Poison Pills.

Last summer I wrote a post called "The Seinfeld Meeting" in which I called out three types of ineffectual "meetings about nothing" that sellers too often prepare for. But if you're trying to get through to clients or senior agency contacts in today's marketplace, you'd better have more than good intentions and extra homework going for you. Because never before have senior customers had less time to meet with you or more electronic filters to keep you out.

How critical, then, are the words we use in proposing that elusive sit-down? You earn your attention 5 seconds at a time. In talking to clients over the years, I've learned a few of the specific phrases that will trigger an immediate delete or "no thanks," and offer them below. Go forth and dispense these poison pills no more:

"Update." As in "I'd like to come by and give you an update on our...whatever." What the customer hears: "I've got something incremental, mundane and all about us to share with you. And frankly, I wasn't even excited enough about it to come up with a catchy name." This sounds like dry toast that the customer didn't even order in the first place.

"Review." You say "I'd like to review (or 'go over') our latest performance numbers, reports, etc." The client hears: "Just what I wanted: more data!" Clients and agency leaders work hard to get promoted over the years just so they won't have to "review" sets of numbers. Not to sound too bourgeois, but they've got people to do that kind of stuff for them.

"I Want to Learn More." About your business, your new product launch, your issues. You may want to believe the client will reward your desire to know more about them, but actually you've hatched two assumptions, both of them fatal to your sales ambition: that (1) you're not prepared to solve for anything on this call -- how could you if you don't even have a handle on the issues? -- and (2) you're expecting a second meeting -- to deliver the goods. In an age where information has never been more readily accessible, clients have a right to expect you to have a clue coming in. Or at least to have made the effort.

What to offer instead? For starters, your point of view on the customer's situation. You'd be amazed how refreshing -- and welcome -- it can be to hear "We've done some research and this is how your situation seems to us...." If I'm a marketer today, I've got a headcount problem and a braincount crisis. I simply do not have enough smart people thinking about solving my business problems. Even if you're not completely accurate in your description of my issues, I like your ambition and orientation. At very least, I want to hear more.

Closely aligned with that actionable point of view is your vision of a better future. If you can't put into words how spending time with you might improve the prospects for this customer, then you probably aren't close enough to what they really care about. I don't think there's that many clients who get genuinely worked up over saving a penny. But they all want more control, better understanding, personal success, competitive advantage.

Now: take a look at your outbound e-mails and listen to the sound of the voice mails you leave. Are you serving up poison pills? Or is your message the one that's going stand out like a strategic beacon over a choppy, tactical sea?