A meeting gone wild might seem like a bad thing — but it’s actually one of my favorite topics.
Because after thousands upon thousands of sales meetings, an off track meeting is a great way to mix things up. They’re inevitable, but they also challenge us as sales people, and ensure that our skills are constantly evolving.
Everyone involved in a meeting is going to have a predetermined agenda for how they want the conversation to play out. As the sales professional, it’s your responsibility to bring those agendas together, and ultimately, make sure it stays on the track you need it to be on to achieve your specific goals.
Newbie sales people tend to use the excuse, “but it turned into a conversation”, to explain why the goals of a meeting were not accomplished. But conversations are for beers, not for meetings.
Remember the following four details and you will maintain control, even when a meeting gets a little out of hand.
1. Have a trusted sales meeting process
Spectacular achievement is always preceded by unspectacular preparation. – Robert Schuller
Why do pilots spend hundreds of hours in simulators and have a pre-take off, in air, and landing routine? Because preparation plus process equal the most ideal outcome for most scenarios in life — including sales meetings.
If you don’t have a process and clear plan for every meeting, it is easy to get lost or sidetracked by distractions. The process is there as a roadmap to keep you on track, but also as a guide to get you back on it. It is pretty astonishing how many sales reps I’ve heard give multiple demos for the same product and each time they have a different process.
If you’re constantly redefining your process, then you’re never perfecting one, and a meeting can easily be taken out of your hands.
If you do have a trusty process, you’ll know exactly where to return to when your meeting gets nutty.
2. Deflect until later
Just because someone asks a question, doesn’t mean you have to answer it immediately. You can always acknowledge that they’ve brought up a great point, and that you’ll get to it later in the presentation. It can be easy to feel pressured to answer right away, especially when the question surrounds a concern that you need to address. But allowing the prospect to dictate the direction of the conversation with questions can distract everyone and take up valuable time.
If someone says jump, have the confidence to say, “thank you, I will jump when we get to that point.”
3. Be OK with not knowing
In the same vein of deflecting until later in the meeting, it’s also ok to not have all the answers.
Sales people should know the answers to most questions their prospects will have, but there are always going to be certain topics that we don’t have the authority or expertise to comment on. This is why we have teams behind us.
It’s perfectly OK to say “Great question — I’ll work with my data team to see what we have and then we can set up a quick call in a few days to discuss.” When you know who to turn to for topics that are out of your reach, and clearly state how and when you’ll address that question, you can easily keep moving without losing your prospect’s confidence.
4. Remember your goals for the meeting
If you have a process and are confident in your deflect and defer skills, then you should also make sure that you’re constantly checking in with your goals to maintain your intended direction. I always write down 3-4 top goals for each meeting and keep them handy as I work through the agenda as a constant reminder to hit them all. This way I ensure that I do not leave a meeting without accomplishing what I came to do.
There are some times when I’ll bail on a goal, based on the tone of a meeting, or a new piece of unexpected information becoming available. But most times, it will be critical to hit your goals, no matter what your prospect surprises you with.
The number one way to keep a meeting on track is to expect that most meetings will momentarily be off track — and be prepared to handle the detour with confidence and authority. Whether you need to deter a question until later, deflect a question for outside input, or remind yourself of the goals and processes you’ve developed when topics start to stray, there are always opportunities to wrangle that runaway meeting if you’ve properly prepared.