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Within the First Two Minutes

When you control the meeting's focus, you control the meeting.

During the first two minutes, you want the meeting's focus to be the prospect's problem, not you and your product. We live in the Age of Interruptions. The typical businessperson experiences 170 to 190 interactions per day. These interactions include voice mail, email, faxes, pages, hallway conversations and the dreaded "got a minute" meeting.

There's a good chance that when you show up, your prospect is thinking about the last thing that happened in the office and what he is going to do about it after you leave.

Many sales trainers suggest a startling statement to break preoccupation and focus the customer on a problem that he has and you may be able to solve. The startling statement can be a quote from a recognized business expert, a statistic or a short testimonial from a happy customer already benefiting from your solution. For example, when I sell sales training, I will say to the company president or VP of sales, "Ninety-five percent of the people working for you got into sales accidentally or as a second or third choice when something else didn't work out. There are more wannabe Web site designers, future firefighters and aspiring astronauts in the third grade than there are prospective salespeople. So sales training must teach skills and sell the participants on the value of what they are doing. It must convince them that they have wonderful opportunities, even if they didn't choose sales as a career."

An opening like that will break their concentration on whatever they were doing the minute before you walked in the door and will get them thinking about what you want them to think about.

Your biggest competitor is not necessarily another salesperson at another company. It might be your customer's belief that everything is fine.

You can learn a lot about sales by staying up late and watching infomercials. They virtually always start out with a problem that thousands of people have. One of my favorites is for a videotape called, "Where There's a Will, There's an A." The opening line goes like this: "Parents, did your child bring home another bad report card?" Notice the focus of the question? Another infomercial, this one for a real-estate course, opens: "Most people, when they retire, sell their houses, move into smaller places and live off the difference. What if you had five houses?" In the first two minutes, the copywriter gave the viewer a selfish reason to stay tuned.

Rent The Music Man and watch the first 30 minutes. Notice that Harold Hill doesn't try to sell anyone in River City, Iowa, any band instruments until he has painted a picture of the terrible, terrible trouble about to befall the town. "Either you are closing your eyes to a situation you do not wish to acknowledge, or you are unaware of the caliber of disaster brought about by the presence of a pool table in your town. Well, you've got trouble, my friends..." Every salesperson can benefit from giving a trouble talk. It should be honest, well-researched, articulate and customer-focused.

You can also start the meeting by asking a provocative (but not obnoxious) question. We sell a pre-employment personality test to HR directors and sales managers hiring candidates. Mark Peterson, our top producer in this division, often opens meetings by asking prospects, "Have you ever hired a salesperson who performed better on the interview than on the job?" The answer is always yes, and the meeting is off and running.

Think about the problems your product can solve. Talk about the trouble you've gotten so many businesses out of with your solutions. Getting the customer worried is the fastest way to get the customer to buy. Satisfied people don't want to change. Why should they? Everything is just fine.

Once you've broken the prospect's preoccupation and focused on the problem he has, move into your purpose-process-payoff speech.

Control the meeting by controlling its focus. Work on your startling statements and craft your trouble talk. It's all part of doing it better. And your clients get better when you do.