Why you’re not booking enough sales appointments (despite working really hard)

Have you ever noticed that at the end of a game, whether football, soccer or basketball the team that’s struggled to score begins to feel an urgency to make something happen? Often, the final minutes bring on all manner of crazy attempts to even the score or take the lead. As a fan, you can see the losing team acting out in desperation.

Unfortunately, you see the same in business every day. Entrepreneurs and salespeople who need to “make a number” or win the next client can do some desperate things. None of that is necessary to book appointments consistently.

In this article, you’re going to find three factors that determine how many sales appointments and opportunities you create for your business.

The first is what I call “Foundation”—your foundation includes four parts.

The second is “compelling reason”—there are three parts to compelling reason, and you must have all three in your marketing and sales.

The third is “activity”—there are also three parts to activity that together keep your pipeline full of prospects.

Let’s begin with foundation.

1) Foundation: The four factors a prospect looks for before meeting with you

Foundation, as you might imagine, is the base—the underlying solid ground—that you build into your sales and marketing that supports everything else in the sales process. There are four elements of foundation. All are necessary, 90-percent of businesses overlook them.

Element 1: Authority

I believe authority is the first and most critical element of your foundation. It’s also the most overlooked, paid lip-service to, and misunderstood element. Authority is the rank you hold in the mind of the prospect in comparison to your competition.

The unwashed masses in your market—your competitors—all look the same, sell the same, and sound the same. Take the logos off of their websites and brochures, and you can’t tell one from the other. They have no authority. There’s no reason for a potential client to give them any authority within the market. Without authority, you’re a commodity.

It’s hard to get prospects to meet with you when you’re a commodity. They “already have a guy” and you’re just like “their guy,” so why would they meet with you?

How do you create authority?

Authority can’t exist without a point-of-view–your point-of-view. Your point-of-view shows a prospect that, unlike all the bland, no-name competitors, that you have an opinion about the work you do. A belief that your way is superior for some specific someone.

But it’s not enough to have a point of view. You have to publish your point of view—a newsletter, a podcast, a webinar, a book…scrolls. An unpublished point-of-view is merely an opinion, and of little value.

Element 2: Trust

We’ve all had “know/like/trust” drilled into our heads, but often the stuff we do in business development erodes trust. Charlie Green has a great way of describing how trust accrues in the mind of a potential client. His “trust equation” says that trust is Credibility + Reliability + Intimacy divided by Self-orientation.

We often go for the appointment without first establishing credibility, reliability, or intimacy, and we’re demonstrating high self-orientation (we’re desperate to make the sale for our reasons).

It’s no wonder that when we surveyed our subscribers last year, the #1 challenge they say they face in sales and marketing is getting appointments with qualified leads.

We’re ignoring a critical piece of the foundation. Without trust, risk increases.

Element 3: Risk

Risk and trust are closely linked. The more a prospect trusts you, the less risk they’ll feel in your collaboration together. On the flip-side, if you’ve failed to build trust, the risk alarm bells are going off in the prospect’s head.

It’s worth examining how you can reduce risk in your lead generation and appointment setting process. Risk isn’t just in the final buying phase.

There’s risk for the prospect in reaching out with an inquiry—“Will I be chased by a salesperson?” And, there’s risk when they book an appointment—“Will I be pressured into buying something I’m not sure I want?”

There’s no one formula for reducing risk. Much depends on what you sell, but here’s how we approach it:

  1. We invest a lot of time, energy, and money into giving our future clients ways to get to know us before we meet. Articles like this one, email newsletters, webinars, and our podcast all help.
  2. We push prospects to a 60-minute presentation before they book an appointment. They get two critical things from that presentation: First, a good overview of what we do so there are are no surprises on the call; Second: a clear description of what will happen on the call. Again, no surprises.
  3. You can’t buy on our first call, so there’s no pressure. The only goal of that call is to decide if we should have another conversation. And, that first call is just 20-minutes. So, even if it turns out to be a total disaster (which it never is), you’re only risking 20-minutes of time.

As you can see, all of those steps are there intentionally and are designed to reduce the feeling of risk the potential client feels.

Element 4: Time

It’s so tempting to believe all the Internet gurus who’ll tell you that you can make a sale in one call. And then shame you into thinking that there’s something wrong with your mindset if you can’t do it.

The reality is this: complex and high-ticket sales often require time. I was having a conversation with a client today who sells very unique investments to very wealthy people. His minimum investment requirement is $1 million.

In many cases, the $1 million he gets from a new client represents a half or a quarter of the profits and savings from a lifetime of work by the prospect.

It might take some time for a prospect to warm up to the idea of even meeting with you, let alone hiring you given what’s at stake for them. If you ignore the factor of time in your sales process, you’ll never build a system for selling over the long-term, and your experience inside your business will always be frustrating.

The time is a factor for the prospect, whether you choose to account for it or not.

2) How to compel prospects to meet with you

Most businesses approach sales as something that you are doing to a prospect. That typically involves some fancy sales and prospecting scripts with those clever questions that are meant to “trap” a prospect into agreeing to what you want them to do.

Sophisticated prospects see through that nonsense. Don’t do it. Leave those tactics to your competitors.

Instead, focus on developing a compelling reason to meet with you, and you’ll have a full pipeline of qualified leads.

There are three parts to a compelling reason: let’s sort them out.

What’s unique about your offer?

When I first began working to solve this problem of attracting clients two decades ago, for my first business, I came across the “uniqueness question”:

Why should a client choose you over any other option they have (including doing nothing)?

Most businesses don’t have a clear answer to that question.

How does a prospect choose a business?

Imagine you’re a prospective client for your business. You know you have a problem. You know that companies like yours can solve the problem. When you look out to the marketplace—likely by searching on Google—all of the firms offering a solution look the same.

There are lots of ways a prospect could make a choice, but they’re all variations on a random selection. Here’s my favorite method: Print the first page from Google, tape it to the wall and throw a dart.

In reality, they go hunting for some differentiating factor to guide the decision. And here’s what a prospect might look for:

  • Reviews online.
  • Recommendations from their network.
  • Price.

The first two are great, but you don’t control either of them. And the third…do you really want to be compared based solely on price?

Uniqueness is the most powerful way to compel a prospect, and you control your uniqueness.

Uniqueness is a business strategy decision, and it’s entirely within your control. There are 57 gyms listed on Yelp here in Tallahassee where I live. There might as well be 5,700 (more than a few choices becomes overwhelming).

So how did I choose my gym? Because of their uniqueness—they only offer 1-on-1 training, delivered in 30-minute high-intensity workouts. You, a trainer, 30-minutes. That’s it: no classes, no D.I.Y. workouts, just 1-on-1. Out of the 57, they are unique in that.

That spoke to exactly what I wanted. And that was an intentional business decision on the part of the owner. Are they the only gym with uniqueness? Of course not. But they are the only gym that offers nothing but 1-on-1 training.

When I was looking for a gym and found them, I stopped looking. They were uniquely “for me.”

Uniqueness is about designing your business to be uniquely for “someone.” Pick the someones, understand what they want, and create your uniqueness to compel people like them to want to meet with you and work with you.

Once you’ve positioned your business to be unique, then it’s time to focus on the initial meeting itself.

Is there value in meeting with you, even if the prospect doesn’t buy?

I’ve been on the buyer’s side of a lot of sales meetings over my career, and it’s evident in many of them that the meeting is about the seller making a sale. There’s little of value for me, the buyer.

When you ask for a meeting, the prospect knows it’s a sales meeting. Sales meetings are scary. To overcome the fear, you need to show that there’s real, tangible value in meeting with you even if the prospect doesn’t hire you.

In our meetings we go through what we call “The Growth Opportunity Analysis.” At the end of that process, our potential client walks away with a quantified picture of their business goal, how many meetings they’ll need per month to hit those goals, and then how many leads they’ll need to create the number of meetings required.

Whether they choose to work with us or not, they now have a concrete game plan to reach their goals.

Offering a tangible outcome to your sales meeting helps overcome the prospect’s fear of meeting with you.

3) Are your lead generation activities organized for effectiveness?

One of the reasons most people find lead generation so tricky is that there’s a factor of disorganization. Their activities are random in some cases—like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks—and in other cases, there isn’t much activity. In both cases, the root cause is the lack of an organizational system for lead generation.

Why an offer funnel brings clarity out of chaos.

The real challenge in lead generation is understanding how you’ll help someone through the stages of the buying process. These are the stages of awareness a potential client goes through on the way to hiring your firm.

stages of buyer awareness

Yet, most sales processes have just two steps…

Identify prospect >> sell something.

Your offer funnel allows you to match your sales activity to the stage the buyer is in at the moment.

Here, our offer funnel looks like this…

Offer 1: Read articles (like this one) and listen to podcasts. Stage: Problem aware.

Offer 2: Our Grow Your Firm free email course. Stage: Problem aware.

Offer 3: The Podcast Prospecting webinar. Stage: Solution aware.

Offer 4: The Right-Fit Call. Our initial meeting with a potential client. Stage: Most aware.

A few years ago we tested a process that, in hindsight, rushed people through the first three offers (and often skipped the first two completely). It worked from a sales standpoint, but the clients were not as well prepared for Offer 4—the 1-on-1 meeting—because we left out a critical foundational piece…the factor of time.

My client and good friend John Curry has a 3-step offer funnel that looks like this:

Offer 1: Read articles delivered in his email and print newsletter or listen to his podcast.

Offer 2: Get his information kit—a copy of his book, selected articles, and several audio interviews where John explains key topics his future clients are worried about.

Offer 3: Attend a live seminar (free). John packs seminars, putting as many as 100 prospects in a single 90-minute seminar—usually with a waiting list of people who simply won’t fit into the room.

Offer 4: Meet with John or a member of his team for a 90-minute F.O.C.U.S. session.

By contrast, most of his competitors are running around networking and cold calling to try to make the sales 2-step work (hello…want to meet with me so I can sell something).

Notice, the offer funnel itself makes John unique in his market. He serves his future clients in a way that no one else does—whether they buy or not.

Your offer funnel allows you to visualize the process from one end to another as a series of steps. A potential client might not move through the offer funnel in precisely the way you’ve laid it out. Yet, having the funnel defined helps you see who’s at which stage, and where you should lead them next.

All of this seems complicated. Is it really necessary?

Is it necessary? No. You can continue to generate leads the way you’re doing it now. If you’re happy with those results, by all means, keep going.

As with most things in life, the process precedes the outcome.

But if you’re using some form of a two-step sales process (hi, let’s do business) then focusing on the three things we’ve covered here will improve your results. Does it take time to get all of these things in place? Of course. Is there a payoff? Absolutely.

The good news is that as you build out your offer funnel, you start to put the building blocks of authority in place—articles and podcasts and presentations that communicate your unique point of view.

Freely sharing your wisdom with a potential client before you do business, through those forms of media creates trust and reduces the risk the prospect feels.

And, most importantly, the more you’re forced to think about what you do, and communicate it publicly, the more you’ll experiment with your message, and the sooner you’ll land on your uniqueness.

Let’s summarize…

We’ve covered the keys to generating more appointments with qualified leads. Along the way we’ve discovered that getting appointments isn’t the result of some magic script. That there are three shifts you need to make to book more appointments.

  1. The first shift is to build your foundation, and there are four parts to the foundation: Authority, Trust, Risk, and Time.
  2. The second shift is to stop trying to convince potential clients to meet with you and instead, give them a compelling reason. You do that through uniqueness and by offering tangible value in your initial meeting.
  3. The third shift is to organize your lead generation activity around an offer funnel.

If you want to take a deep dive into how we implement these ideas for our clients, I recommend you watch our new presentation: Podcast Prospecting: How to have a full pipeline of prospects that want to talk to you.

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