Softening Up Sales (Issue 559)

In which we learn from brilliant event planners how to prepare and engage prospects and customers.

Your correspondent last week participated in two events, each for 450 people.

In the first, a company brought 450 people – a sales team for one line of business –  together.  The main sales objective was to communicate a message – “Let’s put the (still significantly painful) recent past behind us, build on our strengths, and launch ourselves forward with renewed vigor to reach our goals for the communities we serve, ourselves, and our  company.” Not an easy sale for this crowd.

Arriving team members were met at a specially constructed entrance, highlighted with spot lights, fog effects, pictures (think – arriving at the Academy Awards), and three burly security guys (who turned out to be senior managers, costumed so we could barely recognize them).

The first evening, amidst groaning tables of wonderful food in every direction, speaker after speaker gave personal witness to  associates’ heroic, selfless, unbelievably loyal and imaginative responses to take care of customers during an unexpected trauma.  Driving to their houses to make deliveries. Paying for clients’ gasoline with their own credit cards. Unbelievable, each story more fantastic than the last.

In the second event, a music conservatory brought together 450 interested, generous people in an ornate hotel Grand Ball Room. The sales objective was to raise SERIOUS money to support scholarship programs for its amazing students – an amount  of money I would never have believed possible.   The theme for the evening was “Vienna” – Viennese food  prepared by a “flown in for the occasion” Viennese Executive Chef,  specially chosen Austrian wines for each dinner course, a rolling slide show of spectacular Austrian scenes, all infused by music from some the best composers who lived or worked in Austria performed every twenty minutes or so by students at the school who have benefitted from scholarship support.   Amazing stories.  Amazing performances. Goose bumps frequently.

So…. (ahem).. How do these experiences shed light on our work-a-day sales activities?

1._ MAKE CLIENTS FEEL SPECIAL. In both meetings, great efforts were made to involve participants in a story: “You are a special group of people, and we are here for an important, worthwhile, noble purpose.”

Too often, we show up  to sales calls wanting to “get right down to business.”  Time is money.  Let’s get moving.

Yet, we could take just a few moments to admire our clients’ corporate missions or values, products, or people;  recognize the good works of the executives or owners we’re meeting; arrange lunch at a remarkable restaurant; or position the meeting as a particularly important moment.  Help the client feel feel special.  Help them recognize that we think they are special.

2._ INCLUDE FOOD.  The food at both events was appropriate and very tasty. People talk more freely over food. They connect more deeply over food. They relax while eating food.  Food sells.  Use it!

3._ REFRESH AND REFRESH THE VISION.  Often, in our sales calls or presentation meetings, we bog down in details and mechanics  during ‘death by PowerPoint’  and our clients lose the all-important emotional and visual connection to the outcome, the benefits of engaging us. “This,” we want them to hear, “…. THIS….can be the outcome of our work together.”

The sales team meeting organizers refresher the vision  through stories about associates heroic actions.  In the fund raiser, each musical performance seemed more fantastic and more unbelievable than the one before. Every twenty minutes, we could experience the reasons for contributing.

Refresh the vision frequently.

4._ ASK FOR WHAT WE WANT…REPEATEDLY.   In both cases, it was not so much “Always Be Closing” as it was “Frequently Invite Action.”  This can be subtle or extraordinarily overt.  In the sales team meeting, it was subtle: “Are you with me? Are you coming along? Are we going forward together?”   In the fund raiser, it was overt: “If you like what you are hearing tonight, please, be generous, help us fund  45 scholarships tonight.”   In both cases, it was asked multiple times  during the course of the meetings.

And, in both cases, they were successful.

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