the upcoming scheduled meeting. “We’ll be having a discussion with a prospective client. I’ll be leading the meeting and would like you to participate as well because of your expertise. This is how I see your role… This is when I’ll ask for your participation… I’ll handle timing and budget questions… Please don’t interject or offer things without my guidance or direct request in the meeting.”
It’s imperative you set the stage with your team prior to the scheduled discussion. Nothing is worse for a client or prospect to experience than “in the moment” lack of coordination or communication from a company whose product or service they’re considering purchasing. It can make or break the opportunity.
4. Framing, Framing, Framing in Scheduled Discussions – There are elements that should be a natural part of your discussion: greeting the participants on your call, providing introductions for all who are there, clarifying your role and the roles of the participants.
Then, based on the preliminary discussion that you had with the client/prospect, give an overview of what you’re going to talk about. Ask the client if there’s anything else they’d like to add. (If there is, you’ll need to quickly determine if that can be “rolled” into this conversation or if it’s better served at another time.) You can address that by saying, “Thanks, Ms. Prospect. I’d like to save those points until the end to determine if they’ve been addressed in today’s talk or if we need to schedule additional time later this week. Does that work for you?” Talk about what you agreed to and when you’ve finished, give a brief overview of everything you’ve talked about.
5. Corralling When Necessary – If at any time it feels like things are starting to get off track, pull the conversation back in by getting folks back to the scheduled topic or gently steering them back to their appropriate roles. If there’s something that’s better discussed “offline”, let them know you’ll link back with them after the discussion to do the necessary follow-up. Your role is to make this a productive process for everyone – and you’re in charge.
6. Wrapping It Up – When you’re done with the discussion, always end with an action item. That may be scheduling a follow-up session or a commitment from you to get the paperwork to your new client with a promise of a phone call on Tuesday at 4:00 p.m. CT to button things up. Make sure you stay connected; let them know you’ll be adding them to your mailing list.
7. Asking That Last Important Question – And before saying goodbye, be sure to ask the client/prospect if there’s anything else you need to know. We were once able to make a $70,000 sale by asking our client, “Is there anything else you’d like to share with us today?” You may get a great return for asking a similar three-second question.
Remember… this is an opportunity for current and future clients to see your work style in action and can be a determining factor for them staying with or hiring you. They’ll appreciate you’ve done the legwork prior to the discussion and that you value their time–and your own–to make sure the discussion is productive. Let them experience your framing process; it will let them see you understand their bigger picture.
Lori J. Clark is the Founder and Lead Administrator of Clark VA Solutions, a virtual administrative consulting practice delivering services based on a strong, 25-year professional foundation of education, skills and experience. Clark VA Solutions serves C- and executive-level professionals and entrepreneurs with writing services, corporate/business transcription, administrative planning and brainstorming/structuring service offerings for success. See http://clarkvasolutions.com for more information.