Depending on your business, you may spend a great deal of your time doing in-person selling. While some people think that face-to-face sales calls are a dead practice, the truth is that in many complex sales situations, they are your ultimate tool. Often in the luxury goods and travel sector, financial world, or businesses where your account relationship is ongoing and strategic, in person sales meetings aren’t just a nice touch – they are expected.
When a sales process or product is complex, it can take weeks, months, or even years to close an important deal. Over the course of this, you and your client will often build a relationship that will transcend the seller-buyer dynamic and turn you into true colleagues and, if you do it right, friends too. Your sales etiquette during your interaction is a key part of advancing this relationship.
This Is Where Etiquette Comes In
Many salespeople struggle to know how they should act in the presence of someone they are attempting to create a business relationship with. Usually, the majority of their interactions are hidden behind a computer screen or telephone, allowing them to calculate each word and avoid making tricky faux-pas of social cues.
Maybe you’re hoping to better utilize or simply improve your in-person sales techniques to get the most out of every interaction. Maybe you want to grow your relationship with a legacy key account you now find yourself in-charge of. Either way, starting with these etiquette basics will ensure you start off on the right foot for your next in-person client encounter.
- When you arrive
- At the table
- When talking business
- When Closing & to follow-up
When You Arrive
- Always remember: You represent your organization. When you are out in the real world to do business, you are acting as the physical embodiment of your company. Be sure to act like it.
- Dress properly for the location and the occasion. The way you dress not only signifies the amount of respect you have for yourself, but the amount of respect you have for the client and the topic of your meeting.
- Be early. Do not be on time. Do not be punctual. Be early. The best way to sour a relationship before it’s even started? Being late.
- Be present. Your cellphone should be on silent and invisible at all times.
- Smile. Even if it’s a serious meeting. When we smile at others, it disarms them and lets them know you care and are not a threat. Be kind.
- Bring a notebook and pen. You’ll be glad you have it, and even if you don’t use it, it sets the tone that you are present to do business.
- Don’t use their first name until they ask you too, or unless you’ve already established a first-name basis for communication.
- Hold doors for ladies, gentlemen, and anyone else you and your client may encounter. If compassion isn’t already in your daily toolbox, add it.
The way you dress not only signifies the amount of respect you have for yourself, but the amount of respect you have for the client and the topic of your meeting.
At The Table
- Let the restaurant or cafe know you’ll be with a client when you reserve. You can even advise them to bring the bill only to you, or to prepare something special to surprise the client (if you know their favourite cocktail, perhaps).
- Don’t come hungry. Eat a snack beforehand.
- Never drink alcohol unless your client orders it first. One drink at lunch is fine, and two over dinner is the maximum.
- Depending on your relationship with the client and the nature of your business, only order an entree that can be eaten with a knife and fork. Do not order tacos, burgers, or any other messy dish that needs to be scarfed down. You’re not an animal.
- Don’t order anything that takes an exorbitant amount of time to prepare (ie. They order a salad, and you order the slow roasted braised lamb shank). No one wants to wait 30 minutes for the meal to even start.
- You should speak primarily at the outset to allow your client time to eat. An amusing story or anecdote about the food or a recent meal you had, allows them to nod along and enjoy some of the food you’re buying them.
- When they are speaking, you may eat, but only take small bites so you can jump in to speak at any moment.
- When the client is done eating, you are done eating.
- Always offer them coffee or tea after the meal (even to go). It’s perfect to chat business over a hot cup.
- Be generous with any server gratuity (and don’t let your client see – this is tacky and will get you nowhere).
- Never, ever, ever let your client pay (this should be going to your expense account anyways, I would hope.)
When Talking Business
- First and foremost, this is relationship building. Don’t expect to ask or get answers to any questions that require much more than a “Yes” or “No”.
- This is not the time nor the place to be hammering away at minor details. This means specifics like numbers, dates, personnel, or anything else that can be or already has been discussed over email.
- Don’t discuss anything too deal-heavy during the meal. Treat the meal as a gift to your client – don’t spoil it. Keep it light.
- Note anything important your client says, and use your notebook to record anything special or specific. Writing things down ensures your client feels heard. It also will help you to not miss anything important.
- Get the answers you want. When you’re in person with someone, it’s hard for them to dodge a direct question (as long as its tasteful). When you’re face to face with a client, their facial expressions and body language will tell you the answer to your question.
Closing & Follow-up
- Never leave upset or with anything left feeling unresolved. Finish all threads of conversation to the client’s satisfaction.
- Always shake hands and smile.
- Confirm verbally the next steps are on your end and what your expectations are of them for their next steps.
- Allow them to leave first, and ensure they are set for transport (taxi, valet, waking with them or otherwise).
- Before the end of the same day, send a follow up email to thank them for their time and to confirm anything you’ve already followed up on or will be working on shortly. This sets the next steps in writing for you both to proceed.
- For bonus points, write a hand written note or postcard and put in in the mail just after your meeting. While you may not think this fits your industry or product, you would be surprised at how many clients are floored by this kind of service. The physical card shows you truly care and have made an effort, and will sit on their desk for a week as a reminder of their wonderful time with you (and the deal you’re making).
At the end of the day, in-person selling is all about representing your product and brand well. I like to think of it as meeting the parents of your new romantic interest – you need to be the absolute best version of yourself. Treat your self, your client, and the meeting with respect and you will succeed.
- Be on your best behaviour (but please don’t grovel).
- Remember your manners (with everyone, everywhere).
- Be present (this is a singular meeting with a singular objective).
- Come prepared (because you shouldn’t be writing on a napkin, or referencing your phone for details).
Three great books on etiquette:
The Etiquette Advantage in Business – Peter Post
The Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette – Nancy Tuckerman
Rules of Civility – Amor Towles (fiction, but excellent!)