#lemlist Guest Post, written by Owen Baker, a content marketer for Voila Norbert

No matter what niche you’re in, the best way to guarantee growth is to convert more leads into paying customers. If you can’t consistently do this, you quickly won’t have a business at all.

Converting leads is just as important to freelancers as blue-chip corporations. Reputation, revenue, and ultimately a company’s success is simply a consequence of sales.

Today, we’ll be looking at this process in detail, so you can start converting more leads. We’ll begin after the initial contact stage. That is, this guide picks up after you’ve used an email finder to get their address and prospected your leads using cold emails.

So, let’s assume you’ve got a sales meeting scheduled. What happens next?

What to do before your sales meeting

Now, you aren’t going to walk into your sales meeting unprepared. At least, I hope you weren’t. In all areas of life, the best way to increase your chances of success is by doing the right preparation.

You already know what you want out of the meeting. The bridge you need to gap is what your potential client needs and wants. This is called client-side research. As we’ll see, some of these research techniques have useful side-effects which can help your chances of converting.

Get your lead to complete a task

This is possibly the best tip I can offer in terms of preparing for a sales meeting. On top of research value, having your leads complete tasks in advance of your meeting helps improve their engagement with the whole process.

The benefit of this is that it creates a sense that the project is already underway, if only subconsciously. This is a powerful technique since it reduces the mental leap needed for them to sign on the dotted line.

Additionally, this is great for the client’s image of you. Specifically, it projects a great deal of competence and professionalism.

But what kind of tasks are we talking about?

To some extent, this depends on what kind of business you’re pitching. All the same, there are a few tasks anyone can utilize.

In particular, anyone can ask their leads to fill in a survey before entering the meeting room. This should be no more than 15 questions, which aim to flesh out the client’s needs, expectations, and budget.

Other tasks will be more specific to the service you provide. For instance, an accountant will probably want their leads to provide access to their financial reporting. Similarly, when working with SEO clients, I like to get access to their Google Search Console and Analytics.

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Actionable information, like a review of Google Search Console, for example, allows you to establish your expertise. You can review the data in a meeting together and show the kind of value you can offer. This kind of access is particularly useful for feeding back to clients on their strategy.

Moreover, you can use this information to develop your approach. There have been numerous instances where I’ve been able to offer a better SEO strategy to a client before signing a contract, thanks to my Search Console access.

The knowledge you gain from a questionnaire is equally valuable. Information regarding things like budget and targets is valuable to know before you enter the meeting. For example, the ability to align your service with their company's objectives makes for a convincing business proposition.

You might feel that this is all a bit abstract. Here’s an example of how I use this knowledge in a meeting.

  • Your target is to generate a 25% growth in sales in the first quarter. Here’s how I’d help you achieve this target…

It’s not rocket science. However, when discussing a proposal in a meeting, your pitch is a lot more persuasive.

Research the company you're pitching

You’ll also need a firm understanding of the company you’re pitching. As a quick way to frame this, think of the research you’d do ahead of a job interview. This is every bit as important in a sales setting.

The majority of information you’ll need can be found online, either on the client’s site or on LinkedIn.

First off, you’ll want to work out the size of the company, both in terms of turnover and number of staff. LinkedIn can give you an idea of the number of employees. To get an idea of their turnover, you can generally use local business registries and press clippings.

You may be wondering why you’d want to know a lead’s turnover when they’ve already given you their budget in your survey.

While you shouldn’t try and use this information to try and squeeze extra cash out of leads, it’s nonetheless helpful to know, since it helps you understand the value you bring to a company.

You should look into the company’s business development strategy. This is important as it will give you plenty of talking points to show why you’re excited to work together, and how you’d be a good fit. Again, it's about aligning your service with their targets.

The importance of researching your prospect

Once you know the company inside out, your next step is to do a bit of snooping on the person you'll be meeting. Again, you can use LinkedIn to get an idea of their interests and values.

You may also want to reach out to mutual acquaintances for advice at this stage.

If you do have a mutual acquaintance, you don’t need a full psychological profile on the person you are meeting. There are a few basic questions that it’s helpful if you can answer. They include;

  • Does the prospect like to be schmoozed, or are they only concerned with the cold hard facts?
  • Is the prospect a big-picture person, or are they all about the nitty-gritty details
  • Does the client want to develop a friendly relationship, or do they prefer to keep things professional and leave work behind at 5pm?
  • Is the prospect easily persuaded, or do they need to see a large amount of evidence to be convinced of anything?

Of course, you might not have a mutual acquaintance. That’s fine. At a minimum, you should spend 20 minutes before a meeting researching the person. I recommend you do two things:

  • Go on LinkedIn and research their work history and where they went to University. This will provide you with some work-related points of conversation.
  • Google their name and see if you can find an interview by them. Alternatively, review their social media channels. This can give you insights on there hobbies and interests.

So much about preparation. Let’s look at how to conduct a sales meeting.

What to do in your sales meeting

This is a good time to talk about how not to run a sales meeting. In particular, you want to avoid giving a lecture to your prospective clients. For one thing, this will be incredibly boring, which will hurt your chances of converting.

For another, it makes a pretty bad impression. If you do all the talking, you'll come across as someone who doesn't listen. This can imply you don't take the time to learn about their needs.

Instead, you want to create a lot of back and forth. In fact, if your prospect is doing most of the talking, then things are going well. For a European business meeting, the conversation flow typically follows the same format:

  • Start with general chit chat about work and a bit of getting to know you
  • Discuss the project brief and what the client is looking for
  • Provide your feedback on what you can offer
  • End the meeting with more general chit chat about work and hobbies

At each stage of the meeting, your job is to ask the general opening questions and then follow up questions. Keep in mind, not every business meeting will go smoothly. Often you’ll get along great with the person you are meeting, but sometimes you won’t. If that happens, you should call on a colleague to manage your next meeting.

With that covered, let's take a look at how to manage a meeting.

The importance of defining your USP

Your priority in a sales meeting is to communicate your unique selling proposition or USP. This is what makes you stand out against the competition. In other words, it's why someone would want to buy from you and not somebody else.

The best way to figure out your USP is to talk to your existing customers. They can often explain why they chose your service and what value you've brought to their business. You can get this information through things like a customer satisfaction survey.

Now then, how should you go about communicating this to your potential client?

Since your goal is to avoid lecturing people, you'll probably also want to exercise a little subtly here too. It's fine to have an elevator pitch ready, but you should avoid going in guns ablazin' with 'you should buy my services because…'

Instead, aim to work this in key points into your conversation.

My approach to sales is simple. One half of my USP is that I’m direct. I don’t do BS and half-truths. I’m open about what I have delivered in the past, and what I can deliver for them.

The second half of my USP is that I sell SEO services, but I’m not an SEO agency that charges the world but fails to deliver. Both parts of this message resonate with people I’m pitching to, which is an essential part of a USP.

The first half of my USP is something that comes through the entire meeting. The second part is something I reiterate at most three times in a pitch.

Focus on value & ROI

Another way to improve your chances of making a sale is emphasizing the gains your prospect will make from your service, relative to their outlay. As they say, money makes the world go round.

This is especially important when it comes to talking about pricing. At some point, your prospect is going to pop the question. They will ask you how much all of this is going to cost.

When this happens, you can make use of a trick called relativity bias. That is, we pay more attention to the information we hear first.

Anytime your prospect enquires about pricing, start your answer with how much value they can expect from your service, and then tell them how much they’ll have to pay to receive this.

Use sales props as conversation starters

Props are a great way to get a conversation flowing.

If you are selling a product, then you should have access to it at the meeting. After all, showing it is magnitudes more effective than talking about it.

Props are just as effective when selling a service. For example, a cost versus value graph can help your lead visualize the benefits they’ll get from working with you.

Find commonalities

I mentioned earlier the importance of researching the person you will meet prior to your meeting. There's a good reason for this; people like to buy from people they get along with.

Before the meeting, try to identify commonalities. These could be shared experiences, for example, going to the same university, or living in the same city for a while. These commonalities could form talking points during the meeting.

During the meeting, pay attention to what excites a person. If they enjoy talking about a particular topic, then ask questions about the subject. You might end up talking about surfing or chat about old cars. What you are trying to do is establish personal connections, which will help you make the sale.

End your meeting with clear next steps

The last part of a sales meeting is arguably the most important as far as making a sale goes. Even if you don’t walk out with a signed contract, both parties should leave the meeting room with a clear set of expectations.

If nothing else, you should set an appointment for your next chat.

Ideally, the reason for this meeting will be to share your business proposal. You should share your proposal in a meeting as it allows you to answer questions, and resolve any points of confusion. The people you are speaking to can also suggest amendments to your pitch.

This pitch review process is important when working with large firms. You need to get multiple stakeholders to sign off on a contract, and it’s rare that every decision maker is in the room with you.

Finally, after the meeting send a professional email. Thank the people you met for their time. You can do this using a standard follow-up email template.

How to close more sales

We’ve covered quite a lot in this guide on how to conduct business meetings. We looked at what to do before, during, and after a business meeting. Below is a brief summary of what we covered.

What to do before your meeting

A large part of the success of your business meeting will happen before the event.

One of the most important things you should do is get the person/ people you are meeting to complete a questionnaire. The questionnaire should be no more than 15 questions and help you understand:

  • What does the company want to achieve
  • What are the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) they use to define success
  • How much money do they have for this project

Having an answer to these questions before a meeting will help you better prepare your pitch.  

In addition to this, spend at least 30 minutes to an hour researching the company and the person you will meet. The better you prepare, the more professional you will appear.

What to do in a meeting

If you’ve researched the person you are meeting, you should have plenty of things to discuss. Meanwhile, the questionnaire you gave will help ensure your pitch aligns with their business objectives.

In general, try to spend more time asking questions than answering them. When you do speak about business, focus on the value you will offer. You might focus on things like your ability to deliver results, or the financial gains they will get from your service.

If you get stuck in a meeting, fall back on sales props. Things like an ROI graph can form a talking point. Alternatively, a Slideshare presentation can provide structure to your discussion.

Make sure you end your meeting with a date in the calendar for a future discussion. Ideally, you want the people you are meeting to ask you to submit a pitch. If this happens, make sure to arrange a meeting to discuss your proposal.

Bottom line

Converting leads into clients is one of the hardest things about sales. In this guide, I’ve tried to share actionable tips you can use to improve your conversion rate. These tips were learned the hard way through a process of trial and error.

The knowledge I shared is only useful if you act on it. Now it’s your turn. Apply these tips to your business meetings to improve your conversion rate. Let me know how you fare — best of luck.