The One Technique that Empowers You to Run a Great Sales Meeting
What’s the key to running a great sales meeting? What one technique makes a great meeting a more likely, rather than less likely, outcome for both sides?
At Sandler, we teach that success in this critical area lies in learning to propose a specific type of agreement before anything of consequence happens between the participants -- an agreement about what, exactly, is going to take place during the discussion that’s about to unfold. The act of proposing this agreement levels the psychological playing field between buyer and seller. Which is why this particular technique, known as the up-front contract, is such a game-changer.
Let’s start with a truth we hold to be self-evident: As professional salespeople we have both the right and the duty to establish equal business stature – a respectful, peer-to-peer working relationship – as quickly as possible. It is our responsibility to do this with every single prospective buyer with whom we interact. Regardless of their title, we are their peers. We are not their subordinates. We can only do business together effectively on a level playing field. We always want to be sure our mindset is that we are the CEO of whatever we are selling. The sooner both sides start acting in accordance with that idea, the better the discussion will go for everyone.
Yet consciously or unconsciously, buyers look for ways to maintain an uneven playing field, putting themselves in a superior position. Such an environment gives buyers leverage, power, and options. Many of them maintain that environment because they enjoy operating within it. It makes them feel better about themselves. But we cannot properly perform our job within those parameters. It’s impossible to
ask tough questions when you’ve taken on a subordinate role... and posing appropriate, tough questions is what being a professional salesperson is all about.
So, if we are serious about creating truth and clarity, serious about understanding what is going on in the other person’s world, serious about being professionals, we want to change the game. We want to stop acting as though we can consistently deliver value in a world where the buyer is calling the shots, up on a pedestal, and we are somewhere far below. We want to accept, in our own heart first, that pretending we can do our job properly as a supplicant is a failure of integrity on our part.
It’s a core part of our job description to create an adult-to-adult conversation between equals, and then lead that conversation with questions and third-party stories to uncover the truth. That’s the meeting we are responsible for leading. The single best way to lead it is to master the skill of setting and defending up-front contracts.
There are four key elements of an up-front contract. You will want to secure agreement on all four when you schedule your meeting, whether it is face-to-face or voice-to-voice, and then reconfirm all the relevant agreements just before the meeting itself begins. Doing this establishes (and re-establishes!) instant equal business stature.
The four elements are summarized below.
Purpose. Revisit why you’re having the discussion.
Time. Make sure that you both know the time, length, date, and location of the meeting. Allow enough time to cover all the necessary points. Clarify what communication platforms, if any, will be used during this time; confirm that all parties know (for instance) whether this is an in-person meeting, a conference call via phone lines, or a video conference.
Agenda. Understand the other person’s agenda and expectations and your own agenda and expectations. Each of you should know what the other person wants and expects to happen in the meeting. Be clear about the kind of information you will ask for. Make it clear that they can ask for information, too.
Outcome. What should happen at the end of the meeting? The buyer should be clear on what the next step is. They should also know that it’s okay to say “no.” The outcome may be that it doesn’t make sense to continue the process. You are better off knowing that sooner rather than later.
Let’s look at a simple example of how the up-front contract works.
Keiko, an insurance agent, is meeting with Catriona, a prospective client. Their appointment might begin with Keiko saying something like this:
Purpose: “Catriona, I appreciate you taking time to meet with me to discuss the insurance services we provide and whether we might be able to help you.”
Time: “When we spoke on the phone, we set aside forty-five minutes for this meeting, and I’m assuming that timeframe still works for you.” (Catriona responds.)
Agenda: “I know you mentioned in your email that you wanted to find out about A, B, and C. I want to use our time together today in the best possible way, and I was hoping to cover D and E. I would also like to get a better understanding of F and G.
Are there any other items you would like to add to the agenda today?” (Catriona responds.)
Outcome: “Great. Got it. So, this conversation will help us determine whether we might be a good fit for each other and whether it makes sense for us to keep talking. And I want to make it clear that if you feel there isn’t a fit, I will understand if you say ‘no.’ That’s why we’re here today, to figure that out.”
Are they both on the same page about what they’re trying to accomplish during the discussion? Yes.
Is Keiko in a good position now to have an adult-to-adult conversation that uncovers the truth? She certainly is. Has her up-front contract established equal business stature? It has.
There are lots of different ways for salespeople to establish equal business stature, but what we’ve just shared with you is the simplest, quickest, and most effective way to create a level playing field for any sales meeting.
In fact, people around the world have told us that the up-front contract is a career-changing, life-changing tool, for three reasons.
First, the simple act of setting this verbal contract at the beginning of a meeting or discussion immediately upgrades your attitude. It helps you to feel better about yourself and what you do for a living.
Second, it results in much better meetings and an exchange of much higher-quality information than meetings that don’t have an up-front contract.
And third, you can use the up-front contract in any number of settings, not just with prospective buyers. Entire organizations now operate with the up-front contract as a key element of both their internal and external organizational culture.
Practicing and mastering the critical sales skill of setting and defending this contract is what empowers you to get any meeting, any conversation, moving forward in an adult-to-adult, mutually respectful way. You initiated the discussion that establishes the up-front contract; you and the prospective buyer co-create it, which means you are equals. Of course, the meeting is more likely to go well!
As well as being one of Sandler’s most famous innovations, the up-front contract has become something of an “aha” moment for countless sales professionals over the years. If you have ever had difficulty at the outset of a meeting figuring out how to establish a solid, respectful relationship with a buyer, the up-front contract will provide an “aha” moment for you, too.
Our guest blog this week is courtesy of Arnold Berman and Sandler | TEM Associates, Inc. Information like this is available on a monthly basis on TEM's website www.tem.sandler.com and LinkedIn page https://www.linkedin.com/company/tem-associates/
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