Think you’re prepared for your next sales meeting? Think again: According to IDC, more than half (57%) of B2B buyers feel that sales teams aren’t prepared for their first conversation.

Preparation can mean a lot of things -- product/service knowledge, understanding the issues your product is supposed to solve, or knowledge of the prospect’s history, problems, priorities, and challenges.

In short, preparation means gaining a deep understanding of how what you’re selling aligns with what the customer needs. Preparation may even be as basic as understanding the purpose of the meeting and who the players are.

Here are five tips to prepare you to meet with buyers and have a productive conversation.

1) Do your homework.

This is the single most important factor in having a real business conversation. When Warren Buffett takes a meeting, he never asks about industry, market, competitors or advantages. He already knows them. In fact, he says, asking these questions demonstrates a lack of preparation.

Given that all of this information is at your fingertips today, there is no excuse for a lack of preparation. Understand who your prospect is, where they are coming from, what’s important to them, and what challenges they are facing. If you can show you understand what keeps them up at night and have some possible solutions, you’re in.

2) Target the right person for the meeting.

Find out which individuals in the C-suite are most likely able to make the decision to purchase your product or service. Basic research should help you determine which executive ultimately owns the area having to do with your products and services: e.g., marketing analytics, supply chain solutions, accounting software, etc.

3) Understand key players’ priorities.

Keep track of executive changes within your target accounts. Set up Google Alerts for your customers, regularly check their websites, and -- this is really important -- read their quarterly conference call transcripts if they are public companies.

Management will often announce on these calls new initiatives in which your company could be a player. Taking 10 minutes to read one of these transcripts could provide entry into a deal that you otherwise might not ever have known about.

4) Know whether the buyer wants an order taker or a collaborator.

It’s important before going to a meeting to understand what your buyers expect from salespeople. If they have a sophisticated understanding of what they’re looking for and prefer salespeople to be order takers and you push them too hard to collaborate, you may just turn them off. 

But if they are open to collaboration, identify what collaboration specifically means to them. Are they looking for an advisor or deeper business commitments? Always find out if your organization is equipped to and able to meet their expectations before promising buyers anything. 

This approach requires flexibility. It can even entail tricky financial, legal, and change management issues. If not, figure out what it will take to foster a collaboration that works for both parties. The key is to sell to buyers how they want to be sold to.

5) Ask relevant questions. 

There’s a big difference between a strategic sales pro and a product jockey. Before you start lobbing product details and benefits at a prospect you have to know what they are thinking. 

You’ve done your homework. Take what you’ve learned and use it to get more information. By primarily listening instead of talking, you can get your prospect to open up about what is important to them. Carefully crafted questions will result in illuminating answers that will guide the conversation toward the appropriate product benefits for that particular prospect.

By deepening your understanding of your prospect, their company, their unique business position, and what they are looking for in a vendor, you increase your chance of succeeding in your meeting and winning the business. 

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