Opening the First Face-to-Face Meeting with a Prospect – Average or Exceptional?

    September 12, 2003

What do you think of this opening with a prospect?

“I’m ______ from _____. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to meet with me. I appreciate your time since I know this is your busy season. On the phone you mentioned you are looking to modify your X system. What I’d like to do today is talk about what we can do to help you meet your objectives.”

How would you rate this opening?

Exceptional, above average, average, below average?

I’d say average because it looks like many of the openings we observe.

One of the biggest problems with openings is that most salespeople take the opening for granted. Few salespeople prepare or really think about how they will open. And nothing “average” in a tough market wins if a competitor is exceptional.

What would it take to make this opening excellent?

  • Rapport – even though everyone is busy, don’t assume there is no time for brief tailored rapport.
  • Customized Credentializing – be prepared to concisely credentialize your organization and yourself.
  • Agenda – lay out your customer-focused agenda.
  • Check the agenda and time to make sure you and the customer are on the same page.
  • Move out of the agenda into a Need Dialogue (questions) vs. talking about what you can do.

The salesperson suggested he/she can “improve” something when he/she does not know enough to make the assertion. The focus was on the salesperson and his/her company vs. the client. The last sentence of the opening will most likely lead to a product vs. prospect focus.

First impressions last. How you open that first call with a client matters. We have identified five critical elements that help create exceptional openings – after you congratulate yourself for getting the meeting. First of all, prepare, prepare, prepare – or it may be the first and last meeting with this prospect.

Once you are at the call:

1. Build rapport. Think about the prospect and identify a hinge to help you connect. Don’t give short shrift to rapport. Don’t assume there is no time for rapport. Read cues, but look for signs when rapport is appropriate. There are many topics you can use from a snowstorm to a truly tailored topic – the more tailored the better. Rapport is appropriate when it is genuine and fits with the occasion. Fortunately, most people are civil and they will give you a few moments to connect on a more personal basis.

2. Concisely credentialize yourself and your organization. Be fully prepared to do this and make sure to customize the key points you want to cover to this prospect. Prepare, or your credentializing is likely to be disorganized – and less than impressive. Practice, prune, batch, customize, continuously update.

3. State your purpose/agenda. Show you are prepared. Prep time earns you time. Then frame your purpose in a customer-focused way.

4. Also, check for time. Ensure you have the time you planned on.

5. Ask a Permission Benefit Question. Get an okay to explore needs – once you have shown that you are prepared, ask a question to get an okay to explore needs. This ensures you are poised to identify needs vs. begin a product dump.

With a strong opening you can move into a Need Dialogue.

Being able to execute the elements of an exceptional opening takes preparation. It is worth the effort because 1) it sets the tone for the entire call and more importantly, 2) it sets the direction for a client-focused dialogue vs. a generic product pitch. An effective opening takes thought and preparation and leads to a better call.

The opening is the time to set the tone, set the focus, and connect with the prospect. Take advantage of it!

Linda Richardson: President and CEO of Richardson, training consultants to corporations, banks, and investment banks globally. Richardson has 110 professionals, 15 regional offices in the United States, and presence in London, Australia, Singapore, Latin America, and Asia. Clients of Richardson include KPMG, Federal Express, General Mills, Tiffany & Co., Dell Computer, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Citibank, Chubb Group of Insurance Companies, and Kinko’s. Visit

Linda Richardson Answers Sales Questions: Click Here For Free Answers