Getting the First Meeting

YOUR MARKETING HAS resulted in a stream of interest from prospective clients. The phone is ringing off the hook. The switchboard is jammed with requests for meetings. The first available time on your calendar is two weeks from Wednesday. As great as this may sound, it doesn’t happen. It’s not unrealistic to imagine someone attending your luncheon seminar coming up to you afterwards and saying “I’m interested in learning more about this, can we get together?” It’s also possible you receive a response from a contact marketing email from someone wanting to meet once they return from their business trip. These do occur – but for most of us, this is not enough to meet our business development goals. More is needed. Your marketing may have been proactive, but it is still your responsibility – not the client’s - to take the next step. You have to pick up the phone, make the call and ask for the appointment. The simple fact is that most professionals have a mental image of calling prospects, and it’s not positive: hang-ups, cold calling, intrusion, voice mail... Not to mention the challenges of using the phone to make an appointment: navigating through the gatekeeper, making sure they can take the call, dealing with lack of interest… Combine these and it’s no wonder we come up with thousands of excuses not to make the call - all ending with “….I’ll do it tomorrow”. Unfortunately, tomorrow never comes. By understanding the principles of making a telephone call to get an appointment, and applying some thought, planning and simple practice, most of these problems (and excuses) can be minimised, if not eliminated completely.

Imagine it’s Tuesday evening and you’re about to go home. Before leaving, you think about the calls you are going to make the next day. When should you make those calls – lunchtime, ten to eleven, mid-afternoon? People are rarely in their office over lunch. Meetings are held throughout the workday. Conferences are scheduled at extreme hours. The fact is - there is no perfect time to call. People’s schedules change daily. However, try using the time before 9 am or after 6 pm since many senior people start the workday early and finish the late. Very often this time is spent at their desk. It may also be easier to get through to them since secretaries tend not to work the extreme hours of their bosses.

But wait, if a senior manager is in his office at eight in the morning he’s using this time to carry out work free of interruption. Therefore the telephone call will be an intrusion. Two answers – one serious, the other tongue-in-cheek. First always check to ensure that you are not interrupting anything critical. Second, perhaps there will be a more convenient time to interrupt the person in the middle of the day when they are in a board meeting. A senior manager has a telephone on their desk for a reason. By definition, the telephone is an interruption. Most calls received are not anticipated. Senior managers go to work to achieve things, to improve their business. Your job is to help them do this. If you offer true value, your call won’t be a waste of their time. You have to believe this.

Here are some tips to help you in securing an appointment over the phone.

Tip 1: Keep it brief. Your call has one objective – to get a meeting. It’s not to launch into your sales presentation, uncover their needs or explain what you do. Keep the call less than five minutes. The likelihood of success in gaining an appointment is in inverse proportion to the length of time spent talking with the client.

Tip 2: Speak distinctly. Make it easy for the other person to listen - talk slowly, minimize the ‘ums’ and most of all be succinct. The best way to do this is plan what you want to say. The conversation should be somewhere between ‘sounding scripted’ and ‘playing it by ear’.

Tip 3: Smile. All of us prefer to speak to someone who is happy rather than someone who is sour. The tone of your voice reflects the expression on your face. A smile will be transmitted clearly and understood by the listener.

Tip 4: Sound enthusiastic and alert. Sit up straight. Move your hands. Try standing. This will increase your voice projection and make you feel more confident.

Tip 5: Project an assertive image. When asking to be put through to a prospect, simply say “Victor Lee please, this is Keith William from Antrom”. The tone of your voice should imply that he or she is expecting your call. Avoid words like ‘perhaps’, ‘possibly’ or ‘maybe’. A hesitant voice will certainly result in the person not being available to take your call.

Tip 6: Use the other person’s name. Don’t insert the prospect name at the beginning of every sentence, but people like to hear their own name. It creates familiarity. Use it occasionally.

Tip 7: Ensure the other person can take the call. “Do you have a minute to talk?” You can lose nothing by demonstrating consideration and courtesy. If they can’t take the call, be sure to ask when it would be a convenient time to call back.

Tip 8: Talk about results. To get someone to meet with you, the person must believe there is value to be had. Refer to the benefits you create: cost savings, improved efficiency, reduced risk…

Tip 9: Keep a file. For everyone you call, there are two pieces of information that you need - the name of the person’s secretary and the gist of previous contact with the person (telephone calls, seminar invites, emails, etc…).

Tip 10: Don’t procrastinate. Turn off your email, get a cup of coffee, close your office door, turn off the mobile phone. Excuses will always be present. Make a list of people you’re going to call, then do it.

Keep in mind that the telephone call is just another step in an on-going marketing process. If you don’t get the appointment, the rest of the marketing process has to continue. Stay in contact with the person. But first, you have to make the call.



Gain interest first Most people follow a predictable pattern to the first 15 seconds of a call. “Mr. Lee, this is Keith William from Antrom is this a good time to talk?” Chances are the response will be “I’m in a meeting” or “I’m busy, can you call back”. What did you expect? Unless you’re Richard Branson, you gave them no compelling reason to spend the next five minutes of their time on the phone with you. After introducing yourself, immediately gain the interest of the listener – tell them who referred you, make it relevant to them, state a benefit.

Ask for the meeting It doesn’t matter how you ask for a commitment to a meeting, just be sure to ask. Don’t leave a long pause assuming the client will make the connection and suggest you get together. Ask in a way which you are most comfortable. The tone and voice is as important as the words.

The ‘fob-offs’ I want you to see one of my employees. You’re wasting your time. Tell me about it now. I’m too busy. Accept that you will get resistance, and have a plan how to deal with it. If you hear “send me your brochure’, consider something like “I would be pleased to send it, however, brochures by nature tend to be general, what is required are specific answers to your specific situation. The best way to achieve this would be a meeting to discuss your priorities…” Or if they say “you’re too expensive”, consider responding with “Most of our work is done for long-established clients. The major reason is that they believe they get a good return on their investment. A short discussion would establish whether we can bring the same value to your organisation.” Make a list of the objections you receive. If you didn’t handle it well, make sure you learn from it before your next call.

The first email An email or letter should always precede the first call. It’s not always possible, but it should make the call easier. The prospective client may not read it, but on the other hand, maybe they will. Keep the email short, get right to the point and make sure it doesn’t read like a ‘cut and paste’ mail-shot. Here’s a flow that works most of the time – make it relevant, introduce an issue, indicate that your company has the experience to help, suggest the way forward is a meeting, state when you will call. Your first objective is to motivate them to read the email, the second is to motivate the prospect to take your call.