Updated: Aug 27, 2019
“Sales? Me?” “I hate sales…” Ever heard or thought this? Even the most experienced sales people may tell you that not every meeting is a sales meeting, and as one of my favorite CEO’s said “I think in many (customer) meetings you don’t and you should not sell”
And yet, I still contend that every business meeting is a sales meeting. So let’s backtrack a moment and start with differentiating between a professional meeting and a business meeting.
I’ll start by claiming that every meeting with a customer should be looked at as a business meeting, even when discussing a professional issue – stay with me on this!
A professional meeting is relatively straight forward – whenever you discuss your profession, it’s a professional meeting. Even a brainstorming session can be considered a professional meeting. If you are engineers and discussing how to resolve an engineering problem, it’s a professional meeting. However, if you are an engineer, discussing an engineering problem with a customer, and you are representing a company that wants to sell to this customer – then it’s a business meeting—even though you are discussing your profession. Anyone in sales who has been to a customer meeting with a very technical engineer, who wants to tell the customer about every little bug or problem in the technical solutions, is probably nodding their head now in agreement. When that same engineer is at ‘home’ discussing technical issues with colleagues – it’s a professional meeting, but when he needs to get in-company prioritization on product development from another team and they are discussing resources it’s a business meeting.
Let’s take a look at some other examples of professional meetings and business meetings; If you are a singer and discussing the new vocals, arrangements, editing or mixing – it’s a professional meeting. A marketing team discussing best messages, a sales team discussing strategy, a graphic designer discussing design- all professional meetings.
It becomes a business meeting when you are meeting to discuss business, in this context business includes anything having to do with resources (human, physical, monetary) and approvals. In addition, all meetings with potential customers (or an existing customer that you want to eventually re-sell something to) should always be considered a business meeting.
Think about it.
If you are a singer, an author, or an artist and you are meeting with your agent to discuss, yes- your business, then it’s a business meeting. You want to “sell” your agent on the idea of representing you, getting you more exposure, lowering fees, better deals etc.. Ok – the agent is there to do the “selling”, but in the context of your meeting, you are trying to get that agent to do something different.
A job interview? No matter what side you are on, the prospective employer or employee – you are selling – your company or yourself. You both have an objective of having the other change an initial perspective (or strengthen it if it was positive to begin with) and take action.
When a doctor needs approval for a new process she wants to introduce into the hospital ward, it’s a business meeting and she needs to be prepared to sell her idea.
What happens at team meetings and internal meetings? If you need your colleagues to cooperate, prioritize your project, and your team members to buy into an idea or process then you need to influence them to take the desired action you want.
Let’s get back to my favorite CEO’s comment; “I think in many (customer) meetings you don’t and you should not sell”. I know that at every customer meeting he attended he was focused on the end result - creating a trusted partner relationship with the customer for extended repeat business and growth. I’m sure that at every customer meeting he wanted something to happen that would move him closer to his ultimate goal. This can be as basic as wanting to strengthen a relationship and create a more personal bond. Or getting information, changing a perception, educating, raising awareness, impressing - getting a grant or approval- passing an exam, introducing a new concept- securing a raise — and of course, getting an agreement to purchase something.
I call all of these sales meetings because one side wants to influence the other to make a change toward an ultimate business goal- that hopefully will be mutually beneficial.
Let’s assume we agree (just for a minute) that every business meeting is a sales meeting. How does this affect the way we do business?
Top sales people are always on the lookout for what can bring value to their customers. They do their best to get into their customers shoes, to explore ways they can create value. Yes, I agree, with my favorite CEO, you don’t necessarily “hard sell your product” in every meeting. In fact, you probably shouldn’t ever have to hard sell. But you do need to look at new ways to bring your customers valuable information that can help their business, new market trends, what competitors are doing, latest technology developments. You define the value based on your professional expertise.
Take for example the Head of a Development (HoD) at a company who wants to get their team to buy into working in a different mode that will demand an entire change in the way things were done up to now. Change is difficult. I assume we can agree on that. When the team is the customer whom you want to “buy into the new process”, then you are selling to them. The HoD will most likely have clearly defined objectives for each meeting that are tailored to answer the needs of their specific ‘customer’ as they probably won’t get full buy-in at one meeting. The initial meeting objective may be “ clarify vision and benefits of change, gather objections and answer as many objections as possible”. That is different from an objective of “presenting the benefits of the change and get buy- in”, or “present the benefits and the timeline for implementation”. It might be worthwhile to talk more about the vision and the long term benefits and be open to hearing objections and/or other ways to implement.
Easier said than done? Maybe. But once you start thinking in the mindset of customers, and how what you are saying (and ultimately what you want) will benefit them, you are already a giant step ahead of where you were before.
Perhaps, understanding “sales” in the context of bringing benefit to your customers will soften the blow to those who “hate sales”. We all have to sell – and more often than we even realize. My friend told me that she works in the municipality and doesn’t have to deal with budgets or go to big meetings so she never has to sell. Of course, she has to go to court as a professional witness – is it possible that she changes her messages when she thinks of her client (the judge) and what would be the most beneficial message for the judge to “buy-in”? Or when she needs to get her team to change priorities, accept that there are new regulations… etc.
If you manage people, are an employee or independent--you have to sell. If you are a spouse, parent or have been a child – you have experience selling.
Let’s embrace the word ‘Sales’ and reframe it - looking at the person across from you as your customer and thinking about how you can find the benefit for them in whatever it is that you want to achieve. If there is no benefit – perhaps you should modify whatever it is you want to sell to them.
Check out my book: Business Meetings That Work: 6 Steps to Increase Productivity