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Sales Meeting Minute

Agree to ask questions


I think, said Janet to herself, that I just figured out a solution to my problem of letting the prospect run the meeting.

With that thought in mind, she got out of her car and walked into the office building. Her first face-to-face with Harry Whitland, the CEO of Whitland & Sons Furniture Factory, has been rather easy to arrange. One of her existing clients, at her suggestion, had arranged for the appointment. Nothing like asking for a referral, thought Janet as she was led into Harry Whitland's office.

"Mr. Whitland," began Janet, "I appreciate your taking Gabrielle Deprey's suggestion and meeting with me."

"Ah," responded Harry, looking up towards the ceiling for a second, "Gabrielle and I go back a long way... I've tried my best over the years to hire her away but she's always telling me that we'd fight tooth and nail if we were in the same company."

"Why would that be?" asked Janet, thinking to herself that this meeting was going just like she wanted.

"Not that it would matter, but Gabrielle has an incredibly strong personality and very definite opinions about running a business. The problem, you see," Harry said, looking at Janet, "is that so do I." He concluded and stared at her.

Janet decided that she had nothing to lose at this moment. Either she wimped out and let Harry Whitland start running things or she would keep control. Taking a deep mental breath, she remembered her question.

"I appreciate that you also have a similar personality and definite opinions about running a business. If we could agree on one thing at this point, I think we could both get something out of this meeting." Janet knew that was a statement, but she wanted to see if he would interpret it as a question.

Harry looked at Janet for a moment; the puzzled expression lasted a few seconds and then faded to one of curiosity. "What might that be?"

"Gabrielle thought that you and I might be able to work some business. Neither of us know at this moment. Can we agree to ask each other questions to find out?"

He thought for a moment and smiled. "Sure," he said, "you start."


Janet got up-front agreement on how the meeting would be conducted.


How rare is a salesperson who can comfortably approach an initial meeting with a prospect, knowing that there may be no business? Doesn't this go against what every salesperson is supposed to believe, that every prospect can be a close if you are good enough to beat down the objections?

Janet could have taken the easy road, the one that leads to the mindless "salesperson now dumps information". She could have started in on what she had just sold Gabrielle, assuming that would be of interest to Harry. Or, if she sensed that was not working, she could have pulled back and talked in general about the wide range of products she represented. And if neither of those appealed to her, she could have asked Harry the question he had heard from every salesperson, "What do you need?"

Of course, what Harry would have heard with that question is, "What can I sell you today?"

Instead, Janet got Harry to agree on how the meeting was going to be held. Both of them would be answering questions. Nothing unusual? Actually it is. Rarely does a prospect ever expect to answer any question other than "Will you buy it today?" Janet is now free to ask as many questions as she needs to find out whatever she needs to know.


New way to prospect

Frustrated with prospect calls but want new business? If you don't have a process for these calls, perhaps now is the time to adopt one that works...

Does your typical prospecting phone calls sounds something like this?

"We've helped our clients (X, Y, and Z) to deliver (so-and-so benefit) with our (such-and-such brand product/service), which has (so-and so feature). I'd love to meet with you for just a few minutes next week to show you exactly what we've done for those clients. How's Tuesday at 11:00 a.m.? Are you free then?"

I'm not sure if you noticed or not, but the only question in the salesperson's verbal vomit is focused on what he or she wants... the meeting. Why do salespeople think the prospect cares about what the salesperson wants?

Bad cold calls are typically structured around a script with lists of features and benefits, which leads into a direct request from the salesperson for an appointment. There are also some cute, but commonly known turnaround techniques the salesperson is supposed to memorize.

This old approach to prospecting calls is ineffective for any number of reasons, perhaps the most important of which is that it does not support a real conversation between business peers. It's basically a fire-hose that you turn on and point at the person who answers the phone. You keep up the pressure until the person either hangs up or submits by agreeing to a meeting they really don't want to attend. The ratios associated with these calls are generally abysmal, and that's not surprising.

Fortunately, there is a better way to prospect by phone... but it requires moving beyond the familiar feature-and-benefit-dump, and it challenges you to engage in a true conversation before you ask for a slot on the calendar.

To initially stimulate prospects' interest and engage them in conversation during a prospecting call or in any other setting, you must be able to make them aware of and focus their attention on a meaningful and relevant challenge they face - a goal they are attempting to achieve, a problem they are attempting to solve, or an important issue they have yet to recognize.

The problem or goal should be one that is efficiently, effectively, and uniquely addressed by your product or service.

This conversation typically begins with a statement and a question from the salesperson's side. The following is a statement and question for a company that sells turnkey, one-step solvent recycling equipment:

"Several manufacturers in your industry have told us that due to the new compliance regulations, not only have the costs associated with the storage and disposal of used solvents nearly doubled, but so has the paperwork. How does that compare to your experiences?"

Now you're not unloading a fire-hose at the other person. You're asking an intelligent business question - and waiting to hear what kind of answer you receive.

In order to ask meaningful, relevant, and timely questions, you must not only be thoroughly knowledgeable about your product or service, but also about your prospects' and customers' industry trends, market conditions, competitive positioning, and regulatory requirements - anything that may affect how, when, where, or with whom they can do business.

The more you understand the landscape on which your prospects and customers do business, the better able you will be to identify opportunities to serve them. Thus, the more successful your prospecting conversations will be.

Many salespeople fall into the feature-and-benefit-dump pattern during the prospecting call simply because it's what they're most familiar with. They don't feel like doing the research. Considering the ease with which you can do an Internet search to discover information about the companies you target, their executives, their industries, and their markets, there is really no excuse for not initiating a conversation between peers about a prospect's likely business problem.

The element you use to connect during an initial conversation with a prospect doesn't have to relate to a unique circumstance or event (such as new compliance regulations). It can relate to the means for increasing efficiencies, revenues, and profits, or decreasing inefficiencies and expenses.

Forget about features and benefits. Build your prospecting calls around relevant, appropriate questions that connect to some pain that you can remove from the prospect's world. Then listen.  

Your prospecting ratios will improve dramatically.

Are you prepared?

All too frequently, sales people schedule appointments and then forget about them until the day before the scheduled dates.  Do you? Is preparation a last minute activity often consisting of nothing more than a quick review of the notes from the original phone conversations when the appointments were scheduled…and perhaps a review of the prospects’ web sites, advertising, or marketing materials?


Can you answer the following questions about your next prospect appointment?

  • What are the first three questions you’ll ask the prospect after you say, “Hello”?
  • What questions will you ask to create rapport and get to know the prospect?
  • What questions will you ask to explore the prospect’s need and hone in on the underlying reasons for or events that precipitated the need?
  • What commitment(s) will you ask for if there is a fit between what the prospect needs and what you can provide?

If you haven’t identified and rehearsed the questions you’ll need to ask to start the meeting, explore the prospect’s requirements, qualify the opportunity, and systematically move the meeting to an appropriate conclusion, then you’re NOT prepared.


Copyright 2015 Sandler Training and Insight Sales Consulting Inc. All rights reserved.

John Glennon is the owner of Insight Sales Consulting Inc, the authorized Sandler Training Licensee for the Interior of British Columbia. He can be reached at [email protected], toll free at 1-866-645-2047 or visit


Active listening

Has this ever happened to you? You had an initial meeting with a prospect. You asked that prospect what seemed to be all the right questions. You had what felt to you like a good conversation, and based on that conversation, you scheduled the next meeting. You sat down at your computer. You prepared a proposal…

…which bombed.

There are a lot of possible reasons for that outcome, but today, consider this possibility: You weren’t listening actively.

If that’s the case, you might have missed important elements of what the prospect really wanted to say. As a result, your proposal might have been missing essential components.

What’s tricky about this is that you may have thought you were listening, and you might even have written down interesting, accurate notes reflecting what the other person said during your meeting. But listening actively is not the same as waiting patiently for your turn to speak!

Here’s a process that will help you to listen actively during your next discussion with a prospect or client.


1.  Recognize the real goal of all your communication.

When we communicate, we have an innate need to be understood and acknowledged. That means step one is letting your prospect or customer know that he has been heard and understood! If you skip this step, your sales call is likely to go off track, no matter how good your ideas are.

2.  Send subtle messages that say, “I hear you, I’m paying attention,” as the other person speaks.

When you are engaged in a conversation, how do you let the other party know that you are listening and understand what he or she is saying? You can acknowledge the person speaking and signify your understanding by simply nodding your head or saying something like, “I see," “OK,” or “that makes sense,” each time he makes a point. This sounds like a basic, common-sense step, but it’s something most salespeople haven’t mastered.

3.  Before making points of your own, restate key content to prove you were really listening and really do understand what was said.

Active listening is the process of reflecting back to the speaker the message you heard in order to confirm or correct your understanding. That is accomplished by summarizing the speaker’s message and asking for confirmation or, if needed, clarification. Active listening not only facilitates effective communication, but it also enhances rapport.

Here’s an example of Step 3 in action:

Prospect: Minimizing equipment down time is our primary goal. When we have to take equipment off line for maintenance, it does more than just disrupt the production schedule. Raw material inventories start to back up at our warehouse facilities, and I have warehouse managers complaining. And, if the line is down for any length of time, our ability to fill orders is negatively impacted, and then I have the VP of Sales breathing down my neck.

Salesperson: So, your primary goal is to minimize equipment down time so you don’t disrupt the production schedule and negatively impact your ability to fill orders. That will stop the warehouse managers from complaining about inventory backups and also keep the VP of Sales from breathing down your neck. Did I miss anything?


Notice that your summary may incorporate the speaker’s exact phrases and statements, or you can paraphrase them.

If you follow these three simple steps – understand the true goal of your communication, send the right subtle “I’m listening” signals as the other person is speaking, and restate key content to prove you really were listening – you’ll have better conversations, gather high-quality information, and make better recommendations. Last but certainly not least, you’ll improve your closing ratio!


Copyright 2015 Sandler Training and Insight Sales Consulting Inc. All rights reserved.

John Glennon is the owner of Insight Sales Consulting Inc, the authorized Sandler Training Licensee for the Interior of British Columbia. He can be reached at [email protected], toll free at 1-866-645-2047 or visit


Read more Sales Meeting Minute articles


About the Author

John Glennon is an authorized licensee of Sandler TrainingSM in the Interior of British Columbia.

John is an accomplished sales person and manager with over 17 years sales and sales management experience. Beginning in sales in 1990 as a sales representative, he progressed to territory manager, sales manager, division manager and national sales and marketing manager roles throughout his career.

In 1997, John became a student of the Sandler Selling System. This introduction changed his sales career and over time propelled John and his career to new heights.

Successful in accelerating growth through strategic leadership, John knows firsthand the value of a sales training approach that follows a learning philosophy of ongoing reinforcement. He is experienced in driving the behaviours, attitudes and techniques required of an effective sales team.

Sandler Training is offered on a regular basis from their Kelowna, BC training center and through innovative distance learning programs to the rest of the BC Interior.

[email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet presents its columns "as is" and does not warrant the contents.

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