As I ‘m embarking on another trip to meet up with our customers, I wanted to pass on some tried and tested tips that you can use when meeting with your customers in person or over the phone. Let’s get something straight – these are not sales meetings. The meetings are focused on ensuring that our customers are getting the most value out of our product. The typical customer meeting preparation shouldn’t take you more than 5-10 minutes unless you have a deliverable such as an account review.
While some of these tips depend on the relationship you have with your customer, most of these can be followed without knowing the customer all that well – assuming that someone in your organization does. Therefore, the frontline customer success manager or an executive that is meeting up with a customer as part of an executive sponsor discussion can use this advice. This post is not intended for a Support person who is following up on an issue that the customer reported although there are some relevant items.
Keep in mind, this is also geared more to a subscription based product model but again, anyone can get something out of this.
How to Prepare for Your Customer Meetings
- Get the essentials. Here is what I would define as the essentials. All of this information should be easily accessible.
- Who called the meeting and why?
- What product of yours have they purchased?
- What stage is the customer in their customer journey? Are they just starting off or have they been with you for many years? Your answers will differ based on what stage they are in.
- Assuming it’s a subscription model, when are they up for renewal? This may help you in how you prioritize this over other items.
- How much are they paying you? Are they in the top echelon of your customer base or not? I’m not saying that customers should be treated differently based on this but you should have an idea of this before getting on the call.
- Know whom you’re meeting with. While you may consider this as an “essential” I split this out as it’s often overlooked and has a number of aspects to it. Here are some questions to consider: Who will be in the room? Are they the people that use your product or new people that have recently joined the department or project? Are they executives or non-executives? How much do they know about you, your product and the value that it has brought their organization? You should be able to answer these questions. If you aren’t sure who will be in the room for your meeting, send a quick note to your customer before the meeting.
If you can, do some quick research on those that will be in the meeting that you don’t know. I always start with LinkedIn. It tells me their role and may give me some relevant info. I also may have met them in the past and LinkedIn contacts help me track the last time I may have interacted with them. As a rule, I don’t connect with them on LinkedIn until after I’ve met them and was able to demonstrate my value to them.
- Know what you want to achieve at the meeting before it starts. The idea of a touch base meeting is great. It gives you a chance to reconnect with your customer and find out what they are up to. So what? How does that help the customer? If you maintain this approach, you’ll find customers not replying to your emails when you try and connect with them.
Start with always having an agenda going into the meeting and ensure that the customer has agreed to the agenda prior to the meeting. If for some reason there wasn’t time to do this, cover this at the beginning of the meeting. Start off with “the purpose of this meeting is X. Does everyone agree with this or do others have something else they want to achieve here?”.
While an agenda is great, we all know that the agenda and what you really want to achieve may be something a bit different. That’s why you should make sure you know what your game plan is and what you want to cover prior to the meeting. Get all the relevant attendees together from your team who may be included in the meeting and ensure that they know the goal of the meeting and know their role and plan in trying to achieve it.
A former executive that I worked with not only always knew what he wanted to get out of the meeting but always had a “golden nugget” that he planned to leave with the customer so they were guaranteed to walk away from the meeting satisfied. Make sure you have a golden nugget lined up.
While building a rapport and a long-term relationship with customers is what you want to strive for, it’s more than just taking customers out to dinner and building a personal connection. You really need to provide value – how will you make your customer advance their career, save them time so they can go home earlier or help them sleep better at night? Should I create a document or present something for the meeting that will better clarify what I want to convey and provide value to the customer? That’s how you should be thinking.
- Know all you can about your customer’s company. A simple search on Google News will tell you all about the company and any recent activities which would be relevant for the call. Did they launch a new product, are they going through some tough times, did they win an award? This information can factor into why your customer is busier as of late and can help start the conversation in a positive direction. I like to start here before even going to their website as the information is fairly succinct.
Besides knowing recent developments about the company, you need to know these two fundamental items before walking into a meeting or joining the conference call: 1. What products/services do they sell? 2. Who do they sell to (who is their end customer)? Don’t bother showing up if you can’t answer these unless you want to potentially make an ass of yourself. If you know this information, you can use it as part of your introduction. For example, if you are meeting with people who sell to marketers and you have worked with marketers in the past, mention this when you introduce yourself at the top of the call.
Some other items that you should know going into the call is what items should never be spoken of or which actions will cause an unnecessary shit storm. A long time ago I was working with the Nokia business division that sold smart phones. I brought along a sales rep to an account review as I had a major upsell that I needed her help with. The one item I begged her not to do was to pull out her Blackberry during the meeting. I know that while our customer would probably understand, it wasn’t worth aggravating them over. At one point she just couldn’t take it and felt she had to respond to all the vibrations she was getting from her phone and she whipped out her Blackberry. My inner voice was screaming “nooooooooo”. I gave her my look of death. She caught herself quickly but the damage was done. Try and avoid these situations at all costs.
- Have a feel for the current relationship that your company has with your customer. Is your customer happy or are you unsure what the state of their current satisfaction is? Are they advocates for your company and do they have a positive sentiment about your company? Are they achieving the goals that they had previously outlined?
The following sources of information can help guide you here:
- Review your past client interactions. I like to use SFDC’s Chatter on the account to track small notes on my interactions. I also track all of my emails that I send via a Gmail/SFDC connector. At times, I have taken notes via Evernote. If you have this information, use it.
- How well are they using your product/services? You should know if they are heavily and successfully leveraging your product or not. Having an overall customer health score that is updated regularly helps here. Depending on your role, you may need to dig in further to understand why some areas are under utilized.
- Review their tickets/cases. Are there outstanding issues, many bugs reported or a high number of escalations. You can glean a lot here from the interactions your Support team has with your customers.
- Health indicators such as Net Promoter Scores. At Influitive, we can also quickly scan all advocacy activities that are customers have done within our CRM.
- Any recent emails that have been sent or any other information in your CRM such as webinars or events they have attended. The more engaged they are with your marketing materials is a good sign.
- Send an email to all those associated to the customer and get their input. While it’s nice when all of this is accurately collected in your CRM, we all know that this isn’t always the case.
This is the one area that you just may not have the most up to date information and that is OK. For example, if you’re an executive and you just happen to bump into a client of yours, you may not know where things stand. If you’re not sure or you think you have an idea of where things stand, just ask them “Before we start into our agenda, is there anything that you want to get off your chest that we should be aware of?”. This may send the meeting in a completely different direction then you intended but that’s OK. You want your customer to tell you where things stand. You can guide the conversation and focus on what you want to achieve but always give your customer a chance to have their say at the beginning of a meeting.
So there you have it. This post was a bit longer than I anticipated but it should provide you with some additional guidance for your next customer meeting. Please let me know if you have other tips you use to prepare for customer meetings.