Get more from your customer meetings
Try telling a sales person to plan and they'll probably tell you that they already do: they schedule their customer visits in their territories, they do their account plans; heck, they may even do a sales plan!
But try suggesting that they also consider planning their customer conversations and watch the look you'll get. The looks I've received after first introducing this concept I've interpreted as:
"I know how to have a conversation"
"I hope you don't mean using a script"
"Isn't that unrealistic?"
And yet, planning client conversations is a critical success factor (remember; small changes to behaviour can have a big impact on results). It enables results driven conversations, focuses the salesperson and creates an opportunity to check progress in real time.
Like any skill, it requires discipline so that over time with enough practice, it takes no more than 5-10 minutes, and with solid execution can be the difference in a sale converting in 2 months vs 6 months.
Simple frameworks work best.
Elements to include in your meeting plan:
Background Information: What insights do you have about this customer?
Audience: Who are you meeting with? What is their role? Are they a decision maker or influencer? What are their drivers?
Intended Result: By the end of the conversation, what measurable outcome do you want from this visit/meeting/conversation?
Customer Takeaways: What would you like the customer to know/feel/understand/do as a result of the conversation/meeting/visit?
Key Questions: in order to achieve your Intended Result, what questions do you need to ask?
Outcome: Did you achieve your intended result? What were the outcomes of the meeting/visit/conversation?
Next steps: what is the next action to progress this opportunity? What needs to change or be included for the next meeting/visit/conversation?
Planning focuses client conversations with a deliberate purpose. Spending time prior to the meeting enables sales people to be more present during the meeting itself. The hard work has been done beforehand, and the focus is on listening. While no conversation is ever linear, when there is an intended result, the conversation can be steered back when it goes off track. It supports sales people to progress opportunities to maximize the relationship and scope.
As a self-awareness tool, it can be used to drive awareness around what is working - why - how can we repeat that? When it didn't work: where did it fall down - why - how can we recalibrate? For sales leaders, it can be used as a coaching tool to foster insightful conversations with sales people before and after a meeting through direct observation to coach in the moment.
Tips from John Buchanan, Beyond 19, Coaching Practicing Lead:
Know the type of conversation, i.e. introductory, explanatory, continuing, relational, etc
Meet the customer wherever possible on their 'territory', i.e. space, time, location, language, etc
Know what the desired outcome of the conversation is, but be prepared to be flexible.