Never has it been so difficult to get through to an executive to setup a sales meeting. In fact, salespeople around the world commonly tell us that this is one of their biggest challenges. It doesn’t matter how eloquent, persuasive, or charismatic you are if you never get the chance to position yourself in front of the executive. You can’t close the sale if they won’t agree to meet with you in the first place.
Nevertheless, it is possible to get through and get a meeting. But before we talk about what you should do, let me start by sharing a few things that downright annoy executives:
- The “Asking for a Meeting Right Away” Email: Don’t send emails with the subject line or first two sentences asking for a meeting, especially with a suggested meeting date within the next few days. It’s as though you’re suggesting they had nothing better to do in their schedule until your email arrived.
- The “Second Request” Email: What do some salespeople do if they don’t get a response to their first meeting request? They send another email. But it doesn’t stop there; they send one with a nagging tone, insinuating that the executive was slack in responding to their first email. That won’t get a positive response.
- The “It’s All About Me” Email: After introducing your name and role, the email goes on to share what is so great about your company or—worse yet—your products. When it eventually ends, the call to action usually ends up sounding like an unsuccessful pickup line at a singles bar. There is little probability an executive will call you to chat more about YOU or YOUR stuff when they can get that information from an Internet search. Don’t waste your time or theirs.
So how can you connect with an executive well enough to get them to accept a meeting? Through thoughtful planning and a little creativity, you can get noticed and peak their curiosity with your thought leadership. Follow these five secrets to drastically improve your chances of landing a meeting:
- Be Creative: You have to be different than the masses. You can do this by including humor or adding a personal touch that lets your personality shine through. Don’t make your email look like a form letter or like you just cut and pasted. Can you connect something in your message to their outside interests or background to make it personal to them without trying too hard?
- Use Methods Other Than Email: Good old-fashioned letters get opened today much more than they did five years ago. Sending snail mail guarantees that at least the Executive’s Assistant will see it. An executive friend of mine had gotten a letter with the paper all crinkled and a hand written note on it. It said they had an idea on how to help with his business, but, if he was too busy, the paper was already wadded up for the garbage to save some time. The note made him laugh, he shared it around his office, and he accepted the meeting.
- Start with Social Media, but be Patient: Use LinkedIn to make a soft introduction. Once accepted as a connection, wait at least a full week or two before sending them another communication. Otherwise, your connection feels totally self-serving and just another means of making an unsolicited sales call. Let your next communication be about an article they may find interesting or helpful. Just don’t make it one of your company’s articles or white papers.
- Win Over the Executive Assistant: Most Executive Assistants manage their executive’s calendar and have to the power to recommend or decide what meeting requests are accepted. A good Executive Assistant looks for ways to help their boss be more successful. Therefore, new ideas related to helping them achieve their goals are more likely to be read. I know a very successful salesperson that sends a note to the Executive Assistant directly, showing a common business challenge for their boss’s role and how they’ve helped others address it successfully. He then follows up with flowers a few days later. The next day he calls the Executive Assistant to see if they think a meeting would be possible. When he doesn’t get a yes right away, he often gets a response like “I’m going to talk to my boss about it this week.”
- Be a Thought Leader: Demonstrate your thought leadership about THEIR business or THEIR industry. Every executive is looking for new, well-researched ideas. Share a point view that creates enough curiosity for them to want to hear more. You might hint at some company research, recent studies, market trends, or even the activity of their competitors. Use enough insights to give yourself credibility and show that in time you will be a valuable resource. Demonstrate that you care about their business enough to focus on their issues rather than on just your products.
Don’t be just another hungry salesperson begging for a meeting. If you want to get and stay in front of executives, a pushy or cookie cutter approach isn’t going to work. The key to being successful is to be creative, make your communication personalized to them, and always provide value to them up front. The goal should be to start a discussion where you can share your thinking in more detail and explore whether a business relationship makes sense. Landing the meeting is just your first step toward a long business relationship.