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Agenda’s

by David Brock on February 21st, 2012

No, today’s post isn’t about some esoteric view of people’s agendas–how we discern them, how we leverage them.  This is a rare post for me–it’s about the simple issue of having an Agenda–for meetings that is.

I’m amazed at the number of meetings I’m asked to participate in that have no published agenda.  Sure everyone knows the topic and general issues, though, 85% of the meeting sales people ask to have with me, they appear to have no structured agenda–at least nothing they have communicated with me.

The written agenda is one of the simplest, yet most powerful tools available to the sales person.  Yet it is the most underutilized.  The written agenda accelerates the sales/buying processes, allowing you and the customer to accomplish more in less time.

Why written agendas:

  1. They add structure and focus to the meeting, helping both you and the customer keep on track.
  2. They help you make sure you accomplish what you intended to accomplish.  Our research indicates that sales people make 50% more calls than required to close.  Largely, this is driven by poorly planned and executed meetings.  Imagine how much your customer will appreciate you not wasting their time with extra meetings.  Imagine the productivity impact of reducing the number of calls to close.
  3. They free you up to actually listen to, and engage the customer.  You don’t have to keep thinking about what you want to accomplish, you can just refer to the agenda as a prompt, so you actually can take the time to listen to the customer.
  4. It frees the customer up to actually listen to you.  They don’t have to worry, “What’s she here for, what is she trying to achieve?”  The agenda is your plan for the meeting, they don’t have to guess, they don’t have to be apprehensive, you’ve outlined what you plan to discuss.  They can relax and concentrate on the meeting.
  5. It’s a demonstration of your respect for the customer and their time.
  6. It’s a demonstration to your customer that you value your time and want to use it well.
  7. It’s a demonstration of your professionalism.

What’s a good agenda look like?  On those rare times when someone presents a written agenda before or at the outset of the meeting, too often it contains far more than we can possibly accomplish either for the time we have scheduled or for the participants that are involved in the meeting.

A good agenda will have the following elements:

  1. It will not be a long laundry list of discussion topics.  It will have the appropriate number of topics for the time allotted for the meeting and the objectives of the meeting.  Generally, for a one hour meeting, I like to have no more than 3-4 agenda items.
  2. The agenda items are expressed in short, but complete sentences.  Too often, the agenda item may be only a few words or a phrase.  When you get to that item, you are clueless about what you intended to discuss.
  3. The agenda will have a few blank lines at the bottom, allowing you or the customer to add additional agenda items, Always!  Even if you have circulated the agenda and agreed upon it in advance.  There are always things that may arise at the last minute.  You want the flexibility to add these if they come up.
  4. The agenda should express an “Action” or “Next Step” item.  this may be a peculiarity that I have, but colleague suggested it to me a number of years ago.  It’s one of the most powerful and focusing items I’ve ever had.  I always include an “Action” item as the last item on each agenda.  I present it as “If we accomplish everything we have agreed upon in this meeting, I would like to suggest this [action] as the next step.”  It’s our close–and we’re presenting it at the beginning of the meeting.  This simple statement as the last item on the agenda, is very focusing–for you and the customer.  They know you have a purpose, they know you are serious about accomplishing something in the meeting.  Successfully achieving this in every meeting accelerates the process tremendously.

If you were counting, my typical agenda will contain 6-8 line items (usually 6).  the 3-4 key discussion topics, 2-3 blank lines for additional items, and the Action statement.

Should you have a hidden agenda?  You can look at this a few different ways. 

I’m always asked, “should you publish the agenda in advance?”  Too many sales people want to hide their agenda, presenting it at the beginning of a meeting. I always always publish it in advance.  I want to make sure the customer and I are aligned on what we intend to accomplish before the meeting.  I want to make sure the customer has the right people invited to the meeting.  I want to make sure the customer is prepared for the meeting.

Sure you may have additional objectives you have not put on the agenda–I always like to have some stretch goals for each meeting.

Finally, make sure it’s published.  If you have a telephone meeting, email it to the participants as a reminder before the meeting–don’t make them search their email archives to find the original agenda.  If it’s a face to face meeting, print out copies of the agenda to distribute to all the participants.

Agendas are simple and powerful.  Make sure you are using them!

Finally, I have a confession, I did have a “hidden agenda” for this post.  I just left a meeting someone had invited me to.  It was a face to face meeting, a 30 minute drive from my office (60 minutes round trip).  I had suggested an agenda, but the people who invited me to the meeting never got one to me.  We had scheduled 60 minutes for the meeting.  No agenda was presented, 20 minutes into the meeting, I was confused, wondering what the point was.  22 minutes into the meeting, I decided there was no point, I stood up and left.  Do you think those sales people accomplished their goals?  Do you think I will permit another meeting with them on my schedule?

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