Anyone who’s been in business leadership for a certain length of time has had the misfortune of listening to an abundance of sales pitches. We call this a misfortune because most sales pitches are entirely forgettable, and that means that they are a waste of time. Of course, some are memorable for the wrong reasons. That’s unfortunate, as well.

It is only a small sampling of sales pitches that we remember fondly. More often than not, these were the pitches that connected with our business needs.

If you’re a salesperson – and most people are, in some capacity,- you obviously want your pitch to be the one that leaves a favorable impression and produces a sale. So, what makes the difference between a great sales meeting and a forgettable one?

What if we told you that the best salespeople show up with the least materials?

What if we told you that when you know your product backwards and forwards, you don’t need a Power Point to make a sale?

What if we told you, you need to stop talking about your company and start listening to their needs?

Be a Good Listener

We know how it typically goes: a salesperson comes into a prospect’s office all decked out with their sales books, PowerPoints, and price sheets, and proceeds to bludgeon their prospect with facts and figures meant to showcase their company’s product or service.

Often, salespeople think that when they lead with a list of impressive stats and information, they’re creating a compelling case for their prospect to buy. What they’re really doing is leading with a list of things that their prospect doesn’t care about.

Remember that your prospects are people. If, as a salesperson, you launch right into a bevy of information right off the bat, you’re leaving people in the dust. People don’t care about anything you have to say until they can understand how it’s relevant to them. That’s human nature.

That’s why showing up empty handed can be helpful. Instead of having a presentation as a crutch, you’re forced to make a conscious effort to understand your prospects’ needs before you launch into a monologue. If you can understand your prospects’ needs, then your information and statistics will start to come in handy.

As a salesperson, you should know your product backwards and forwards. That’s a given. Your knowledge is most useful, though, when it’s used to address a client’s personal needs – and you can only understand those when you take the time to listen.

Ask Strategic Questions

So, how can you make sure that you get a chance to listen? Well, you need to get your prospect talking about their needs. We recommend a technique called strategic questioning. You’ve probably heard that part of being a good listener is asking good questions. When it comes to sales meetings, that saying holds true.

Strategic questions are questions that are meant to get your client speaking in the right direction. As a salesperson, that means that you want to ask questions that lead your prospect to discussing the problems that your product can solve.

A central part of strategic questioning is to start with your client’s end in mind. What are they hoping to achieve? What are the dreams and business outcomes that they’re hoping to have fulfilled as a result of using your product? As you ask strategic questions, you’ll start to gain an understanding of how you can best serve them.

Some sample questions might be:

  • At the end of our engagement, what would success look like to you?
  • What do you think contributes to the issue you are having?
  • What do you see the biggest challenge right now to be?
  • What driving you to search for a solution now?

And as time and example testifies, the company that understands the client the best, will be the one they’ll buy from.

Build Personal Rapport

As you forego the crutch of sales sheets and PowerPoint, and as you begin to listen and ask strategic questions, an interesting thing will happen: you’ll begin to connect on a more personal level with your clients.

When you take the time to understand your prospects instead of simply going into the meeting with your own end in mind, you’ll find that you’re able to build deeper relationships. Relationships build trust, and that’s a good thing; 90% of companies say that they’ll only do business with companies that they trust.

Be intentional about developing personal rapport. A few ways to do this:

  • Reciprocate your clients’ language. When you ask questions, listen to your prospects’ answers and take note of the language that they use. Use their words and metaphors to show them that you understand.
  • Verbally affirm your understanding. As you listen, say things like, “I hear your pain,” or “I can understand that problem”. Statements of affirmation build trust and give you the opportunity to bridge to a solution.
  • Tell stories. Stories are a great way to synthesize facts and statistics with emotive appeals. If your product has solved a similar problem before for another client, tell your prospect how it happened. They’ll be more likely to remember a story than the fact that your company has a market share of 75%, or that your service has 10 million users.

Let Go of the Slides

Long ago, as PowerPoint was just coming out, we received a call from a client. She was in the sales field in her company, and her boss had recently bought her a laptop and PowerPoint software so that she’d be equipped to make sales presentations. And she had a sales presentation coming up with a prospective client who had agreed to meet her for lunch.

Because PowerPoint and laptops were new, she was unsure how to introduce her sales slides into her conversation at lunch. She wanted to know: should she pull out her laptop at the end of the meal and run through her presentation? What was the correct way to do this?

My answer was this (and it remains the same years later): if you’ve gotten a prospective client to go to lunch with you, you don’t need PowerPoint. You have the relationship already. You need to talk.

Here’s the bottom line for every sales meeting: You are selling a service. You’re selling your relationship. You’re selling trust. You’re selling a solution to a problem – even if that solution is a product. The customer will need the materials at some point, but they are most effective when sent after the sales meeting in response to the clients specific needs.

At the end of the day, pitches and presentations are not memorable. People are memorable – and those who can communicate well will be able to leave a lasting impression during a sales meeting, especially when you show up empty handed.