In 18 years of commercial experience both as a consulting leader and sales executive, the typical response to “how did it go?” is “We had a good meeting.” Early in my career, I thought this was good news: we gave a great presentation or demo, everyone was engaged, they asked insightful questions, and they wanted to learn more. I considered these to be the reactions and information that should be driving the deal forward and closing the gap on your sales goals.
Soon, I got an inkling that these meetings while good, weren’t very productive for either party. Also, I began to realize “bad meetings,” where people are disengaged or confused about the topic, rarely happen in sophisticated client conversations. Everyone is highly-educated, experienced, and has done their homework. They know who will be in the meeting and always have some sense of the customer’s needs. Due to these factors, everyone ends the meeting feeling as though they have inched closer to an understanding and furthered their agenda on the prospect of the deal.
As I gained more experience and witnessed the consistent outcomes of “We Had a Good Meeting”(s) (WAGMs), I began to realize that these really weren’t that good of meetings. WAGMs are typically an entry point into an endless cycle of further WAGMs, where we continue to present information to a growing circle of stakeholders at the client, who may have intentions of doing something, but don’t have the authority or power to either sign the deal or progress it to the next level. In some cases, we were chasing our tails as the lead-generating salesperson had not properly vetted his or her contact. Other times, it became clear that we were not working on an important problem, a “burning platform”. In most instances, there was resistance by the stakeholders to allow access to key buying executives – executives who we refer to as being “Above the Line of Safety.”
When this lack of access occurs, which is more often than it should, it is squarely the responsibility of the sales team to work through this and set the correct expectations of these meeting so they:
- Are productive,
- Reduce cycle time for your organization, and
- Speed up implementation for the client so they can receive the benefits of your products, services, and offerings faster.
The sales team will have a few people working the account: Sales or Business Development leading for a new account, an Account Manager or Client Executive for current accounts, Product or Practice Leaders providing subject matter expertise, not to mention commercial operations and customer support people. Whoever falls into the above list, the sales leader for that client must take the initiative to drive a client strategy and move away from the endless succession of WAGMs.
At McMann & Ransford, we consult in this area as a part of our overall Service Chain offering. While the offering covers complete solution development, account pathways and journeys, and portfolio analysis as part of an overall Customer Intimacy strategy, we can address WAGMs with very tactical aspects of our Idea Selling Concepts and commercial strategy.
The two aspects of Idea Selling that directly combat the WAGM cycle are execution and development of the Idea Meeting and the Stakeholder Meeting:
The Idea Meeting is a 20 to 30-minute meeting between the sales lead/ client executive and a key stakeholder Above the Line of Safety who has some decision authority or access to decision authority. The meeting is small and personal at this stage to drive the concept without engaging multiple viewpoints. The goal of the meeting is to present a concept to a key stakeholder and get his or her reaction. The sales leader should address the questions outlined below:
- Is the offer something that would benefit the organization?
- Is this an important issue to address and overcome?
- Who else should be involved in the discussion for us to begin to solve the problem?
- Can we get them together?
As you can see from the questions above, this meeting is about setting the stage with the right decision makers to move forward with a concept. Once the stakeholder agrees in response to the above questions, the Stakeholder meeting is scheduled.
The Stakeholder Meeting (SHM) drives toward a decision. It is usually two hours or more, and the bulk of the meeting is content-oriented with your subject matter expert driving the conversation. The participants on the sales side are the sales leader and a subject matter expert (at a minimum). The client should invite key stakeholders that have influence on the buying decision and the buyer. This should be no more than three to five people. The flow of the meeting is outlined as follows:
- Introductions (5 mins.)
- Establish specific goals for the meeting (i.e., decide on this issue) (10 mins.)
- Present content, take questions, and engage with the customer (60-90 mins.)
- Close with further questions (15 mins.)
- Plan the start of the project (10 mins.)
The real work of the meeting occurs beforehand when your sales lead for the client drives the scheduling participation and agenda for the meeting. Leaving the Idea Meeting, you have a key stakeholder who agrees that a specific problem must be addressed and that you can provide a solution. In most cases, additional stakeholders must ensure the success of a project and finalize a purchase. The sales lead needs to ensure that he or she knows all the players who should attend the SHM in order to get to a decision. This includes the buyer, the one who can sign the contract and write the check.
Setting the expectation is the next part and should be agreed upon before the meeting starts. The reason you are joining all the key decision makers is so that a decision can be reached, and everyone should know that beforehand. Anyone who is unprepared to make a decision at the meeting should be engaged prior to the meeting to understand how to get them to feel comfortable moving forward. Again, this is the work of the sales lead to understand the stakeholders, their influencers, and the point of the decision-making process they are in (educate, understand, act, purchase).
During the meeting, the subject matter expert presents the content to gain agreement on the problem and solution. This should be an engaging process that allows for questions and brings the client into the solution so that he or she understands every aspect of it and feels confident in supporting or making a purchase decision.
Obviously, the process is not as simple as we have described above. We work closely with clients to structure their products and offerings in Service Chains so that the Idea Selling structure is effective. We also customize documents to support this effort: Concept Decks, Dialogue Maps, and Project Plans for the engagement. If you want to learn more about this process, we would be happy to engage with you in a discussion about Idea Selling and Customer Sustainability. No More WAGMs!
Written by: Marc Cottle
About the Author: Marc Cottle is an experienced sales leader with 15 years of experience; he is a Principal with McMann & Ransford and leads the Commercial Practice at the company.