So you’ve landed your first meeting with a large or enterprise prospect. Congratulations!

Now…don’t panic.

The first meeting is certainly one of the areas you’re going to experience the biggest difference between selling to other small businesses and selling to big businesses. But with some preparation, you can handle it like a pro.

Focus on These 2 Things

In my last post, I told you to keep the idea of “selling” out of your mind when reaching out to cold enterprise leads.

Continue that practice through the first meeting.

Your first sales meeting is not actually a “sales” meeting at all. At least, you’re not selling a product or service yet at this point.

You are, however, selling yourself.

Your two main goals for this first meeting should be:

  1. Absorb all the information you can.
  2. Establish yourself as a trusted resource.

Sure, you should start prepping for making an offer of some sort — but you don’t have to have a specific package in mind at this point like you do with a small business.

Because you’re not going to walk away with a purchase order.

Not yet.

(I’ll get to what a purchase order is later in this series.)

That’s just not how large and enterprise companies work.

You might get really lucky and meet with someone who has the desire, need, authority, and budget to buy from you on the spot. But that’s a rare exception. It’s happened to me twice in the last five years.

And even if you do luck out and meet with someone who’s prepared to buy, you still need more information before you can make them an appropriate offer.

Here’s why…

How Goals Are Set and Tackled in a Large Organization Will Affect How They Do Business With You

You’ve probably heard the B2B maxim, “there’s more than one person involved in a purchasing decision.” That’s never truer than within a large organization. And it all starts with goal-setting.

In a large organization, their biggest overarching goals are set annually by a board of directors (BOD).

The responsibility for achieving those goals falls to the CEO and the executive team (all the people with a C at the front of their job titles — also known as the C-suite).

From there, the responsibility for executing on those goals falls to the director or manager level. These are the people you are likely going to do business with.

People at this level do have input into how the goals are achieved and how the budget is assigned to executing on the goals. But again, this is all decided annually, and likely well in advance of your first meeting. Outside of that earmarked budget, there is usually a slush fund for small projects, too.

To put it in practical terms, if your product or service costs more than the slush fund, it’s likely that you’ll have to wait until the next budget round or fiscal year before you see that first purchase order.

There’s a flipside to this, however.

It’s just as likely that the decision to purchase a product or service in your category — design services, software, marketing initiatives, whatever — has been made long before you got there. And is probably to be one of the reasons they invited you to a meeting in the first place.

If you are offering something the prospect already knows they need, and they’ve already decided to set budget aside for it, it may be a swift purchasing cycle. You might have a job to quote on or execute within a few weeks…

IF you can establish yourself as a trusted resource in this first meeting.

Your First Foray into the Complex Decision-making Processes of Large Organizations

So where do you start to establish trust? You find your place in the decision-making tree.

The decision-making tree has three main branches:

  1. Influencers: These are the people whose perspectives influence the final purchase decision. For example, if you’re selling software, the end-user would likely be an influencer.
  2. Champions: Champions take influence up a notch by — you guessed it — championing your product or service internally. They like what you have to offer, and they have a stake in your success. (And you a stake in their success, but more on that later). Your champions will be your guides through the company processes, and they’ll be the ones speaking on your behalf when you’re not around.
  3. Decision-makers: These are the people with the checkbook or the power to kick off the procurement process. More often than not in a large organization, they let others do most or all of the vetting — but that doesn’t mean they’ll open the checkbook without question. You need to build trust with decision-makers, too.

If you follow the lead generation, qualification, and outreach processes I outlined in the previous two posts in the Small Fish, Big Fish series (here and here), your first meeting is likely going to be with someone who will be one of your champions within the company. This person will vouch for you inside the organization, and they are the most important person to build trust with first — because they’re putting their reputation on the line for you.

Take good care of your first champion. If you do, they’ll be the first of many.

With most small businesses, but especially for businesses that sell services (graphic designers, communications professionals, etc.), it’s likely that what you’re selling will impact several departments within the company.

For example, say you’re a designer. You pitch to the marketing team and they decide they want to hire you. You produce an outstanding brochure for them, and someone in the operations team sees it. That operations person will likely reach out to the marketing team to find out who produced it — and this is where your champion will step up and extol your virtues. The operations team has their own budget for brochures, and they also want to work with you…completely separate from the marketing team. If you build trust with the person in operations, they could be more than just your next client — they could end up being champion #2! And the process could happen all over again when the merchandising team sees that brochure you did for operations…

Getting All the Information — Without Appearing Nosey

The most important thing for you to do in your first meeting with a prospective new client is learn what’s happening inside their organization. Discover what the company’s goals are, what the organization is working toward, and what challenges they have.

Of course, your prospect isn’t going to just volunteer this information. You’re going to have to ask the right questions in the right way to coax the details from the meeting participants. Here are a few ways I’ve found to get the conversation rolling in the right direction:

  1. If your product or service is going to be a direct replacement for something that already exists within the organization, this is the perfect opportunity to ask what’s not working with the incumbent. It’s extremely unlikely that price is the issue — rather, it’s more likely that something is not working for the organization with the current provider. This insight will be invaluable if you go on to do business with this prospect.
  2. If you’re selling something that’s brand-new to the organization (like I do with Showcase), your opportunity here is to ask what they are currently doing to solve the problems your product or service can solve. For example, standard questions I ask include, “How do you currently share sales materials with your team?”, “What processes do you have in place to keep sales content up-to-date and know your teams have the right version?”, and “What kinds of things are frustrating about the way your current systems work?” Lots of interesting insight about the makeup of the organization arises with these types of questions.
  3. If you’ve been working with other customers in the same or a similar industry, the opportunity here is to bring things along for show and tell. When your prospect sees unique, interesting, or innovating things their peers have done, this often sparks ideas and can spur the conversation into revealing what the organization is currently working on.

There are two massive benefits to this information-gathering exercise.

First, it enables you to identify a problem that you can then offer to solve. So then you’re not “selling” anything at all.

And second, you’re setting the scene with you as a trusted advisor — and not just a supplier of products or services.

Remember from the beginning of this article, getting information and establishing trust should be your two priorities in the first meeting. Asking the right questions helps you tackle those priorities quickly and effectively.

Indispensable Versus Disposable

If you can use your expertise in the first meeting to help your prospect see things, understand things, or accomplish things they currently can’t, you put yourself in a stronger and much less disposable position.

Becoming indispensable is your gateway to a long-lasting, mutually beneficial relationship with a large or enterprise company.

Now that you’re mentally prepared for the first meeting…it’s time to get physically prepared. In the next article in the Small Fish, Big Fish series, we’re going to talk about what to wear when you meet with prospects and clients from large organizations.

Yeah, we really are!

Read the next article in the Small Fish, Big Fish series: The New Sales Pro Dress Code

Read past articles in the Small Fish, Big Fish series:

Get the whole series as a free e-book, Small Fish, Big Fish: A small-business guide to selling to large and enterprise companies