New Business Skill Development: Convert More Meetings to Revenue

10 steps to win more new business from first meetings
by Todd Knutson

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Too often ad agency principals and new business people approach their first meeting with a prospect as an opportunity to "show up and throw up". I've seen it happen repeatedly over the last ten years, with the result that a hard-won meeting is a bust, the opportunity lost. The good news is that a more successful approach is within reach.

All it takes is practice.

As I mention in my post on converting more calls to meetings (read it here), The key to improvement is practice, and the easiest way to do it is "role practice". I spoke to an agency new business person yesterday who, when we touched on role practice said, "So it's like practicing my Yoga positions!" I've never thought of it that way, but I've read that some Yoga practitioners claim perfection is illusive, which is a good description of a first meeting with a potential client.

Perfection may be hard to achieve, but you can dramatically improve your conversion to new business projects or accounts won if you practice.

Here's how to conduct a first meeting role practice:

  1. Set up a one-hour meeting twice a week for three weeks to improve your skills, and then at least twice before each first meeting.
  2. Conduct the practice session in person, in an office environment similar to what you"ll encounter meeting a prospect.
  3. Ideally, you should have three participants, each of whom regularly attends first meetings. During practice, one person will be the prospective client, another will represent the agency, and a third will be an "observer" (this is a key role).
  4. During each role practice session, the participants trade roles, each playing each role once.
  5. As the new business person, identify questions you want to ask your prospective client. Focus on questions that will engage them, build rapport, and help you learn about their company. This is not a time for you to present your credentials! It is about you identifying opportunities for your agency.
  6. As the prospective client, identify who you are before you begin (e.g. VP Marketing for 3M), and then play the role that's been assigned to you. Be sure to vary your degree of "toughness". For example, sometimes be nice and let the agency representative engage you in open, comfortable dialog; other times, be more elusive. Your goal is to replicate the type of marketers you've encountered, making the practice session as real as possible.
  7. Initiate each practice session. I like to have the agency representative enter the office just as they would a prospective client's, shake hands, and begin.
  8. The practice conversation should last about 15 minutes, and then you should switch roles.
  9. After each 15-minute role practice, the person in the new business role should critique their own performance, the prospective client should critique the new business person, and then the observer should critique both. Focus your critique on what was done well (e.g. How the agency representative quickly established rapport and chemistry), and where they can improve (e.g. What questions should have been asked, but weren't).
  10. The observer is in the best position to critique the overall dialogue, to push the agency and prospect players to try new approaches, to suggest different types of questions, and to point out where the new business person missed key details due to not listening carefully. Improving your listening skills is the fastest way to improve your win ratio.

If you think about it, six hours isn't much time to dedicate to practice, but it's enough to bring your skills up a level. And, if you're disciplined and practice before every first meeting, you'll both get in your prospect's head (remember you'll each play the prospect during practice), and identify really good questions to ask.

As always, let me know if you have questions or other ideas about how to improve your first meetings.

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