Skin in the Game and the Art of the Next StepBy Jack Vincent

When Warren Buffet coined the phrase “skin in the game,” he probably wasn’t thinking about romance.

But stick with me here.

A friend of mine had been dating a divorced mother for several months.

Everything seemed to be going well, but he wanted more commitment.

While it felt mutual, he really wasn’t certain what she wanted, especially in view of her family responsibilities.

One evening over a romantic dinner, he opened a conversation about her kids and how they would see their mom with a committed boyfriend.

She smiled. So he suggested they find a way for the kids to meet him.

She laughed excitedly. “I have the kids this weekend. Why don’t you come over Saturday for an early dinner with us?”

My friend had earned his girlfriend’s trust, and she was motivated to invest heavily in the next step. 

She was putting skin in the game.

Skin in the Game

So often, salespeople leave a first meeting with a new prospect feeling optimistic. 

They walked us to the elevator, patted my project manager and me on the backs, and said, ‘We like this a lot!’

While words such as “Send us a proposal” may lift your spirits, that could turn out to be like meeting someone at a bar who says, “Sure, give me a call,” but then never agreeing to a date… no skin in the game… no investment in the next steps.

When you leave a first meeting, what will your prospect do to contribute to such next steps?

Is the prospect putting skin in the game? Or is the prospect sitting on the sidelines by asking you to do a lot of follow-up work, with no commitment on his part?

If the prospect is simply going to wait for you to develop something, it doesn’t mean a deal is dead, but it’s not a great sign, either.

Customers are usually polite in that they don’t want to hurt your feelings face-to-face, and sometimes they’re simply not focused enough to solve the problem that’s right in your sweet spot.

The Advance

All too often, after you send your key findings or, even worse, a full proposal, the prospect goes quiet. “I’ll be travelling. I’ll get back to you in a couple of weeks.”

And then you’re in chase mode.

Sound familiar?

So how do you determine success in a first meeting, and how can you keep the prospect actively engaged?

How do you gauge the prospect’s real interest, and how do you determine which opportunities among your active prospects to dedicate more of your time to?

It’s called an advance.

The extent to which the prospect contributes to the next steps determines the quality of the advance. The extent to which the prospect dedicates resources to the next steps is a clear and strong indicator as to how motivated the prospect is to really work toward a deal.

Let’s say Prospect A tells you at the end of a meeting, “Send me key findings and recommendations by the end of next week,” while not really being clear as to what she’ll do when she receives that proposal.

And let’s say Prospect B agrees, at various stages of a meeting, to set up a phone call between you and his Project Head, and to bring in three different people for a meeting next month, while also asking you, “Send me key findings and recommendations by the end of next week.”

Which meeting do you gauge to be more successful?

Prospect B, because they have advanced. They are investing their resources in the next steps. They are putting skin in the game.

On which prospect’s key findings and recommendations should you work more diligently?

Prospect B, of course.

Gauging a Prospect’s Motivation

Now, an advance is not only an indicator, a gauge, of a prospect’s motivation. It can also be a tactical tool for ensuring—or at very least, encouraging—an interested prospect stay engaged in that often difficult and uncertain period following a first or second meeting.

You can—and should—work possible advances into your meeting plan for each and every prospect visit, including upselling existing clients.

In your plan, define a successful meeting outcome by how the prospect might contribute to the next steps, and work these possible next steps in to your meeting objectives. 

You don’t have to wait until the end of the meeting to ask for these advances. Sometimes it’s simply more natural to ask for them if things are going well in the middle of the meeting.

And sometimes, prospects will offer advances as a natural part of the meeting. Take note of these advances and review them at the end of the meeting.

If the prospect does not agree to any specific advances, it is entirely within your right to ask for one, especially if you have work to do as a result of this meeting.

You have every right to say, “We’ll be happy to prepare our key findings and recommendations, John, and send them at the end of the week. Could we arrange a meeting the following week with you and your IT infrastructure team?”

By having your desired advances planned before the meeting, you can quickly suggest them, or even adjust to a new advance based on new material you’ve discovered about the prospect during the meeting.

My friend asked his girlfriend for an advance, and she accepted by arranging dinner with her kids.

After the dinner, with the kids in bed and the two of them snuggling on the sofa, she offered another advance. “Why don’t you and I drive to my parents’ place next weekend?”

*Excerpted from Jack Vincent’s new book, A Sale Is A Love Affair – Seduce, Engage & Win Customers’ Hearts. Purchase by February 7th to receive the introductory price and bonus content—a 25-minute audio workshop How To Ask the Right Questions to Engage and Convert Your Prospects.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Jack Vincent

Jack Vincent is a sales advisor, speaker and trainer who divides his time between Luzern, Switzerland and Woodstock, NY. He’s sold to—and provided sales training, presentation skills and leadership development to—some of the world’s leading companies, including Coca-Cola, NBC Universal, MasterCard, and Visa.

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