Have you ever had meeting surprises? If not, that just tells me you have not been in sales very long as this is incredible common. How you manage the meeting surprises will have a huge impact on how successful you will be over the long term. Think about this for a minute – you have done all the heavy lifting to get an appointment with your prospect or existing customer. You have agreed to a timeframe and an agenda and who will be attending. Based on that you have prepared an awesome presentation and practiced it to be fully ready to go.
Then you show up and all of a sudden – SURPRISE!!
To put this into context this actually happened to me this week. I sell Telecom and IT solutions to large enterprises. This was an existing customer and I have been working to expand our footprint and business. The IT Director and I scheduled a meeting to coincide with his Regional IT Managers being in tow. The intent was to get into 2 specific technologies they were interested in learning more about. To support me in this, I had confirmed the attendance of one of my team Sales Engineers. I had prepared and reviewed the presentation with the Sales Engineer and we were good to go.
The day before the meeting the Sales Engineer informed me he had to travel to Edmonton for a very high priority customer meeting. He had recruited another Engineer to join me but this fellow was really not the best person to address the technical questions on these specific solutions.
SOLUTION TO SURPRISE #1. With very little time we did a small group huddle and went through the presentation again. This was to provide insight and context to the Engineer joining us. At least this stand-in Engineer had lots of customer facing experience. He could easily discuss the technology and with the pre-briefing was good to go. Not a perfect solution but definitely better than me going it alone!
Meeting Surprises #2, #3 and #4
So we showed up a few minutes early to the customer offices expecting to meet with 4 of the IT team members and ran head first into another meeting suprise. Without any advance notice the CFO decided to join the meeting and he wanted SURPRISE #3, a high level overview of our complete offering. Oh and to make things even more fun we ran into SURPRISE #4. We had scheduled for 90 minutes but were told we only had 75 minutes. Ok that is not a huge change but nonetheless it can be unnerving.
SOLUTION TO SURPRISE #2. For me this is not a really big deal. I had met the CFO before and he is fairly easygoing. All I really had to do was make sure I addressed Value Proposition items like budget and operational benefits around every product or solution discussed.
SOLUTION TO SURPRISE #3. Again this was not a big issue for me. I had actually planned to try to provide a high level overview of all our offerings as a precursor to the deeper dive on the 2 specific solutions, Given this, the CFO request (or what would have been a SURPRISE to many Account Executives) was really a bonus for me. Remember this was scheduled as a technical conversation with hard core IT folks who typically do not like ‘sales’ pitches so the CFO SURPRISE was actually great for me!!
SOLUTION TO SURPRISE #4. To deal with the loss of 15 minutes, which would have been a real problem if the original meeting was only 45 minutes or less, was quite easy to handle. As I moved to do the higher level overview which I had planned on taking 20 minutes to complete I simply told them I would do it in 10-15 minutes and reduce our Q&A time by the same amount and we could comfortably fit it all in.
Oh and not quite done yet with surprises. Just as I was about to begin the overview presentation, one of the IT guys created one last meeting surprise. He sent the presentation for a left turn and asked about a very specific product that is actually not directly part of my portfolio but rather belongs to a different line of business entirely.
SOLUTION TO SURPRISE #5. As I had previously worked with one of the Account Executives in this other line of business and kinda sorta knew about their solution and how it worked I was able to offer a very good answer. Without the benefit of any presentation or sales material I basically provided a quick verbal overview and committed to connecting my counterpart with this IT guy to have a more detailed follow on conversation to determine if we could actually provide a solution to address their problem.
By overcoming these SURPRISES without losing a beat we ended up having a very good meeting. I came away with 5 action items and 3 new opportunities. There is no guarantee any of these will turn into actual business and new contracts but that will be determined by my ability to follow the process.
Lessons Learned from Meeting Surprises
So there are at least 4 overarching lessons you can take away from this very real story including
- Go into every meeting with the right Mindset. You need to feel and act with unshakable confidence, you need to have a strong working knowledge of all your key offerings and you need to be ‘nimble’ and able to adjust and adapt on the fly. That comes from a lot of hard work and practice – there is not shortcut to this.
- Remember the Boy Scout motto ‘Always Be Prepared’. To have Great Meetings and handle Surprises, that means to really plan out your meeting in advance. Try to lock down an agenda with the customer and be sure to leave extra time. Prepare and practice your presentation with everyone scheduled to attend with you.
- Anticipate the Unexpected. Brainstorm what can and might go wrong. Have handy a series of generic presentations that allow you to address any of your solutions should that come up.
- Regardless of how the customer ‘pivots’ the meeting smile and get on with it. Do not let it fluster you, do not get upset and do not push back. The only deferment you can ask for is if they ask for a highly technical conversation and you or your team are simply not able to carry that conversation.
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Have a great week!