How to Turn Around a Bad Prospect Meeting

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We’ve all had the experience of a bad meeting – one where you’re unable to connect in a meaningful way with your prospect. It happened recently to one of my coaching clients. But, by using my favorite question, the prospect opened up and eventually became a client.

A good plan but a bad meeting

He followed my advice perfectly. He fully understood the importance of making a positive first impression. He was dressed impeccably. He greeted the prospect with an enthusiastic smile and a firm handshake. He resisted the temptation to “present” or “educate” the prospect, who was a mid-level executive at a manufacturing company.

Instead he began the process of eliciting information in a conversational way just as I had suggested. Initially, he asked very general questions, intended to get to know the prospect as a person. That’s where things started to go wrong.

No matter how hard he tried, he was unable to engage the prospect in a conversation. His questions were met with brusque, monosyllabic responses. He could feel the tension building in the room. The meeting clearly was not going well.

The “pivot” question failed

We had prepared for this possibility, even though it rarely occurs. I had given him the following “pivot” question as a way of turning the meeting around: “What would you find most helpful to discuss at this meeting?” That usually works, because it keeps control of the meeting where it belongs -- with the prospect. It also elicits the agenda of the prospect, instead of imposing one.

Unfortunately, it fell flat.

The prospect asked a couple of perfunctory questions and then stared blankly at the advisor. The advisor then asked my standard question when ending a meeting: “How would you like to proceed?” The prospect said he would like to think it over and get back to him.