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The Center for Sales Strategy Blog

Get that First Appointment — Master Your Approach

first appointmentHave you ever felt like taking a “Wild Wild West” approach to securing your first appointment? Think about it… if only it were appropriate to ‘lasso’ your prospect, ‘tie him down’ and force him to stay engaged so that you may cordially introduce yourself, establish credibility and politely present your value proposition. Honestly, if you could just get his undivided attention for 5-minutes… you know he’ll like you, and you know he’ll be intrigued and perhaps even excited or anxious to learn more, right?

Personally, I have indeed toyed with the idea (more than once) of taking the Wild Wild West approach to securing that first appointment. Fortunately wisdom intervened, because I’m certain I would have been greatly misunderstood and most likely thrown in jail if I had decided to draw from my Texas ancestor’s tactics and put those thoughts into action! Needless to say, my understanding of acceptable social behavior and, well… modern law kept me from utilizing an Outlaw Josey Wales sales approach.

There is no doubt, getting that first appointment is critical.

In fact, it’s proven to be so critical that sales managers dedicate entire meetings, training sessions and workshops on topics like: cold calling, prospecting, warming up the cold call, etc., to arm their sales team with ideas, tactics, and processes to successfully secure more first appointments. Why…? Because it’s essentially your prospect agreeing to give you his undivided attention and granting you the permission to take the first step towards building a lasting relationship. He’s saying he’s interested in you, he believes you honestly care about his business, and that you might be a valuable ally to help him grow, protect or manage his business.  

The first appointment is arguably the most difficult step in the sales process, especially for the salespeople of our time. So in today’s world, how do we get our prospect’s attention, keep them engaged long enough to establish credibility, and successfully secure the critical first appointment?

Simple. Just let them know that you honestly care about their business, present them with a strong value proposition that speaks to a specific valid business reason, and get them to believe that you and your company have the capability to positively impact their business. Take a deep breath… because if I could insert a sound effect here, you would hear burning rubber coming to a screeching halt. Like an Indy car running top speed when the brakes suddenly slam and force the car to spin-out erratically leaving skid marks all over the track! YIKES… how can you accomplish all of that when it’s nearly impossible to get them to respond to your introductory e-mail, take your call, or meet you in the lobby for a brief moment?        

If you’re having difficulty securing the first appointment, you’re not alone!

Assuming that you’re calling on prospects who meet your ideal customer profile, following are a few tips that have worked for some of our clients:

Plan Your Approach

Keep in mind, your approach does not have to be a singular tactic. In fact, given the way we all consume information in today’s technology-driven world, I would suggest multiple touch points to engage your prospect before asking for the appointment. 

Here’s one example outlining a sequence of touch points:

  1. Find their profile on LinkedIn, then look for commonalities that give reason for an introduction i.e. connections, groups, books, past jobs, work experience, school, etc. Then, send them an e-mail letting them know you’d like to add them to you network on LinkedIn. I would suggest personalizing this message rather than using the ‘standard’ LinkedIn verbiage.

  2. After they accept your request to add them to your network, send them a simple “thank-you for accepting your request” e-mail and mention that you’ve looked over their profile (this is normal… that’s why it’s there) and that you think it might make sense to work together, encourage them to review your profile and perhaps your company’s website.

  3. When they respond, suggest a short dialog lasting no longer than 30-minutes over the phone to discuss the opportunity. Try to nail down a date and time here.

  4. During your initial call, give them a 30,000 foot overview of why you think it might make sense to work together, and make certain that your reasons are all about their business… NOT how great your company is. Definitely spend some time preparing for this call. Your conversation will determine whether or not the relationship moves forward.

  5. Respect their time and make good on your promise of a 30-minute call, ask to continue the conversation in person (or another call if you’re not local) so that you may learn more about their business and provide insight into how you and your company can positively impact his business.   

Name Drop

Get a referral from a trusted resource and reference them in your initial e-mail or phone call. Or even better, get your referral partner to send an introductory e-mail or personally call him/her to let them know you’re going to be reaching out, and that talking to you or meeting with you would be a valuable use of their time. There is nothing more powerful than a personal referral!

Compliment and Enlighten

In your initial e-mail or phone call, communicate from a positive perspective. You’ve done your homework before calling them, so compliment them on a few specific things you’ve learned or noticed about their business or industry, and offer a few specific examples of how you’ve helped businesses just like theirs. Reference real opportunities for growth, efficiency, etc. 

All About Them

As briefly mentioned above, make certain your valid business reason is ALL ABOUT THEM, not how great your company is or how much better you are than their current provider. For instance, instead of saying: “My company developed and exclusively offers the most efficient data storage and protection solutions, and I’d like the opportunity to tell you more about them,”  try, “I understand the growing demand for data protection, and like most organizations, I know you’re faced with rising costs, reduced budgets, and concerns about staying eco-friendly… I would like to talk to you about a solution that promises to maximize your resources, streamline current systems and increase your bottom line.” If it’s about their benefit rather than your superiority, the conversation will go further and you will build credibility as you position yourself as a valuable partner and ally that can help their business. 

Don’t Give Up

All of us are busy and are constantly being pulled in multiple directions. Think of your own schedule. If your first few attempts are unanswered, continue to politely follow-up with relevant information, ideas, and observances that will help you establish credibility and position yourself as an intelligent resource. Modify your ‘approach plan’ and keep going. For example, if e-mails aren’t getting through, try sending a hand written letter.

You can’t ‘force’ the first appointment; you have to ‘earn’ it! When someone gives you their time, that means you’ve established a level of credibility and they believe you might actually offer solutions that could benefit their business. Your approach to solidify the first appointment must keep your prospects engaged and it must be loaded with insight and intellect to help you establish credibility along the way.  

At The Center for Sales Strategy, we teach our clients specific tactics to do that very thing. Following is an actual response from one of our client’s prospects after she had purposefully approached him several times for an appointment:

“Thank you for keeping an eye on me, and for your time and attention to our success. That's the difference between a partner and a vendor. I look forward to speaking with you.”

I’m not sure if I could have scripted it better. That is an incredible example of what happens when you master your approach. 

Sales Accelerator
Editor's Note: This was originally published on March 2, 2012, and has been updated.
Topics: setting expectations Sales prospecting