AWS Startups Blog

More Effective Sales Meetings (Startup Founder Sales Series, Part 8)

If there is one thing that we all universally agree on, it is that we hate meetings. Except for professional meeting organizers that is. By some estimates, there are between 36 and 56 million meetings every day in the United States, adding up to $70 and $283 billion USD in lost productivity per year.

These meetings also include sales meetings. When sales meetings are mentioned, most people think of those long, drawn out product pitches where lots of overly optimistic promises about the wonders the product are made. Subsequently, most of those initial meetings never result in a second meeting.

As a founder of a B2B startup struggling to book these meetings, it is frustrating to experience getting ghosted. This is when all communication ceases between two parties. For salespeople, this is a common occurrence, which you may have also experienced when reaching out to investors.

Ghosting feels rude, especially after speaking with a prospect who seemed genuinely interested. We expect that if we put in the time to setup a meeting with someone, they will reciprocate and let us know if our solution is not a fit.

Often times though, the fault lies with us. This is the biggest stumbling block faced by startup founders when they first begin selling. The best strategy against ghosting is better qualifying prospects. The second best strategy is to manage meetings more consistently and competently.

The first lesson of meetings is that there needs to be an outcome. We tend to focus on the number of meetings booked, the seniority of decision makers that attend, and the names of well-known companies on the calendar. None of these matter however if there is no second meeting. Getting the next meeting comes down to this one truth:

“The majority of meetings should be discussions that lead to decisions.”
– Patrick Lencioni

Getting meetings with prospects is great. Startups don’t grow based on meetings though. The objective is to book meetings that result in definable outcomes.

The second lesson is that sales meetings are not all about what you want. There are many perspectives and each person in a meeting has different expectations. A meeting therefore an exercise in successfully navigating these expectations, summed up by this quote:

“Every sales conversation with a prospect is a negotiation.”

We think of negotiation as the point when price and contract terms are discussed. However, every time you speak with a prospect, you make a series of mini-agreements that allows the sale to progress. With that in mind, use this seven step framework to help you make the most of your meetings:

  • Establish Meeting Goals — What does every participant in the meeting expect? Most meetings fall flat because too little consideration is given to what the prospect cares about. For example, demos that race to show every feature rather than fostering a discussion of business outcomes. You have three clues as to what your prospect cares about:
    • The content in the message your prospect responded to. If you refer back to your Motivation Matrix, you should know what statement initiated a response.
    • The responses to question “what are three things you are looking to get out of this meeting” when setting up a meeting. Note that prospects may not be forthcoming with information, but it is important to ask and get a response.
    • The reestablishment of meeting goals and adjust if necessary. Never just launch straight into a demo or pitch.
  • Prepare Open Ended Questions — Questions provide insights into what your prospect most cares about. Good questions begin with “How” or “What”, as in “if you did X, how would that effect Y” or “What is the goal behind X”. These questions will help guide the meeting and focus the discussing on the prospect’s situation.
  • Listening with Focus — Open ended questions foster discussion with your prospect and among their team. Equally important is deeply listening to what is said in the meeting. Avoid the urge to interrupt the prospect or to think of how to respond as the prospect is speaking.
  • Summarize the Situation — Ensure that your prospect agrees with your understanding of the current situation. This is why listening is so critical, otherwise you may miss important clues in positioning your solution. If the prospect does not agree with your summary, pause to discuss.
  • Anticipate the Blockers — A good demo or presentation will generate questions. This is the opportunity to address issues that may derail the sale. However, do not simply answer the question and move on! End every response with an open ended question that ties back to the meeting goals. For example, if a question comes up about an obscure feature, respond by asking if users are asking for the feature and if it is a priority for the needs just outlined.
  • Setup Actionable Ending — Most meetings end with loose commitments like “we’ll call you” or “we need to take it to our team”, which often results in ghosting. Use the STAR technique to create definable and actionable next steps. By securing next steps using STAR, there is less possibility of the next meeting falling through the cracks because now there is ownership and commitment by everyone.
    • Specific — Follow up has specific people involved and item(s) to be discussed
    • Timeframe — Setting a hard date is best, but a committed timeframe is OK
    • Action — Work items needed to prepare before the next meeting or call
    • Result — Specific outcomes expected from the agreed to actions
  • Send Follow Up Recap – One of the biggest mistakes in sales is lack of follow up. Send an email no later than a day after the meeting outlining the key discussion points and next steps agreed to at the end of the meeting. This recap build accountability and provides an opportunity for clarification if there was any miscommunication.

What if a prospect still goes cold? This is unavoidable since situations can change unexpectedly and your prospect may feel embarrassed. If after 3 or 4 attempts to get a response go unanswered, send a “break up” email that gives your prospect a way to politely disengage.

A “break up” email is short and to the point. State that you did not hear back, assume that “now is not the right time”, and will stop following up. Then close by inviting your prospect to reach out when the problem originally discussed becomes a priority again. Most founders will get a response at this point.

Over time, if you improve your qualification skills and use the meeting framework above, you will start to see better success in sustaining sales opportunities with prospects. The next step is to build upon these initial meetings to develop internal support for your solution and ensure your efforts lead to a signed deal, which is the topic for my next post.

Mark Birch

Mark Birch

Mark is a community builder, software entrepreneur, business development expert, and startup advisor. He currently works at AWS as a Principal Startup Advocate advising founders and sharing the stories of how startups across Asia-Pacific successfully build and scale their startups on AWS. Previously, Mark founded the Enterprise Sales Forum, a global community of 25,000 B2B sales professionals, and DEV.BIZ.OPS, a newsletter and blog. Mark was also with Stack Overflow to help launch and commercialize their Enterprise Q&A platform and then led efforts to expand business in APAC working with C-level executives to help them understand how to build internal tech communities in order to improve software delivery performance. Before that he launched an HR tech startup, invested in numerous B2B tech companies and worked at a diverse group of leading technology companies including Oracle, E.piphany, and Siebel.