Don’t Pounce On Prospects

A common concern that I hear from clients very often these days is “We’re not converting opportunities the way we should be”.

In the same vein, clients tell me that they and their colleagues often have meetings with good quality prospects which they have felt very positive about following an hour or more of friendly, constructive discussion. Such meetings often conclude with lots of positive words from the prospect all the way out of the meeting room, through reception and to the office building lifts or exit.

We’ve all experienced it: “That went really well, I reckon there’s lots of opportunity, especially with that XYZ project” or “He was eating out of our hands!” or “We can definitely dislodge their current advisors”. Invariably a summary report of the meeting is recounted back at the office, high expectations are set and an opportunity is recorded in the CRM system (which of course is included in the firm’s total running pipeline value).

And yet after a couple of weeks there isn’t the response to the follow up that was expected – no response to emails sent and a deafening silence to voicemails left following the seemingly fantastic meeting. Or if there is a response, it is muted, non-committal and basically nothing transpires. The high expectations start to diminish.

So what’s going on?

Much of the answer is in what we call “The Pounce”.

When I drill down into the specific circumstances of meetings of this kind that have not met expectations, in many cases it becomes evident that auto-pilot has been engaged very quickly, and out pops “We can do that!” or “We have a client with the exact same issue so we have plenty of relevant experience” or “Let me tell you how we would solve that problem for you”.

Unsurprisingly this can happen very early in a first meeting because the prospect often has a problem that is very much ‘front of mind’ and so he/she mentions it fairly soon into a discussion, maybe even immediately.

So there’s an opportunity hanging in the air……..

that must be grabbed!

immediately!

before it disappears!

before I miss it!

 

And why not?

Because it’s a MISTAKE. By pouncing on an opportunity too early we may as well kiss goodbye to the possibility of working with the prospect right there and then. It’s as simple as that.

But why? Surely we are there to solve problems and start providing the solution that the prospect requires?

That is true, but looking to solve problems as soon as possible may appear to be good business, but it is not necessarily good business development and the proof is in the pudding – in the subsequent emails that elicit no reply and the voice messages not being returned, in the end manifested by diminished expectations and “We’re not converting opportunities the way we should be”.

By immediately pouncing on an opportunity that has presented itself, all thought of getting to know the prospect’s world goes out the window and from then on it’s “TELLING AND SELLING”.

Telling the prospect how brilliant we are and selling the features of our company, its capabilities and services. So the meeting can very quickly become completely focused on a solution to the prospect’s issue and therefore all about “me, me, me!”

This mistake can be described as “solutionising” and many of our clients admit to moving into solutionising mode as soon as they hear something that they believe they can help with. It’s pretty much an automatic response.

The problem is that solutionising means that all the energy switches from our potential new client to us. They stop talking and therefore giving important information about their world, and we start talking instead.

It’s important to understand that the prospect won’t stop you – they want to have their problem solved, of course they do, so they may actively encourage a discussion. Or they might just sit back, say lovely, positive things occasionally but actually be thinking about the mountain of work sitting on their desk, or their next meeting for which they must not be late. Or worse still: “These people aren’t really interested in my world”.

It’s only a couple of days later, after they have had time to reflect on the fact that the whole meeting was about you, your firm, your expertise etc. that they then start thinking that all you were interested in was the fees involved in being engaged…….and then the follow up emails don’t get a response, and they don’t call back.

What’s the alternative? Well in many ways it’s simple:

Bite the tongue

Make a note of the problem/opportunity, jot it down in your notebook, and then don’t even think about it – because if you do then you will more than likely have stopped listening, and will certainly have stopped listening actively.

Later, when it’s appropriate, perhaps when summarising what you have gathered from your prospect during the course of the meeting so far, refer to the issue by saying “I’d very much like to discuss XYZ that you mentioned earlier, but before doing so I’d really like to understand the wider context……” In other words, demonstrate an interest in your potential new client’s world – and mean it. Failure to do so will result in wasted emails and telephone calls later, and lots of frustration too!

So rather than come up with solutions at the first opportunity, we would be better off understanding the context of the issue in depth i.e. “What happens if this isn’t solved?”, “What will be the impact on your people, business, future?” Drill down and around the issue so that you really understand it, and at the same time demonstrate your understanding.

By doing this and by holding back on proposing the solution until the prospect is ready to buy and become a new client, we are much more likely to present a solution that is a better, indeed a perfect fit to their requirements and to their “world”.

Disengaging our auto-pilot, our need to tell the prospect how knowledgeable we are and how good we are at solving the “exact same problem you have Mr Smith”………is harder than it may sound, simply because it’s an automatic response so our tendency to engage our auto-pilot is VERY strong, and habits like solutionising are somewhat hard wired.

But with practice, some clear thinking and confidence, disengaging our auto-pilot can be done – by biting our tongue, making a note of the opportunity, drawing a star in our notepad, and then at the appropriate time later in the meeting, going back to it. Or better still, using the opportunity to create the motivation (meaning energy from the prospect, not from ourselves) for a follow up meeting: “I’d really like to discuss XYZ in more depth, let’s meet again in a week or so and between now and then I’ll be able to give the subject some thought, how does that sound?”

And guess what? The prospect will hear four main things:

1. You are a really good listener

2. You are really interested in getting to know my world

3. You are not just selling to me

4. You are thorough and professional

The prospect will more than likely agree to the proposal of a follow up meeting because there is value in it for them, it’s worth their investment of time. And the follow up meeting will provide another opportunity for you to learn more about their world, as well as a deeper understanding of their problem for which you may have a solution.

If the follow up meeting is planned in advance and properly managed, your prospect will develop more trust in you as you demonstrate interest and understanding. In time, they will reveal lots more about their world, to the extent that, when they are ready, you may learn about much bigger opportunities – which dwarf the original opportunity which wasn’t pounced on!

This requires appropriate skills and behaviours, and most of all it requires time – but would we rather invest say, a year in developing a relationship with a valuable long term client of the future, or 45 minutes in meeting a prospect who will then not respond to emails and calls because we pounced on an opportunity and started telling and selling?

 

 

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