Before we can discuss the logical aspects of preparation, let’s first understand the dynamics of a meeting. There is a difference between attempting to “sell” people something and “moving” their position of belief. Here we will focus on moving a pre-conceived belief to a new one, which has the potential to provide gains for both parties. The implication is a more collaborative process, but still with an element of leadership. This is the art of facilitating the conversation to create a new position of understanding and agreement.
These meetings also involve a balance of emotional involvement and participation, rather than being a one way street of telling and convincing.
The Rule of Preparation
It is important to recognize in a sales cycle when there is the opportunity to take the risk to create a game-changing moment. It is at this point that disciplined preparation is key to ensuring that we take full advantage of the situation! I use the rule of 8. A one-hour critical meeting means 8 hours of preparation time. This time is spread across 3 main areas, each taking one-third of the total preparation time.
Area 1: Research
Research includes having a clear understanding of:
- The company’s business and critical issues that they may be addressing, as well as proactive opportunities where we could improve their performance.
- The people who are attending the meeting along with their business priorities and personal agendas. (Important for creating emotional momentum.)
- Their style of engagement (formal, relaxed, fast, slow, etc).
- The power structure and interrelationships that will exist in the room.
- The competitors and what Win Theme and core messages they will be delivering.
- Understanding the environment that we will be in at the meeting.
Area 2: Core Preparation
This includes the following key steps:
- Style of Engagement – First, decide the style of engagement that has the highest chance of creating emotional connection and movement. All styles can be effective, but it is picking the right one that is important. Barack Obama is regarded as a highly talented communicator. He can adapt from a formal setting with suit and tie and teleprompter to sleeves rolled up. He is effective in both styles, but each is deliberately chosen for the given event and audience in order to make the most impact. A formal setting is carefully scripted; a more informal style is more bullet point oriented—allowing for more latitude in the conversation.
- Invitees – Carefully choose who is going to be in the meeting on our team that can connect with the client individuals. Too often we see senior executives wheeled in for a “fashion parade,” serving up clichés, or worse, going completely off script! Get people on the team who are committed to the client and the outcome – better to have too few than too many. Don’t load up the company bus!
- Outcomes – Prepare the tangible range of outcomes for the meeting. Outcomes which can be demonstrated by agreed to actions with the client ensures that progress was made.
- Storyline – Create the storyline and/or value proposition. Use the Encounter Plan™ Template. Ensure there are two key engagement principles in your story. 1) We want them to understand and 2) then to feel emotion. Do they feel excited, disturbed, or assured? The first two emotions are the ones that will spark a change in position!!
- Materials – Prepare the physical materials; the PowerPoint (please not 44 slides!), handouts, videos, and collaborative devices (such as design thinking, surveys, or worksheets).
- Prepare – for the worse things that could happen in the meeting!
- Prework – Is there any prework that we can get the client to complete before the meeting? I strongly advocate using surveys to feed back their own findings and requirements.
Area 3 – Practice
Here comes the hard part.
Engagement doesn’t happen by accident.
Bill Gates once said about Steve Jobs’ presentation skills, “It was just amazing to see how precisely he would rehearse…” Steve Jobs made presentations look effortless because he put in a lot of effort to get everything right.
It doesn’t really matter how you practice and rehearse as long as you achieve the following:
- Allocate sufficient time.
- Have all of your team members present who are going to be in the meeting.
- Be open to constructive critique from your teammates.
- Enlist an independent team to play the role of the client.
- Decide ways to increase the emotional intensity of the conversation.
- Keep practicing until you feel excited about the result!
The Final Word
The ultimate key to emotional engagement is to be your authentic self! Strive to allow your personality to shine through, show some humor, and enjoy your chosen profession of “moving people.”
To prepare for an upcoming sales call, schedule an appointment on your calendar with yourself to focus on researching the client. Look further than the background of the company and their critical issues. Use LinkedIn or other resources to learn about the people you will be meeting with. Find out what you can about the competitors and their approach. Being better prepared will surely lead to a better outcome.