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Consultative Selling: Making Client Meeting Debriefs Work

An often-cited research study states that 11 million business meetings occur in the United States each day.  Few sales teams regularly reconvene to “research” their client meetings afterwards— despite the obvious potential benefits.  This week’s blog discusses the how-to of meeting debriefs: “easy does it!”

Try to debrief all your client meetings, regardless of how well you think they went.  Many sales teams only hold “post mortems” after disappointing meetings, e.g., a rejected sales proposal or an unresolved disagreement.  Such debriefs are usually unpleasant, getting caught up in analyzing the negatives for their own sake.  A productive meeting debrief is a kind of group coaching session, in which past events are treated as springboards to better performance next time.  Identifying and reinforcing what we did right— which is often less obvious than what we did wrong— can offer as much or more future benefit than merely trying not to repeat a recent mistake.

Discuss meeting process, not just content.  It’s natural to analyze rationalizing the costs, or how we showcased our product’s most distinctive feature, i.e., the content of the meeting.  What about the process we used in managing the dialog or presenting our recommendations?  Did we get client confirmation that he/she was comfortable with our agenda?  Did we structure our presentation to show how we’ll meet the client’s needs, stated and implied?  Did we help the client elaborate on her/his objections to our proposal, or leap to its defense before he/she even finished talking?  All these are consultative selling process issues, and they’re as likely to win or lose a sale as the substance of the transaction, itself.

  • Note that we can’t debrief process well if we weren’t sensitive to the client’s reactions in the first place.  How did he/she respond to, react to (or seem indifferent to) each thing we were saying and doing?  An enthusiastic salesperson may unintentionally talk at the client rather than with the client— and miss subtle cues that signal acceptance or doubt, understanding or confusion, etc.

The debriefing meeting’s process, itself, is important, too.   It should be simple, informal, and forward-looking; again, this is coaching for improved future performance.  Two questions are all we need to structure our discussion:  “What went well “(and how do we keep doing that?) and “What could we do better next time?”  Focus on what happened, not on who did it.  Some sales teams like to make a “Keep/Stop/Start” list to catalog their thoughts and prompt tangible next steps.  These techniques make our debrief meetings non-threatening, more open and honest, and lead to more creative problem solving.

Regardless of how our most recent client meeting turned out, it can be a stepping stone to more successful future meetings if we’re willing to review it in a relaxed, supportive, forward-looking, process-sensitive, team-oriented debriefing session.  There’s a lot of leverage in this powerful tool.

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