This final article in our series of six has been written to help boost conversations with your customers, both existing and new. This will unlock potential, build strong relationships and ultimately help you recover, as you and everyone else move into a new commercial reality.
You’re now Reaching Out, arranging second conversations and unlocking more time. The time is fast approaching when you’re going to be in a fantastic position to help with your customers’ needs, in a way that is mutually beneficial.
Therefore it’s now time to cover three areas:
- Getting ready for the conversations after your initial Reach Out
- Running a commercial conversation that is valuable for both parties
- The virtual meeting/conversation – things that make all the difference
Getting ready for your conversations
How many meetings or conversations do you have with your customers in a typical week? We bet it’s enough to take up a significant chunk of time.
But the key question is how many of those meetings are you prepared enough for, in order to make them valuable for your customer and therefore valuable commercially for you?
Below are two very simple checklists to use to get ready. They can also be used across your teams, helping to reinforce your company’s identity.
- Agenda – 3-5 bullet points, no more. Sent before the meeting.
- Objective – where do you want to be by the end of the meeting, and where do you think the client wants to be?
- Who’s going – from their side and from yours. Agreeing what roles you and your people will play is key e.g. who’s leading, note-taking?
- Logistics – this can often completely ruin meetings if not done correctly. Transport arrangements, booking meeting rooms, refreshments, IT absolutely nailed down and having a back-up plan should things go south.
This sounds a bit subjective, but being confident emotionally is key to deepening your conversations with your clients and therefore your relationships:
- Research – knowledge is power. Research them, their business, their competitors and their industry news in general. Even stuff outside their industry that you think could be useful.
- Questions to ask – Have 3-4 open questions tuned to what’s important for them now and in the near future, which you’ve researched above.
- Tough questions you may have to answer – knowing you can answer really difficult questions boosts confidence and the client’s confidence in you
- Rehearsing – great to do with a friendly colleague who’s willing to play the client.
Starting off by taking even just one or two points from the above lists will immediately begin to impact upon the way your meetings go. Let’s now turn to the meeting itself.
Running commercial conversations brilliantly
You need to ensure that both parties come away feeling like they got real value from the meeting. Enter our S5 Meeting structure:
The key word here is ‘structure’. Use the tips below loosely, as these conversations are organic and you can’t control everything:
Starting with Impact
Tick off these three things:
- Introductions – Names, titles and roles in the meeting. This gives real clarity on why you’re all there.
- A quick zap over the agenda to ensure that nothing new’s cropped up.
- Time check – Check whether they still have the amount of time that was agreed to when you arranged the meeting. This shows that you value their time
If you’re exploring a project or anything that will then lead to putting together a solution, then you need to fully understand what the other party is trying to achieve. You need to find things out through open questions, for example
- Context – e.g. what’s the background to this?
- Outcomes – What’s the ideal impact of this project?
- Stakeholders – Who else is involved?
These types of open questions will enable you to start gaining broad understanding across these areas, before then being able to delve deeper into each area.
You can also bring some value here through putting forward your own experience, knowledge or hypotheses that are relevant and/or challenging. Clients definitely want to hear this from you.
Summarising can be done throughout the conversation, and it’s crucial to do so. It shows that you’ve listened, and if you can summarise using their words, then you have definitely listened!
It’s this part of the meeting that, if you get it right, can be the start or continuation of a collaborative way of working. There are two things you can do here that avoids that ‘salesy’ feeling and brings the client into the creation of the solution:
- You can introduce your service simply as your ‘first-pass thinking’, or ‘initial thoughts’. This shows that you have some ideas, which they should be keen to hear about, as this may help with their own thinking too, but it’s not a pitch.
Once you’ve explained your initial thinking, it’s then time to make it co-creative, using this question:
- ‘What do you think?’
With this discussion-type approach the pressure is low-key and the resulting initial solution is genuinely co-created, with clarity and even excitement.
You all need to agree what needs to be done next. Here it’s important that you are as specific as possible about the next steps, using questions such as:
- When do you ideally need the response?
- What format do you need the proposal in?
- What level of detail do you want in the document?
Knowing exactly when and how to get back to clients, and then doing so, builds your reputation as a reliable partner.
The virtual meeting/conversation – differences and how to be human
Business reality has changed and virtual conversations are now key to many businesses. Here are some points for engaging at a human level when using remote platforms:
- Be more vulnerable – using this medium to communicate means that it’s more difficult to read emotions and body language, but you can’t ask them to show you more! So it’s important that you take the lead here and talk about your thoughts and feelings about the meeting and ask about theirs too.
- Be more human – on a significant number of occasions you’re likely going to be speaking to customers in their own home, so keeping it more informal in both feel of the meeting but also how you dress, helping make it more relaxed and comfortable for both parties
- There will be more small talk, get ready for it – sometimes these meetings can be a little awkward, and can also fall victim to various technical issues. Even such a small thing as having a few quips and small talk topics can help smooth the conversation
- Be shorter in your movements – your own movements and gestures are exaggerated in a virtual conversation and can take attention away from the topic. Be aware of how you move during these conversations, and reduce big movements. It will help keep everyone’s focus on point
- Staging – you’ve probably seen about a million different types of bookcases by now, as they’ve become the default background for anyone on TV doing an interview from their home. But it’s important to think about what background you have behind you. Is there anything that could distract? Is the light OK, or is it behind you making it difficult to see you? Small things like these can make the difference between a focused, time-efficient meeting and an annoying, confusing one
- More than one from your side? Better discuss and prepare for what your roles are going to be in the meeting. You can’t do hidden signalling!
Finally, you don’t HAVE to do all your conversations using remote or virtual platforms. Fatigue sets in for people just like when attending multiple meetings. Think about using the phone as well, some customers will find it a nice change.
There is a lot in this article that you can use straight away. This is the last one in the series, but we’ll be getting back to you periodically over the coming months on here.
What would be useful for you to cover that we haven’t already in this and the previous articles? We’d love to hear from you on anything that you come across that might be a concern, or an opportunity. We’ll then steer future articles towards addressing those topics, as we want to make them as useful for you as possible.
Best wishes for your success.
David and David