Imagine you need a new pair of headphones. You walk into a store (cause you’re a little old-fashioned like that) and start trying out a few pairs.

Then a spotty teenager comes sidling over and asks if they can help. Chances are, you say something like “I’m just browsing, thanks” and pray that they wander off to annoy someone else.

Why do we do this?

Well, it’s because we don’t trust that the salesperson has our best interests at heart. But more than that – we simply don’t like being sold to.

And that’s the number one mistake agency owners make when they nab that meeting with a potential client. They go straight into pitch mode and try to show the prospect why their agency is the obvious choice.

More often than not, that approach ends with fed-up prospects and not a deal in sight.

So what can you do instead? How can you make sure meetings with prospects head in the right direction? Well read on and we’ll tell you exactly that…

Do Your Homework

We hate to sound like a pushy parent, but if you want to make these meetings successful, then you need to do some homework.

This might sound obvious, but it’s often the first thing busy agency owners miss. Get it right, and it’s a great way to show initiative, make sure your meeting is actually relevant, and ultimately make the best first impression.

Check out this quote from the Head of Marketing at a global travel company:

“It’s clear when agencies haven’t done their homework. Show me you know me and keep it relevant.”

That’s really our point in a nutshell. Everything you say to your prospect needs to be relevant to them.

So start by digging deep into the brand. What do they sell? Have they worked with other agencies like yours? If so, what were those projects like? You should even take a look at corporate reports to see where their business focus lies.

You also need to look outside of the brand you’re meeting with. Learn about their sector and any trends that might affect them. Check out their competitors, and figure out where your brand fits into the overall ecosystem. Are they the market leaders, or are they the up-and-comers?

Of course, you’re also meeting an actual person (or people). So find out more about them. What’s their career path like so far, and where are they heading? What kind of things do they engage with? A little LinkedIn stalking can go a long, long way.

Once you’ve done your research, develop a point of view about your prospect. Show you care, that you’re passionate about their brand, and that’ll shine through in your meeting. You’ll be able to start adding value right away, focusing on their specific needs and challenges. That’ll go a long way towards closing the deal.

Build trust

Trust is arguably the most important thing when it comes to selling. We buy from people that we trust.

Here’s a really helpful formula from The Trusted Advisor book:

(Credibility + Intimacy + Reliability) / Self-Interest

Your credibility is your work. Does it show you’ve got the skills to pay the bills?

Intimacy is how much chemistry you have with your prospect. More on that in a bit.

Reliability is doing what you say you will. If you tell someone you’ll send a deck over on Friday afternoon, you’d better send it on Friday afternoon.

And finally, all of that gets undone if you show too much self-interest – only caring about what you have to gain or how much money you want, instead of what the prospect actually needs.

People buy from people they trust.

The best way to build chemistry with your prospect is simple: talk to them. Have a conversation with them. Ask open-ended questions. Get them to open up. Not only does this give you shed-loads of useful information, but it helps strengthen your relationship.

Finally, be disarmingly honest. If you say things that aren’t in your best interest – for example, “Actually, maybe we aren’t the right agency for you” – then you’d be amazed how much your prospect will warm to you.

Set an agenda

Having a set plan of action when it comes to new business meetings helps keep everyone on track. It’s more efficient and it sets expectations.

We’ve shamelessly stolen a meeting agenda format from Hyper Island.

The mnemonic to remember is: “I DO ART”.

I – Intention; what’s the purpose of this meeting?

DO – Desired outcomes; what should be achieved?

A – Agenda; how is the meeting structured?

R – Roles; who’s present, who’s facilitating?

T – Time; how long is the meeting?

Get all those set in stone beforehand and the meeting will go as smoothly as possible.

Listen properly

Listening is an art. Often people think they’re listening when what they’re really doing is keeping one ear on the conversation while they drift off and daydream about what they’re having for dinner.

Alternatively, some agency owners think the best approach is to talk, talk, talk. They prepare a long, detailed creds deck and then speak for the full hour. That’s a surefire way to turn your prospect off.

Instead, you need to ask probing questions. Open-ended questions are a great way to start the conversation, and then you can listen and follow-up with more specific queries you might have.

The idea here is to get to a place where you fully understand where they are currently, where they want to get to, and how you might fill that gap.

Listening properly means doing what the experts call “third-level listening”. This is going deeper than surface-level listening. It means picking up on body language, intonation, and other subtle cues. In short, it means paying full attention to what’s being said.

This third-level listening is the only way you can truly understand what your prospect needs. And if you can do that, then you’re in a perfect position to help them.

Agree next steps

Never end the meeting in a position where nobody really knows what’s going to happen next. This is how exciting opportunities fizzle out into nothingness.

At the end of the meeting, you should always define the next steps. It might be a second meeting with other decision-makers, or it might be sending over more information. Whatever it is, get it down in writing and make sure everyone knows what they need to do.

If you’ve followed the “I DO ART” process we mentioned earlier, then you should already know the desired outcomes for the meeting. That makes setting next steps much more natural.

When dates are involved, get people to commit there and then. It only takes a couple of minutes to pull out your calendars and find a time that works for everyone. Get it booked in now, strike while the iron’s hot.

We’ll meet again

We know that meetings with prospects can be a little intimidating at times. And often that fear can cause us to make silly mistakes and mess the whole thing up.

But if you remember the five points we shared here, then there’s really no reason to be afraid.

Just remember to always:

• Do your homework

• Build trust

• Set an agenda

• Listen properly

• Agree next steps

Do all that, and your meetings will go as smoothly as some jazz music and a nice glass of merlot. And smoother meetings means more conversions. It might seem like more effort now, but it ultimately means you’ll attend fewer meetings whilst winning more work. Sounds like a win-win.