It was my first “GOTO” (get out of the office) meeting with a potential client. The contact, an influencer inside one of the largest colleges in the state of North Carolina. And I was there to pitch him — with no product, no sales experience, and, as I would soon find out, no Internet reception. Walking into that room, I couldn’t help but think: I’m going to get chewed up and spit out.
Some people struggle with the GOTO mantra because they struggle to find people to reach out to. But others, struggle with what to say when they are in the meeting. After all, no one decides to start a company to get into sales. But that’s the beauty of the GOTO approach: you are still in learning mode. So how do you get a conversation started?
CONNECT: First, start by finding a connection with the person on the other side. Maybe you all are alums of the same school. Or, maybe you share similar interests in technology. Getting the conversation started is an effective way to ease the tension for you, and make the prospect interested in hearing what you have to say.
SET THE TONE: Next, set the tone of the meeting. You want to talk with this person to get a better understanding of their needs regarding X. That is all you are there for. To listen and to learn. Now, depending on how things progress, you may be able to start introducing concepts for them to react to. (i.e. “How would X, Y, or Z, help your company?”). Once again, you are trying to understand their needs, not push features onto them.
ALWAYS HAVE A FOLLOW-UP: This is important for every future meeting you have. Always have a follow-up activity. In this case, you can mention that you would like to reach back out to him/her in a few weeks to see their thoughts on a product prototype. Or it may be to ask for a connection to the right person, if it turns out that this was not the right contact (Remember, the fact-finding mission isn’t always about building the product. It’s also about finding the key decision-maker).
Your first meeting will definitely be a bit rocky, no matter how much you prepare. However, the rockiness are learning points. For example, in one meeting I had we were asked about FERPA compliance. I had no idea what FERPA was. And although it felt terrible to not know at the time, it prepared me to know FERPA inside and out for my follow-up meetings. But although it will be rocky, make sure you prepare nonetheless. If they want to know information about you, be sure to come with a concise story about yourself, or a resume. If they want to know what you are trying to develop, make sure to have at minimum some screenshots or PowerPoint slides to share.
These things will let them know that even if you aren’t done building your product, you are serious about it.