Trying To Get Foot Back In The Door

Paul,
What am I doing wrong? John and I met a few weeks ago to discuss his company’s interest in my products. I felt like we really hit it off. We had a great meeting, he asked a lot of questions, and told me to call him in a few weeks after he got back from a conference. I have called him five times now, and he has not returned my calls! What do I do?

Sincerely,
Trying to Get Foot Back in The Door

Dear Trying To Get Foot Back In The Door,
You made a common mistake when you ended your business meeting with John. Instead of agreeing to call him “in a couple of weeks” you should have said something more specific like, “John, I am so glad we got to talk. So we don’t play phone tag, let’s pencil in a time and date that would work for us to reconnect on this issue.” Using this tactic holds both parties accountable by setting a date and time for your next meeting.

Once you set that meeting, you should follow up by saying something like, “To ensure that our next meeting is productive, what specifically will be of most interest to you that we should be prepared to discuss further?” This question allows you to probe a little deeper and uncover John’s motives and what he expects to happen during the next meeting. Notice the word prepared. You’re implying that both parties should plan on providing either additional ideas, resources or people to move the relationship forward.

It’s common to fall into the trap of trying to appear casual and non-committal. The problem is that it comes back to haunt you. You would never expect your doctor to say to you, “OK, it was nice to have you here for these serious medical tests. Why don’t you touch base with me in a couple weeks?” We expect our doctors to set appointments, have a formal follow-up and come up with a plan of action. The same should be true for a sales professional. When ending a meeting with a potential new customer, you want to be as proactive as possible:

  1. Schedule an appointment for a follow-up conversation – whether it is in person, over the phone, or via email.
  2. Establish the topic of conversation for the next appointment – maybe you will be going for a tour of the factory to gain better understanding of the operation, or you might be discussing lead times for your products–whatever it is, it is important to prep the potential client by detailing just what you want to cover in the next meeting.
  3. Ask the potential customer to do some homework – you want the other person you are meeting with to have some investment in the process, otherwise it is too easy to blow you off. So, ask him/her to gather some data, bring another person in on the discussion, or anything else that requires them to invest time, money or resources into this relationship.