Customer Meetings That Count
"I hate my job!" blurted my friend. His statement left
me puzzled as to how someone who was so successful could so dislike
his job. I knew that he was respected by his peers, and that he
had established a track record for increasing his business at
a record rate. Puzzled, I continued to quiz him regarding the
specifics of his dislike for his job. "It's the customer
meetings", he admitted sheepishly, "I'm always at a
loss preparing for such a meeting, and concerned that I'm being
intrusive and wasting the customers time...". Assuring him
that the mere suggestion of a customer meeting has brought many
men and women to their knees, I started to take a closer look
at the elements of effective customer meetings. While there's
no "cookbook recipe", there are specific steps that
can be taken to make customer meetings successful.
Do not drop in. Do you like it when someone interrupts your business
day? If you do, you're in the minority . Calling ahead ensures
that you'll be there at a time that's convenient for your customer.
Also, know how your customer prefers to communicate. I once had
a customer who absolutely detested using the phone. It would take
her days to respond to messages on her voice mail. She was, however,
diligent about reading and responding to her e-mails. Guess how
I communicated with her? There are some people who prefer to receive
messages by fax. Personalize your request for a meeting in the
communication method that works best for your customer. Be prepared
to offer several available dates and times for your meeting.
Prepare an agenda.
Fax or e-mail the agenda well in advance of your meeting. This
gives your customer the opportunity to see (and get excited!)
about your meeting. This also gives him the opportunity to add
any additional agenda items to the list. If your meeting includes
a demo, attach any literature regarding the product you are demonstrating
to the agenda. Include a timeline on your agenda tells who will
be speaking on what subject and for how long. If any additional
people are accompanying you to the meeting, attach their biographies
as well. All this attention to detail sends a message that you
value your customer's time, and that you're providing lots of
"bang for their buck".
Focus on the customer's requirements.
Your meetings should always be about your customer's needs, rather
than about what you're selling. The most important meeting you'll
ever have is the gathering of customer's requirements. It's critical
to get a precise and documented reading of customer requirements.
Even if you walk out of the meeting with total clarity regarding
the requirements, you will still need to fax or send e-mail to
the customer for validation. When, and only when you receive the
validation, can you conduct a meeting demonstrating how your product/services
specifically meets his requirements. Be sure to include examples
of how you've met similar customer requirements.
Practice the niceties.
Saying you're not good at small talk is not going to "cut
it". You always need to warm-up your audience. Even the shyest
individual can learn to make small talk. There's the weather (
too hot, too cold, etc.), sports (how about them Giants?), upcoming
holidays (have you done your shopping yet?). Check the morning
paper before you leave for the meeting. Often there's a survey
noted (90% of people have a fear of flying) that you can use as
a conversation opener. While you don't want to waste the customer's
time, you do want to put him at ease before you start thebusiness
part of the meeting.
Take meeting minutes.
I believe taking minutes to be one of the most critical parts
of any meeting. Preferably you will have someone with you to take
minutes as you conduct the meeting. Let the customer know that
you will be taking minutes and that you will send him a copy of
the minutes for his review. This will ensure agreement of discussions
that took place at the meeting. Be sure, of course, to send the
neatly transcribed meeting minutes to your customer on a timely
basis! Maintain a file of all meeting minutes. They can provide
the "history" you need at a future date.
Always leave enough time for a question and answer session at
the end of your meeting. It's perfectly acceptable not to have
the answer for every single question you are asked. Just be sure
to prepare an action list noting who will be responsible for the
answer, and the date that the person will provide the information.
Note, in writing, any dates and actions that are relevant to the
customer. Schedule your next customer meeting before you leave
the office. And finally, even if the meeting was a perhaps just
a wee bit combative, smile, shake hands, and thank him for his
Excellent meeting skills separate the men from the boys, and the
women from the girls. Meetings are a critical part of any successful
business effort. And while you may never love conducting meetings,
you can learn to hold meetings that count. Conducting professional,
effective, interesting meetings will give you and your business
a competitive advantage. The best compliment I've ever received
from my customers was how much they enjoyed meeting with me. I
wish the same compliment to you!