It’s pretty well established that we at LAUNCH operate as a lead generation/business development firm. We work with the objective to set meetings with prospects our clients want to work with. But what happens when those meetings are set, and we are at the point of “hand-off”: sending you in to meet with those prospects?

This is a critical point at which the upfront efforts of prospecting convert to the in-person process of selling. Are you prepared?

It’s vitally important to remember, these prospects have needs of their own, objectives to achieve, problems to solve. Certainly, your past experience may be relevant, and it will establish a foundation for your credibility. However, what prospects will be seeking is the ability you have to understand their situation and your ability to support their efforts to reach their goals.

Sounds intuitive, right?

Perhaps, but think about an often used approach in a prospect meeting: introductions are made, and the presentation ensues. You make the presentation, show the best of your best. The prospect nods agreeably and pleasantly, and tells you that the next steps are to “digest what we’ve learned, and give you a call in a week or so.” Is this the best-case scenario you are seeking?

The first meeting with a prospect is very critical in beginning to build a RELATIONSHIP. Resist the urge to jump into your presentation once introductions are done. In this first meeting, it’s important – and very productive – to follow a process that involves these steps, which are interactive – and actually are ACTIVE LISTENING elements:

• Listen: In this first meeting, it is okay – and VERY important – to let the prospect do a lot of the talking. Even more important is to LISTEN. Let them lead the discussion at least for a while.

Providing them the opportunity to speak reveals to you where their needs lie.

• Acknowledge: From Psych 101, this is the “active” part of Active Listening. As the prospect shares the background of their organization, what’s brought them to the point of this meeting, where they envision their future heading, acknowledge, non-verbally and verbally that you are listening. Do maintain eye contact; don’t fiddle with your presentation materials, laptop, projector, or heaven forbid, Blackberry. Nod to show understanding. Confirm you understand what they are saying by re-phrasing key points of what they are sharing with you, and verify that you are processing their thoughts accurately.

This behavior shows respect by exhibiting your focus on the prospect and their needs; it lays the groundwork of trust for an effective working relationship.

• Explore: Ask questions. Pull out relevant key points, and seek further insight to build your understanding. Seek further background on the history of their organization, product or program. Ask how a mentioned new business effort performed. Wonder out loud if they were to do it again, what would they change?

Again, this behavior exhibits your respect for your prospect’s world. As importantly, the interaction and conversation over what’s been said so far continues to build trust; this conversation also lets you become acquainted “as people” as both you and the prospect begin to learn how each other thinks.

• Respond: Save your presentation for last. And, resist the urge to show every last exhibit. That’s okay if the preceding elements of the meeting call for showing the WHOLE presentation. It’s important in this step to zero in on the key points the prospect expressed in terms of their needs. Relate elements of your presentation to those specific needs. As you present, make reference to needs the prospect expressed, their past campaigns, their goals. Connect your experience and examples of your work in a way that shows you understand the prospect’s objectives.

In saving your presentation for last agenda item, you will be able to show the prospect how you can make your capabilities and experience RELEVANT to their needs. Rather than the pleasant “we’ll digest this and call you in a few days”, you are likely to get further conversation – more questions about your experience and thoughts. You are more likely to enter into a dialogue that will extend beyond the meeting, leading more quickly and effectively to the relationship and assignments you are seeking.

But, this isn’t all. Stay tuned for more on turning those new prospect meetings into new business.