March 29, 2007

In marketing, nothing beats a face-to-face meeting

The Sandler Sales Institute

The economy is bustling for the Pacific Northwest construction industry and it’s a sellers market for construction services.

Many believe that if one works hard on preparing presentations and bids, he or she will be rewarded by getting the work. Some in the industry, however, still struggle, running around bidding on work where the prospect ends up doing the job themselves or using the bid to check it against the bid of the contractor they planned on using in the first place.

This waste of time and resources may be OK now when other jobs are around the corner, but what will happen when business is less rosy? What can be done to eliminate the squandered time and energy that is the result of chasing after prospects that never turn to clients? What sort of selling strategies should be used, regardless of economic conditions, to save time and help sell more?

Kip Spencer, cofounder of, says, “From a long-term perspective, the worst time to get into the business is when the market is hot, because you don’t learn the fundamentals. Anyone can sell in a hot market. When you get into the business in a tough market you build a better foundation for selling.”

Consider Mike, a general contractor, who was preparing for his first appointment with a new prospect. Mike gathered the oversized, four-color company brochure along with every piece of product and service material, plus questions and answers from all previous clients. And to top it off, Mike added the complete introductory slide presentation and audio-video outlining just how thorough his company is.

All this preparation left Mike feeling like there was no way the prospect could consider being anything less than wowed and ready to sign on the dotted line. Unfortunately, when he arrived for his meeting, the prospect “had to run” and simply requested Mike leave the materials for his review.

Though disappointed, Mike still felt confident that, in a matter of days, his prospect would be calling. So he waited. When a week had passed with no phone call, Mike called the prospect, only to be told by the company receptionist “the materials are being reviewed.” As the weeks went by, it became clear the prospect was a waste of time.

So what happened? The above scenario is a perfect example of “spilling your candy in the lobby.” The prospect believed that EVERYTHING he needed to know about Mike and his construction services could be found in that impressive pile sitting on the office sofa, along with all the other stuff that he would finally get around to reading when he had the time. From the prospect’s point of view, he had no reason to ever meet with Mike.

Companies spend thousands of dollars creating, printing, storing, distributing and delivering thousands of pieces of paper whose goal is to get the prospect to buy whatever is being sold.

Unfortunately, the sales literature, regardless of its form, is only useful if someone reads it. The prospect mentioned above may someday get around to doing just that, but in the meantime, since in his mind he has everything he needs to make a decision sitting on the sofa, he has absolutely no reason to meet with Mike.

A second danger in spilling your candy in the lobby is that it leaves you no idea or control over what is in the mind of the person who finally gets around to reading what you left. Your product and/or service could be exactly what the prospect needs, but because the prospect interprets your literature in a way that is different from what you expect, you are tossed into the circular file. You are not there at that moment to correct his mistaken impression.

Leaving sales literature or sending sales literature in place of being there yourself is a waste of time and money, except in one situation: If the prospect has told you exactly what he needs as a result of you questioning him, and your sales literature is specifically confined to his need. In any other situation, you are wasting your time, your company’s money and perhaps more importantly, keeping yourself from prospecting for those who will buy.

There truly is no substitute for a face-to-face meeting.

Every salesperson knows that “send me some literature” is a brush-off. Yet most salespeople send the literature anyway. Why?

If the prospect doesn’t have the time for you, he will NOT have time for your literature.

Doug Hoselton is president of Washington state’s Sandler Sales Institute marketplace. He has developed strategies for corporate visioning, market planning, new product development, and moving organizations toward a systematic selling culture.

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