As salespeople, our lives are very much about meetings… virtual meetings, as well as in-person. Effective, well-facilitated meetings are our most reliable path to success and help define our personal brand.
But… what do we do when clients who are NOT invited by our Partner Ally or us come to our meeting?
“Two uninvited clients showed up at a crucial meeting. They were against our opportunity. My Partner Ally and I lost momentum because I did not know how to minimize their disruption.”
If the uninvited attendees are supportive – the more, the merrier! But what if they are not supportive? What if they are there to disrupt our progress? How do we manage inhibiting behavior?
What if our Partner Ally is reluctant to challenge them? Perhaps they are more senior, and they may be recurring critics of the initiative or opportunity. We still need our meeting to achieve its objectives. So, what can we do to be ready for this?
Let’s talk about how to manage inhibiting behaviors in two different scenarios. First: the uninvited attendees show up at the start of the meeting. Second: they come into the session after you have started.
- Uninvited Attendees at the Start:
We do not do much mechanically different from what we would do in a client meeting without uninvited attendees. The difference is not in the mechanics; it is in how we manage uninvited attendees’ responses and behaviors.
Here is how we are going to defuse the disruption:
- We are going to get the uninvited attendees’ cards on the table and take away the element of surprise they might have planned to spring on us later. (The sooner we know bad news, the more time we have to plan our counteractions!)
- During the normal introduction phase, we ask questions like: “What will be your role/your department’s role in this project?” And, “What specific questions or concerns do you want to have addressed today?”
- We will be extra diligent in repeating and recording responses of the uninvited attendees. Why extra diligent? So we or our Pursuit Team know as early as possible who owns our response to the uninvited attendees.
- We openly assign ownership of the responses to ourselves or to one or more of our Pursuit Team who is/are best qualified to address the topic(s). If not entirely answerable in the meeting, we commit to a time-bound answer to follow.
- We circle back at the end of the meeting and pointedly ask all attendees, “Did we sufficiently address your topic/concern?” If we get the uninvited to admit we did, that is a good thing. However, if the uninvited adds more traps to their original objection or otherwise evade the question, we will have exposed them to the other client attendees to have motives other than what is best for their company.
What if the uninvited attendees succeed in denting our pursuit objectives a bit? Or embarrass our Partner Ally? While an unfortunate outcome, we are still way ahead of the game for having the opposition’s facts in the open sooner rather than later.
- Uninvited Attendees After the Meeting Has Started:
Let’s face it, in addition to not being invited in the first place, this is discourteous to everyone already in the session. Thus, the interrupters will already be in an unfavorable position with invited, on-time attendees. Good for us!
Nonetheless, we still need to assertively defuse the disruption. How? Follow everything in section 1 above except… since the introduction phase of the meeting has passed, we deliberately allow the embarrassing light of interruption to painfully shine on the uninvited attendees. We diplomatically stop forward progress and ask them the same two introduction phase questions in step 1b. Then, pickup at step 1c and follow every step after that.
Good luck out there and remember to defuse the disruption!
Today’s world is full of cancel culture, workplace frustration manifesting as quiet quitting, and the accelerating battle for fewer expense dollars in challenged markets. This makes trust among colleagues and standard business courtesies on the decline. To protect your important meetings, think carefully about how you will manage uninvited attendees of any level before you consider your meeting plan to be complete.