Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Why have strategic business meetings?

Strategic Business Meetings are a very useful method of understanding what your customers actually value when it comes to their business. Keep in mind without customers you are dead, period. Not knowing why customers do what they do or what they value is like having a tooth ache and not going to the dentist because you are scared.

Traditionally in Australia customers very rarely tell us they are unhappy or dissatisfied with our service or offering, they just go somewhere else. Therefore we should spend as much time as possible understanding them and their reasons for doing what they do.

In the late eighties, IBM took a group of their best sales people off the road for a 2 week period to conduct a test with stunning results. They instructed these sales people to go to their top 15 customers and spend time understanding them and their blockages to growth and success. Of course this was very new ground for these people as they were used to hunting and selling product, however the results of this exercise were staggering. After this exercise IBM found that the group of customers interviewed and understood spent nearly 21% more with IBM in the next financial year. Pretty amazing result considering all the sales people did was to stop selling for a moment, take a breath and take a little bit of time to understand their customers better.

Following is a road map for conducting Strategic Business Meetings with your best customers, good luck.

Objective: To increase the interaction between key customers and management both in the quality and frequency of calls.

Rationale: We believe by making key customers feel special and understood we will achieve and secure more work from them in the future.

Outcome: To gain valuable understanding of a customers environment, so as to continue to present unique selling propositions and ideas to them.

The Process:
  1. Define Key Customers
  2. Develop an Engagement List
  3. Contact Key Customers by phone
  4. Conduct a Strategic Business Meeting
  5. Follow up with a thank you letter or email

1. Define Key Customers – Strategic Business Meetings should involve your Key Customers or “Gold Stars”. Using your database you can identify your 20 – 30 most valuable customers. If you wish to more accurately identify the most valuable client list you can use the “Luxury of Choice” process.

2. Prepare a List or Report – From that produce an excel spreadsheet that you can use as a planning document.

3. Contact Key Customers – Keep in mind this is all about the customer, we must remember this is not a sales call; it is not another opportunity to front product. You are going to use this time with your customer as an opportunity to gain understanding of their business problems and “blockages to success” that will enable you to assist in tailoring solutions in the future.

You are calling to make time with them, respect the fact they have little of it! A suggested approach may be:

You: “Good Morning Michael, the purpose of my call is to see whether you would have the time to meet with me at some stage to discuss what is on the horizon for your business, which will assist us in the planning of our business? As one of our best customers I was hoping by spending some time with you, approximately thirty minutes, we could learn how to help you and your business better. Please keep in mind that this is not a sales call.” 

You: “Do you have a time that suits you?" (have diary ready) 

Customer: “How does 9.30am on Wednesday sound?”

You: “That’s fine Michael, I think this should be a pretty informal process so would you like to go out for a coffee/sandwich/quick bite or is the office O.K.?”

Customer: “Good idea …………………………..”

You: “How does Acme cafĂ© sound?”

Customer: “Done!”

Keep in mind you have 15 seconds to convince this valuable customer that they should see you and spend their valuable time with you. 

You must have a - Purpose for the call,

        - Process how long will this take?

        - Payoff         what will we both get from spending time together?

Plan out your approach, document or write it down if you must, practice it and then put it into practice. It will feel a little awkward at first, however as you get some appointments it will become easier. Also the role play above is a guide, it is not a script. Change it and develop it to suite your own style and delivery method but don’t forget the rules, purpose, process and payoff.

4. The Strategic Business Meeting – With the key objectives and outcomes defined meet with the customer as scheduled. Be on time! Firstly you must thank them for their continued support and custom. Again restate the “purpose, process and payoff” and check for agreement. “Is that O.K.? “Are you right for time?” Then by asking clever, “open questions” you should look to allow the customer to open up about their business. A good question to start with might be: “So John, I know a little about your business, however I would love to know more, especially about what the next 12 months has install for you?” or “Could you describe to me the 3 biggest challenges you face in your business in the next 12 months?”

Keys for this meeting:
  • Planning
  • Open questions
  • Empathy
  • Active Listening
  • It should feel like you are genuinely interested in them and their business. It should not be an interrogation with the secret police!
  • Take notes (remember to ask for permission to do so at the beginning of the meeting)
  • Note down actions agreed on and then carry them out.
  • Look for clues!
  • Look for opportunities to close the GAP for them.
5. Follow Up – After the meeting is completed make sure the information gained is inputted into the appropriate database or document. You should also send a thank you message. Using email, a card, with comps slips or a letter with a simple short message can be a powerful indication that you care and appreciate the time they gave you. Make sure all agreed actions are followed up promptly or within the agreed time frame.


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