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Meeting And Call Planning, Getting The Most Out Of Each Meeting

by David Brock on September 26th, 2022

I’ve been revisiting a lot of selling basics. We take for granted that people, us, understand the basic of selling. What we do, why we do it, who it’s for….. The reality is few training programs address these things well, focusing instead on how we do these things. And, over time, we forget these basics, running on autopilot. We just do what we have always done, moving unconsciously through our and our customer’s days.

And we can see the results of this! Customers don’t want to see us, they prefer learning through other methods. They tell us we don’t understand them and their problems, we don’t even understand our products.

It’s time we start acting more purposefully. That we stop our mindless, unconscious execution of selling tasks. That we actually start thinking about what we are doing, that we go back to basics of how we and our customers can accomplish more.

Today’s topic is on Meeting Planning. I want to cover a bunch of meeting types–mostly sales meetings or sales calls, but also meetings we have internally, management meetings, and so forth. The same basic principles apply to having high impact meetings, whoever we are meeting with.

Why are we even talking about this?? Some of you may be reacting, “Why are we wasting our time on reviewing high impact meetings? We make 1000s of sales calls, we sit in 100s of meetings….why are you wasting our time?” The answer to this is easy, though we don’t pay attention to it. Think of internal meetings, how many are worth your time? Why do we constantly complain about how much time we waste in meetings? Think about customer meetings, why is it so difficult to get customers to commit to a meeting?

We, all of us, waste enormous amounts of time in meetings, yet we accomplish so little. It may be counterintuitive, but if we become more purposeful, if we accomplish much more in each meeting, we have to have fewer meetings, and people feel much better about the meetings we have.

To tantalize you, in my own company, we redesigned how we conduct customer meetings. We have a long sales cycle. Originally, on average, we had 22 meetings/calls to close. We rethought how we conducted these meetings, we applied design thinking approaches, reducing the average number of meetings to 9. We and our customers accomplish much more in each meeting. As a result, customers look forward to meetings, they know their time will be well used. And it’s freed us up, to do more work with other clients.

What is a meeting? A meeting is any form of engagement/conversation with another person. We’ll focus mostly on engaging our customers and manager/seller meetings. A meeting can be face to face, it can be virtual over Zoom/Teams. It can be a telephone call. Each of these encounters needs to be purposeful and designed to achieve goals.

Who is the meeting for? Usually, we are pretty self centered about meetings. We focus on what we want to accomplish. Sellers go into meetings with customers, we want to qualify them, do discovery, pitch our products, close. We focus on our goals and objectives, if we have them. Likewise, managers tend to focus on what they want to accomplish.

The reality is meetings are for each participant. We commit to meetings because we have goals and objectives, we want to accomplish something. Each of us evaluates the time we invest in a meeting by whether we accomplished our goals.

Why are we so bad at meetings? I think there are a couple of things that make all of us bad at meetings. Fault, if we wanted to assign fault, lies with everyone that participates. We participate in so many meetings, we go into each without a real purpose or objective. Sellers participate in 1000s of customer calls, we can do them in our sleep—which is why meetings are so bad. Customers, sit in 1000s of these calls, they, also, do them in their sleep. We tend to be unconscious in what we do, consequently, we don’t achieve what we could. We execute out of habit rather than purpose.

Because we participate in so many meetings, we don’t prepare for them. We leverage our past experience, we tend to shoot from the lip. Ironically, our experience is of so much wasted time

Another reason I think we are bad in meetings is that we tend to be selfish in the meetings. We focus on what we want to accomplish, with little consideration for those we meet with and what they want to accomplish. As a result, our goals aren’t aligned, and we achieve less than we could.

Finally, we tend to conduct meetings either as linked monologues or interrogations. Meeting are intended to be purposeful two way conversations.

Conducting more impactful meetings. I know this is so “old school,” but it works and sets you apart from everything else. It’s meeting prep. In sales, we used to call this sales call planning.

Most of the time, we have a vague plan, but more often shoot from the lip or do what we have done before. Because we don’t have a plan, we wander, waste our and the customers’ time, and accomplish very little.

Alternatively, you may think you prep, you have the scripts, conversational intelligence tells you the questions you should ask, we know what we want to tell the customer, we know what points we want to make, we have our discovery questions and our standard presentations. We know what we want to accomplish.

The problem is, are those the things the customer wants to accomplish? Is that what they are interested in, is what we want to accomplish even important to them? Or will they prepared to “pull their weight” in the meeting?

The issue is, we don’t have a meeting plan or goals that the participants are aligned around or prepared to accomplish! Without this, we are wasting everyone’s time.

My time is too valuable, as is that of the people I want to meet with. I want to be well prepared for the meeting, I want them to be well prepared for the meeting.

  • In every meeting, whoever I meet with and I align on the purpose of the meeting and what we want to accomplish.
  • In establishing these goals, each of us gets to think about: “Who should be participating? What do we need to do to be prepared to accomplish these goals?”

This takes a few minutes. It might be a prep conversation with the customer or even an email. But before we even conduct the meeting, we have everyone thinking about the issues, aligned on what we want to achieve and prepared to achieve them in the meeting.

This simple step, enables us to make every meeting count for each of the participants. And the interesting thing is that we accomplish so much more in each meeting, requiring us to have fewer meetings. As a test to this, think back on the meetings you’ve had over the past months. How many times have you walked out of the meeting thinking, “I forgot to discuss this…..” or “That was a waste of time….” Doing this collaborative prep virtually eliminates this.

In starting the meeting, always start with an agenda. Whether virtual, F2F, or over the phone, kick the meeting off with an agenda. The agenda simply reconfirms what you agreed upon before the meeting, it gives you and the participants to consider re-prioritizing or even adding new topics. It’s funny, this has become such an ingrained personal habit, I’ve “trained” my clients to always expect this. They tend to ask, “Dave, what’s the agenda….”

Another thing that maximizes the impact of each meeting is how you end the meeting. What have you agreed on? What are the next steps? Who has responsibility? What is the follow up/when? Follow up the meeting with an email confirming this.

Too often, we completely omit this step. When we do, we might have a discussion, then we leave and go into the next meetings, forgetting what we agreed to. So we have to have meetings reminding ourselves what we agreed upon in the prior meeting.

None of this is new! Every book, blog post, podcast, training programs about time management and effective meetings gives these recommendations. We simply don’t do this. But these are proven approaches to maximizing our impact with the people we are meeting with, making progress, and reducing the number of meetings to achieve our shared goals. We use our time and that of those we meet with, far more effectively! All of us are time poor, as much time as we can reclaim is critical and builds the value we create in the relationship.

But our competitors are having more meetings!! Somehow, we measure success by the amount of customer time we waste, I mean, spend meeting. The more meetings we have, the better our customers must like us, and if we have more than our competitors, then that must mean we are most favored. So we seek to schedule more meetings.

There’s an interesting irony here. Customers don’t waste their time, if sellers are wasting it, they stop meeting. If we are using their time effectively, helping achieve our collaborative goals, they will always have the time to meet–but it doesn’t take that many meetings.

This frees both us and others up to accomplish more. Perhaps, we have the time to meet with different customers, pursuing other opportunities. Think back to the comment I made about how we reduced the number of meetings to close from 22 to 9. That enabled us to meet with more than twice as many customers in the same time!

What about managers/internal meetings? We see the same time drains with meetings we have with our people and others in our own companies. We improve our impact, effectiveness and efficiency by applying the same principles I’ve discussed internally. As managers, we have to think, “our people are our customers….” So thinking about meetings with our people in the same way we think about customer meetings is critical. We find we accomplish more in fewer meetings, freeing each of us to be more effective in doing our jobs.

As managers, how do we make our meetings more impactful? Try this experiment, make every meeting you schedule optional. If you are conducting meetings that are aimless, that waste people’s time, they won’t come. Use their lack of participation as a way to rethink how you conduct more impactful meetings, making them something people can’t afford to pass up.

But he/she who looks busiest wins…… I’ve noticed there’s a certain “macho mentality,” around “busyness.” We schedule constant meetings, we measure our success by how filled our agendas are. We measure our people on the number of meetings they have, not on what they accomplish.

Some years ago, a client had this mentality. Every executive had backed to back meetings scheduled, with no time to reflect, plan, prepare. They spent their days talking to each other with little time to actually get the work done. One day, I was in their HQ, a 19 story building. I happened to jump on an up elevator at the 4th or 5th floor. The CEO was the only other person in the elevator, he was headed to his office on the 19th floor. He was actually the project sponsor, so we had a good relationship. He asked, “Dave, we are so busy, constantly in back to back meetings, what should I do to improve what we accomplish?” I replied, “George, do you have 10 minutes right now, let’s go your office, I’ll show you….”

George responded, “Well I have to postpone a meeting….” But he agreed to. We went to his office, we looked at his calendar. From 7am to 7pm, he was in back to back meetings. 50% of the meetings were actually double booked. We looked at the calendars of the execs reporting to him and the execs reporting to them. All their calendars looked exactly the same. They were so over-scheduled, they didn’t actually have the chance to do the work or think about the issues facing their business. Unwittingly, they had cultivated a behavior through the example they set. It permeated the organization, everyone was in constant meetings, but not accomplishing a lot. I told George, “Arbitrarily cancel 60% of the meetings on your schedule.” He was concerned, “What if I miss something important?” I responded, “Right now, you have so many, you don’t know what is and isn’t? The important one’s will emerge.” He did this, it took a little time, but everyone started mirroring his behavior. And within a few months, George called me, “Dave, thank you, we are accomplishing so much more….”

This is all basic, just common sense. It seems silly that I should have to write about this topic, and write such a long post. But we waste too much of our time, our customers’ time and our people’s time in meetings that accomplish far less than they should.

Set a goal to reduce the number of meetings you schedule, but that those meetings accomplish much more.

Afterword, Iā€™m writing a series of posts on ā€œBasic Selling Skills,ā€ just to remind us what/why we do what we do. The link will take you to that collection.

From → Performance

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