“Well it has been a pleasure, Mr. Customer. I look forward to talking again soon”
You shake hands, clasp your briefcase, and you proceed to exit the office.
As you approach the elevator you adjust your tie (blouse, makeup, etc.) and step on with a bit of swagger, thinking to yourself, what a great meeting!
We laughed, we cried, we shared great stories. This is going to be a great long-term relationship.
And then, Houdini, it hits you…
Alright, so maybe the laugh was more of a friendly smile and yeah I know…those tears are more of a metaphor than anything.
Goodness, you think to yourself. I just spent an hour with that customer and I have no idea what just happened.
Surely there was an exchange and some important things were discussed. But there are no takeaways, no action items, no scheduled next meeting.
In the meantime, the customer has already forgotten your name and your business card and pamphlets have already found their way into the circular file.
Then you ask yourself, “What the heck just happened?”
What happened was you just lost an hour, wasted a prospect’s time and essentially had the type of meeting that has given meetings a bad name.
Everyday across businesses of every type meetings are conducted. Every hour on the hour we take a seat at the table.
In offices, boardrooms, restaurants, and coffee shops.
We sit down with a purpose, or at least what we think is a purpose.
We attempt to drive small talk to build rapport, and then perhaps we lead with questions to learn about the persons business.
Sometimes we don’t ask questions at all, we just get in front of the customer and spew everything we know about our product and service hoping that the customer is a slot machine and when we hit on the right feature their eyes will line up like cherry.
In some cases we are meeting with people we know. Maybe they are on our team, maybe they are long-time customers. Those meetings can be met with the same challenges. The comfort level can sometimes drive even less valuable exchange.
But in the end, whether with prospects, employees, or long term accounts, the problem is that our purpose isn’t clear in our mind and therefore you can be sure it isn’t clear in theirs.
Curing Useless Meeting Disorder
Okay, so there is no such disorder. I made it up. However, I truly believe that there should be.
In order to move business forward we must communicate and meetings regardless of the medium are important in this process.
To make meetings effective though, a few specific things must happen.
Here are 4 specific things I attempt to bring to every meeting to give them meaning.
- Set the Agenda – This happens with big meetings like conferences and board meetings, but it rarely happens with one on one meetings or small group settings. I even see this with team meetings where there is no agenda. Setting the agenda gives the opportunity to properly set and manage expectations up front. To make this more useful, advance notice of the agenda is great so the other party can review, provide feedback, and be prepared for a valuable exchange.
- Stick to the Plan (But be Flexible) – Does that even make sense? It should. The point is make sure that you stay on the agenda as much as possible. However listen carefully for opportunity to explore important topics. Often times the information you are looking for is offered up if you listen carefully.
- Value the Schedule – I like to do this upfront. “Mr. Customer, we are on from 3-4. Does that still work for you?” It shows anyone and everyone you meet with that you value their time and yours. Time is money, don’t waste it.
- Have Specific Action Items – This one may be the most important, and is the one most frequently missed. How often do you leave a meeting with no “Specific” takeaway(s)? If you can look in the mirror and say rarely or never than you are the meeting master. Having said that I have caught myself a few times, as well as many others being the person that inspired this post. So be specific, set the next engagement or action item. Put a time around it. Then do whatever it is you committed to. This is how things get done.
Simple enough, or so it seems. But I challenge you to make every meeting productive. Your customers and employees will thank you for it and the results…they will speak for themselves.