The critical non-essentials: Top ten tips for sales meetings

I see a lot of salespeople — in fact, the majority — rushing into sales meetings, and arriving just in time without having given themselves time for precise pre-preparation. I believe this is a lazy, complacent approach that will mean they are likely to be on the back foot from the beginning.

Do you think the brilliant tenor Andrea Bocelli would arrive at the concert hall at the last moment and rush onto the stage? What kind of performance would he give if he did? He might get lucky, but it would be unlikely to be his best performance.

Although yours is not a singing performance, you have to perform to the best of your ability to maximise the opportunities the meeting offers and not rely in any way on luck. To ensure optimum performance in the meeting, I’ve always used the following ‘pre-prep’ approach in the run-up to a meeting. Legendary rugby coach Sir Clive Woodward calls these types of activities ‘critical non-essentials’, and cited them as one of the main reasons England won the Rugby World Cup in 2003.

1. Prompt pre-prep arrival:

Arrive near the meeting a minimum of one hour before the start time.

2. Coffee shop thinking

Find a suitable nearby coffee shop or quiet place to sit down and gather your thoughts.

3. Devices off/blinkers on

Turn off your devices. Don’t answer any emails or messages now as they will impair your focus — instead, you need to get your blinkers on.

4. Review notes

Recap your notes/objectives for the meeting to gain clarity on what you’re trying to achieve.

5. Focus

Snap into a focused mindset for the meeting – calm, confident, positive, and friendly.

6. Teamwork

If you’re with a colleague, rehearse your roles and how you will work together, so you don’t tread on each other’s toes.

7. Prompt arrival

Ensure you arrive at the client’s office a minimum of 15–20 minutes before the meeting start time.

8. Advance set-up

Ask beforehand if you can go to the meeting room early so you can set up IT/AV before the attendees arrive. There is nothing worse than setting up in front of new prospects and trying to chat while doing so!

9. The right seat

Choose a seat that you feel comfortable in, from which you can manage and control the meeting effectively. If there is a beautiful view, do not choose a seat facing it as this may distract you. Also, if there are two or more of you attending, spread out so that you mingle with the other attendees and it doesn’t feel like an ‘us and them’ scenario.

10. Key meeting tools ready

Get your notepad, notes and business cards out and your game face on so you’re 100% ready to go when they walk in.

These tips may seem basic or obvious, but are you doing them all currently? I guarantee that following them religiously will make a difference to the way you start the meeting and your overall performance in the meeting. In addition to using them in external meetings, they should also become rules of engagement for your own team to use in every sales meeting. If it worked for a world cup winning team, pre-preparation could be just the edge that your business needs.

Scale Up Millionaire by Gordon McAlpine is out this month, priced £11.99 (published by Rethink Press). For more information, visit