Effective meetings and communication impact the probability of success. During my time as a Special Agent with the FBI, efficient meetings and intentional communication helped us gather the critical information needed to execute strategic action plans within compact timelines. We applied a simple and structured process to conduct high value meetings that produced positive results in a variety of tough environments. From cross agency, multi-city take-down operations to complex cases of national security, a sound process and approach to meetings is essential in ensuring people are in the best positions to succeed.
The same principle applies to client and prospect meetings in business at gap intelligence. This is true for meetings in person, or on virtual platforms like Zoom. Whether the purpose is to introduce a new service to a prospective buyer, conduct client trainings, or navigate a quarterly business review, well designed meetings help to build credibility and trust with buyers, identify new opportunities for growth, and set clear paths forward for everyone involved.
The blueprint below outlines the process and general communication techniques to conduct more effective meetings that will win and keep business.
Prior to the meeting, consider the goals for both you and the client or prospect. Think about what you need to learn or understand about them or their business that is not available through open source information. Determine what would make the meeting successful for you, and consider (and ask) what they want to get out of the meeting.
Know Your Audience.
Spend time up front to learn about the meeting participants. Open source searches online and on platforms like LinkedIn will likely provide insight into their backgrounds, roles and areas of responsibility that could serve useful during the meeting. Send a short note to key attendees on LinkedIn 1-2 days before the planned meeting: “Hi John, we have a gap intelligence overview call planned on Thursday, and I thought it made sense we connect and put faces to names.” This will humanize you and show a professional level of effort and interest toward the other person.
When evaluating participants, it’s also important to consider who should attend based on goals for you and the client or prospect. For the client or prospect, it might mean asking and confirming specific attendee(s) attend if critical to the meeting and future action items. For your team, it could mean including key personnel to ensure you are positioned to address anticipated questions.
Clarify roles and responsibilities.
For meetings that will include people from your team, designate a facilitator, note taker and active listeners for hidden gaps that might get missed or need to be addressed during or after the meeting.
Follow the 25/55 rule.
Most meetings start or end at the top or bottom of an hour. This creates overflows into other meetings and disrupts needed breaks or prep time people might need just before, or after, they meet with you. Scheduling meetings on 25-minute or 55-minute shows professionalism and courtesy. It establishes the perception of structure and planning, encourages efficiency, and helps to stand out from the field.
Confirmation Email (24-48).
Confirmation notes increase meeting certainty. Send a confirmation email (so it’s written and can be shared with colleagues) 1-2 days in advance. In the email, confirm the date and start time using their time zone first. Then acknowledge the block of time allocated to the meeting, and provide or restate the agenda. At the end, see if there is any additional topics they’d like to cover, and ask them to confirm attendees and invite anyone appropriate for the meeting.
The Meeting Roadmap
#1. Set the Agenda
People fear the unknown. A clear agenda shared up front solves that. It also sets us apart, since most people fail to do this. A well-communicated agenda shares the purpose of the meeting, confirms time allotted, outlines the topics to be covered, ensures the right people are present, and invites the buyer’s input and participation. Asking for buyer input is important – it gives them a sense of control and confidence in knowing their concerns will be addressed.
The agenda looks like this:
Purpose: “The goal of our time together is to learn more about each other, and by the end, determine if it makes sense for us to consider working together.”
Acknowledge: “I’m glad we could make this meeting happen.” Remove the urge to thank them for showing up, and instead position yourself on equal ground.
Time: “We agreed to block out 50 minutes with each other, does this still work for everyone if we utilize the full block of time?” Is there any reason someone might not be able to? Make sure to get names and follow up.
Outline: “Excellent. In order for us to cover everything in the time scheduled, I put together a short agenda. First, I’d like to provide some background on our company. Then, ask a few questions about your current situation. After that, we can discuss your desired situation (the perfect world state of your business in a year or two from now). Next, I’d like to know more about your expectations in working with a business like us; and if we all see a fit, we can talk about possible next steps.”
Input: “Is there anything else you might want to cover or get out of today’s session together? Use case scenarios of competitors that call on us for help — absolutely. I’ll make a note to cover that. Anything else? No, okay great.” “Do we have everybody? Who are we missing?” “Okay, let’s get started.”
#2. Conduct Discovery
A well-executed discovery process will uncover the buyer’s current and desired situations. It places a focus on the client or prospect (not us), reduces buyer resistance, builds trust, and creates a unique and memorable experience for them.
Using a strategic flow of questions during discovery will help break down barriers and gather information in an organized and natural pattern. The flow moves the client or prospect through a funnel of logical questions to help understand their current situation and possible challenges faced. This helps us expose the impact of those challenges if not addressed. From there, questions will move toward their desired situation, and expectations of a solution provider in the event implementation happens.
Communication Techniques to Uncover Truth:
Various communication techniques exist that help to create better engagement and open communication. Effective pauses, neutral language and asking the right questions, in the right ways, at the right time, can greatly improve the value of information captured.
Clarifying & Probing Questions
Clarifying and probing questions help to move past surface answers and understand what is actually important to the other person. These types of questions encourage deeper thought and often help buyers uncover and recognize problems they may not even know they have.
For example, while talking through a feature relevant to a need the buyer expressed early in the conversation, the client says, “This is great.” Instead of moving on, we can use a cue like that to ask a series of clarifying and probing questions:
- “Excellent, what do you like best about it? Why do you say that? “What else?”
- “How could you see you and your team using this? What would that look like? How often?”
- “How did you do it before?“ Can you walk me through what that process looks like for you?”
- “What might this mean for you now?” “What happens if you stick with your current process?”
- “Who else do you feel this might help?”
- “What resources are you currently using? How do they fit with what you do?”
Selective Word Mirroring
Selective word mirroring is used to subtly encourage additional input from a buyer around a statement they just made. This involves repeating back, in a question-like manner, key words from the buyer’s statement. For example, if a buyer says, “Our sales team manually collects competitor prices across retail and ecommerce.” We might respond by saying, “Manually?” This communication approach will encourage additional input around the selected word. When mastered, this is a powerful information gathering tool.
Labeling is a technique used to help disarm the buyer — by transferring the focus to them and not us, and invites them to agree or make a correction.
- “It seems like you put a lot of thought into this.”
- “It sounds like you are concerned about how this will work.”
- “It looks like your team needs help with this.”
Neutral language helps remove pressure and places the focus on them. This removes pressure and helps the buyer feel like they are in control, even though they are answering your questions.
- “What do you see as the next step with making sure you have what you need from us?”
- “Who else do you feel like we might be able to help with training similar to this?”
- “It might be appropriate to schedule another session to make sure you have what you need. Would you be open to that?”
- “How would you like to see this go?”
We are taught to ask questions that lead buyers into responding with yes. People see yes as a commitment, which can create anxiety and diminish receptivity. On the other hand, people feel safe with no. It creates protection and a sense of control. Try phrasing questions to get a ‘positive no’ response. Positive no questions also encourage additional information from the buyer you’d otherwise have to ask for.
- “Would it be impossible for us to get this completed by next Thursday?”
- “Is 2pm a bad time?”
- “Are you against finding a solution to this now?”
- “Is it crazy to think we can get your team together for an hour?”
#3. Summary and Catch All
At the end of the meeting, make sure to summarize the key points discussed, and re-state all relevant action items. The summary is also the time to invite the buyer to confirm if we accurately understand their situation. Doing so allows us to make corrections if we missed something important. People want to be heard, and communicating a clear summary demonstrates that.
Now is also an appropriate time to thank the attendees. Notice the difference from the agenda step in which we acknowledge them (e.g. “I’m glad we could both find time to meet”). Thank them for sharing information, perspectives and opinions. Next, summarize the meeting points (e.g. current situation, desired situation, and impact of not addressing any existing problems or challenges). After that, quickly review relevant action items necessary to move forward. Finally, ask questions to confirm the summary is accurate and invite them to include anything you missed.
“I’m glad we could make this work. We covered A, B, and C. We did not get through everything. As far as next steps…”
At this point, use the information learned to suggest appropriate next steps. This could mean suggesting a future session to help them address a specific use case or set of questions. It could also mean bringing in additional people to the conversation not initially considered. Or, it could be simply to talk through a formal proposal. No matter what it is, be sure to solidify next actions for them and you.
The Post Meeting Actions
After the meeting is complete, conduct a debrief with any folks from your team that attended the meeting. Compare notes and discuss what you learned, what additional information you might still need, and evaluate the meeting together (e.g. what was learned, what went well, what could be improved, etc.). Be sure to log the interaction and notes from the session into your CRM.
Following the internal debrief, share a meeting recap for the client or prospect and confirm in writing any action items that need to be completed by either party. Restate the agreed upon deadline for the action items and the next date you will plan to contact them, unless you hear from them first — this gives them a sense of control and allows you to be a person of your word when you follow up as promised.
Successful client and prospect meetings require preparation, discipline and work. The process and communication techniques outlined above will help to position you as a trusted advisor and make for more efficient and effective meetings.
For more than 17 years, gap intelligence has served manufacturers and sellers by providing world-class services monitoring, reporting, and analyzing the 4Ps: prices, promotions, placements, and products. Email us at email@example.com or call us at 619-574-1100 to learn more.