The Fallacy of Making Appointments
Do you want to make a sale, or an appointment? Does an appointment create a ‘relationship‘ that will close the deal? Give you a higher probability of closing a sale? And how’s that working for you? Are you closing all the sales you deserve to close?
By seeking appointments with prospects with a ‘need’ who could buy your solution (a prospect is someone who WILL buy, not merely someone who COULD buy), you severely limit your ‘intro meetings’ to either those already seeking your solution (and competitors), or those you’re guessing might (might) be buyers. Indeed, what you determine a ‘sales qualified opportunity’ might be nothing more than a biased interpretation of a biased conversation that affords the opportunity to try to convince someone to buy; the odds are very high you’re wasting your time.
Maybe you’re not finding the right prospects. Maybe a qualified opportunity isn’t qualified. But the real problem is that by sorting for prospects with both a ‘need’ and a willingness to take an appointment, you’re severely restricting the playing field and most likely closing well under 5% of qualified leads. So something is awry. But by shifting your criteria, by seeking candidates who CAN buy, it’s possible to make appointments with buyers ABLE to buy.
APPOINTMENT SETTING IS COSTING YOU SALES
Right now you’re spending a lot of resource for a very low return, with a substandard ratio between seeking, and connecting with, initial conversations to the actual closing of a sale:
200 cold calls = 10 conversations = 1 meeting (.5%) Lots of meetings = unknown closes
I have a colleague who charges $5,000 per “C” level appointment; it takes his team 1500 cold calls to get an appointment, and again, he has no concrete numbers on how many sales are actually closed. (Sales Development groups consider themselves finished when they book appointments, and have no attachment to whether or not the sale closes.)
I believe that the way you’re going about seeking appointments is costing you sales.
- greatly narrowing your prospect field by those who seem to have a ‘need’ and ignoring those who are ‘able’ – those who should buy instead of those who will buy;
- potentially setting up appointments before the buyers have assembled the full Buying Decision Team (often unknown at the beginning, and certainly not all obvious) and haven’t yet fully defined their needs or gotten consensus (i.e. no way of knowing if they’re really buyers, hence the huge gap between appointments and closes);
- assuming that your bright shiny face and sterling personality is necessary to close a sale.
What makes ‘need’ the criteria anyway? What if your criteria were to discover those who CAN buy? By using your first interaction to facilitate a buyer’s ability to buy, by facilitating Buyer Readiness, you can find real buyers and get an appointment with all of the appropriate influencers and decision makers present on your first call.
WHY APPOINTMENTS SUCK
Have you ever even asked yourself why you believe it’s necessary to make an appointment as part of your sales process? Here’s why: because in 1937, in How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie suggested sellers needed to make appointments. That’s right, 1937. In 1937, without the internet, computers, good phone lines or travel, sellers probably didn’t go too far from their homes to sell.
What else are you doing from 1937? There’s now a completely different set of global, technology, capability givens: buyers have all the data they need at their fingertips; sellers needn’t be physically present to actually demonstrate a solution; it’s easy to sit at a desk and communicate anywhere in the world.
You can actually facilitate a buying decision with prospects who will buy, once they’ve got their ducks in a row, in less time than it takes to make an appointment. Here are the problems sellers face when their goal is to make an appointment with those with a ‘need’, and why you’re closing such a paltry percentage:
1. Meet prospects who won’t ever buy (99+ %): The only prospects who can offer an accurate description of needs have already assembled their completeBuying Decision Team, have completed their Pre-Sales (systems-based, not need-based) steps toward determining the range of best possible fixes for an agreed-upon problem, and understand the challenges they face when bringing in a new solution. Those not ready/able to buy may meet with you to gather data to present options to their teammates, learn about something interesting that they won’t ever buy, or compare against their current vendor, or or or.
2. Need is not the right criteria: Just because it seems someone has a need doesn’t make them ready or able to buy. They might end up with their old vendor, or not fixing the problem now, or facing too much internal conflict to make a change. But 80% of these folks will buy within 2 years. You can teach them how to buy now in the time it takes to make an appointment.
3. Double sale: By seeking an appointment, your first ‘sale’ is the appointment. In other words, you’re expunging real, potential buyers who might need your solution but didn’t want, or aren’t ready for, an appointment (but could easily be made ready).
4. Wasting resource: 1. Who (Yes: who?) would use their valuable time to learn something they can learn online? 2. You can use the exact same syllables, and less time/resource/effort to focus on the buying side and offer a service within an interaction that creates a real reason to meet. 3. You’re throwing away numbers of potential buyers because they say ‘NO’ to an appointment.
5. You’re one of many: You’re most likely not the only meeting they’re having, so you’re already in a (price) competition by the time you arrive. The odds are against you that you’re the only game in town.
6. Person meeting you is an unknown: You have no idea who, or what, the person who takes the meeting represents in re Buyer Readiness, regardless of their title. Is he using your data to get buy-in from his team to push his own agenda? Will she use your data to send to their current vendor? If there are only 1 or 2 people at the meeting, these folks are merely conduits, regardless of what they tell you. Not only are the odds good that the ‘needs’ you’re gathering aren’t accurate, the content you’re pitching may not be the most relevant data for their buying situation. Again, do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? Admit it: you have no understanding of the real reason this person has agreed to an appointment.
7. Buying Decision Team may not yet have defined the full scope of need: Has the full complement of Buying Decision Team members been assembled? Has everyone’s voice been considered and integrated, and the person you’re meeting with carry the full complement of problems/needs/change issues? If not, there is no defined, consensual ‘need’.
8. Person may not deliver your message appropriately: You are dependent upon this person to represent you to the Buying Decision Team, at the right time, in the right way. Will he explain your content accurately, at the most advantageous time? What will she unwittingly omit? Will he use your data to compare with your competition? Just because you managed to wangle an appointment doesn’t mean you know how to deliver the message appropriately for that person’s situation, or that person will know how to appropriately share your great content. Hint: you can never, ever know what’s going on behind closed doors.
9. Your message might not be heard: Without an accurate set of data culled from the fully assembled Buying Decision Team, you have no idea what this person is listening for in your meeting.
10. Your message might be inadequate: Are you discussing your solution according to your need to sell or their ability to bring in a new solution? Are you positioning your message to help them get consensus for a purchase they may not be set up to buy?
11. Information gathering/’understanding needs’ dubious: You have no idea what percentage of their Pre-Sales (change management) issues have been handled before the meeting, and cannot know their state of Buyer Readiness. The completeness of the Buying Decision Team, the state of change, and consensus, determine when/if a buyer buys; ‘need’ is irrelevant. When you’re only gathering data based on your assumptions/your need to sell, the data you gather will be flawed or incomplete. And your questions and listening will be biased by your own expectations and needs, missing important data. If you were doing a better job at this, your closing rates would be higher.
12. Neglecting opportunity to facilitate those not ready but able: By merely seeking an appointment, you’re ignoring buyers with real needs who merely need to complete their Pre-Sales change management work. Buyers cannot buy if a purchase will cause disruption that costs more than fixing the original problem.
Here’s a situation that happened to me years before Sales Development Consulting to find ‘sales qualified opportunities’ was a thing. It’s a funny example of how little we know when we make an appointment, and how costly our assumptions of ‘need’ can be.
When I lived in Taos, NM, I hired a sales professional in Albuquerque. While it was only 147 miles door to door, that trip was treacherous going up and down the Sangre de Christos Mountains in the winter and I hated the drive. One day my new hire Anna called to tell me she made an appointment for us to meet with senior folks in a local bank. Working with me she knew she wasn’t supposed to make appointments. “But they asked to see us!” she said, excitedly. “And they need sales training. They’re very excited to meet with you.” I bet her a lunch at my favorite Japanese restaurant in Albuquerque that she’d realize she shouldn’t have made an appointment, that I would do the best I could, but she’d surely owe me a lunch.
We entered a boardroom, with 2 seats for me and Anna on one side, and 3 men sitting on the other. According to their business cards, it was the Branch Manager, Assistant Branch Manager and the Training Director. At the start of the meeting, the men’s chairs were pretty much equidistant.
We shared a few pleasantries as I watched Miguel, the Training Director on the far left, move his seat, bit by bit, away from his colleagues. Within about 5 minutes, he was at least 2 feet away from his nearest seatmate. After the pleasantries, I asked:
SDM: How’s your current sales training working?
PAT: (Branch Manager): It’s fine.
SDM: Sooo how did you decide to see me today?
PAT: Well, Anna called and told me all about you (Again, something she is not supposed to do.) and I found it interesting. I thought it might be fun to just sit and talk about sales training.
SDM: So your sales training is merely fine, and you didn’t seek anyone out to find out how to make it better?
PAT: Well, it’s working well enough. [NOTE: Obviously, this wasn’t a buyer; he’s got nothing to buy.]
SDM: And what is it about sales training that you would hear from me that you’d find interesting? It’s sort of confusing me since you seem to be fine as you are.
PAT: (silence for about 3 very long minutes.) Oh, I don’t know, maybe we can talk about the sort of results banks might get from sales training?
SDM: Pat, I’m not sure why I’m here. Sounds like you’ve got training that’s working for you and you haven’t been seeking anything new. I’m confused. How ‘bout you call me if you decide you want to do something different and we can talk on the phone.
The visit lasted 10 minutes. Anna and I walked out, wordlessly got in the car, and she drove me to my Japanese restaurant. Cost: SDM – 6 hours of driving time. Anna – 3 hours of lost calling time to facilitate real buyers, plus $100 for lunch.
The next day, Pat called me.
PAT: I’d like to apologize for yesterday. That wasn’t fair to you. What you didn’t know was that Miguel, on the end, was the nephew of the owner of the bank. He designed all the sales training we’ve used for the last 10 years. It’s awful and our results are terrible. But politically, I couldn’t be the one to say we needed you. I hoped with you being there he’d be willing to discuss the problems and maybe seek a new solution. I kept giving him opportunities to say something. He never did.
A coda: I ran into Pat in Taos about 4 years later. Seemed they were still using the same sales training, getting the same bad results. Note: I could have spoken to Pat on the phone and avoided this meeting. They were never buyers, although they certainly had a ‘need’ I could fulfill.
I suggest you shift the focus to facilitate buying, and use appointments to sell once there is a real buying opportunity. The problem has never been in your solution, has it?
ENTER FIRST AS A FACILITATOR
We can use our early moments on an initial call to immediately begin facilitating Buyer Readiness. Here’s a story I often share. Sorry if you’ve read this from me before now, but the example bears repeating. When I trained a group of small business bankers at a large bank, their initial cold calls sought an appointment:
Banker: Hi. I’m John Smith and a small business banker at W bank. I’m going to be in your neighborhood next week to introduce folks to our new solutions for small businesses. Would you have time for me to come by Tuesday or Thursday afternoon? I’d come by to show you resources that would help your business grow.
The bankers got 10% agreement to make an appointment, and closed 2 in 11 months. 2% close.
During my training with these folks, we designed a Facilitative Question (a skill in Buying Facilitation®) that helped the prospects determine how they could achieve excellence and solve a problem from the first question in our interaction:
Banker: Hi. I’m John Smith and a small business banker at W bank and this is a sales call. How are you currently adding new resources to use with the bank you’re currently using, for those times your bank can’t give you all that you need?
The bankers got 37% agreement to make an appointment. The question caused those with a need realize their current bank wouldn’t be able to give them large loans, and they actually requested the appointments with their whole Buying Decision Team present. The bankers closed 29 for a 29% close in 3 months.
By starting with facilitating excellence, we highlighted an area we knew to be a problem, took into account our understanding of the small business owner’s historic relationships with their bankers, and quickly taught prospects how to ‘think forward’ to develop a plan to add resources without threatening their long-standing relationships. And we immediately, on our first question, taught almost 4x the number of prospects HOW to buy from us, and found truly qualified prospects who invited us to an appointment – with everyone present. It saved us from seeking out only those prospects who didn’t have banking relationships and expanded the field.
By beginning your interactions seeking to make an appointment with prospects with a ‘need’, you’re short-changing your sales. Change your criteria. Begin your sales calls by seeking how you can facilitate excellence. Using the model I designed for this process (Buying Facilitation®) my clients have been able to close 30% more than the folks using the same list in the control group, in half the time with ¼ the resources, and without going through the call/conversation/meeting process. And it’s certainly possible to develop scripts and email campaigns to accomplish this.
Design your own facilitation system. Just shift your goals and expectations for what a successful appointment would need to look like (i.e. those who can buy, and who invite the full Buying Decision Team to meet you) and enter each call to facilitate buying. You’ll not only stop wasting time and resource, but you’ll close a helluva lot more sales. Teach your prospects how to know what they need and how to get consensus – and close quickly. And in addition, you’ll be a servant leader Make money and make nice.
Sharon Drew Morgen is the author of the NYTimes Business Best seller Selling with Integrity and 7 books on helping buyers buy. She is also a change leader in Listening, and author of the Amazon best seller What? Did you really say what I think I heard? Sharon Drew is the developer of the Buying Facilitation® model that’s been taught to over 100,000 sales folks, coaches, leaders, and managers, globally. She trains, speaks, consults, and coaches how to achieve success with integrity and win/win collaboration. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.