tED magazine is continuing this exclusive series, Making Your B2B Business Meetings Pay Off, by interviewing a series of distributors and manufacturers who participate in B2B meetings. They tell us about what works best and what happens when the meetings do not go well. This series allows you to learn from the best practices and the mistakes to get the best return on your meeting investments.
by Bridget McCrea
Knowing that every interaction his company has with an electrical distributor isn’t necessarily going to translate into a long-term relationship or even a single sale, one executive for a manufacturer says that for the most part, B2B meetings tend to be productive. To make sure future interactions remain on track and productive, he uses an agenda system for everyone to follow and adhere to.
“Some of the best meetings we’ve had are those where we’ve forwarded an agenda ahead of time; I think that’s really important,” he says. “That way, everyone understands exactly what we want to talk about.” Forwarding this information in advance also gives attendees the chance to “amend” the agenda to be sure key points are addressed during the meeting. This helps to cut down on the number of surprise topics that, when brought up unexpectedly, can completely derail a B2B meeting between supplier and distributor.
The executive also urges companies to take an open-minded approach to meetings. In other word, don’t go into the experience with a personal agenda and/or unrealistic expectations that could push any negotiations or discussions to the point of stagnation. “We’ve built our business with a ‘cards on the table’ culture and approach – everyone is honest with one another,” he says. Both manufacturers and distributors are in business to make money, for example, so pretending that isn’t the case or avoiding the issue of finances altogether can push meetings into “non-productive” mode pretty quickly.
“As long as both parties understand that we’re all in business together, then we can all partner together,” he says. For example, when a distributor expresses the desire of doing more business with this particular supplier – but has run into challenges making money on products it’s already selling for that manufacturer – the marketing executive says the latter will concede to take a slight loss (provided the margins are good) to offset the challenge. “That’s just one example of the value of open, transparent discussions and mutual trust,” he says.
The Right People at the Right Time
This particular NAED supplier does not use supplier scorecards, but it does put time and effort into making sure the right people attend its meetings. Early on, he says he and his partners targeted presidents and vice presidents at the various distributorships that it wanted to work with. The team quickly realized that those individuals aren’t necessarily the ones who are making the supplier selection and procurement decisions for their companies.
“The upper-level executives may have liked what we were doing and selling, but they’re very busy growing their business and don’t necessarily get mired in the detail of supplier selection and buying,” he says. “Not long after our meetings, these folks either forgot about us or let the initiatives we were proposing fall right off the radar.” These days, he says the manufacturer takes the time to find the right people before populating its meetings. “We don’t want to waste anybody’s time, and we don’t want to waste our time either.”
Taking a win-win approach is also critical if you want your B2B sales meetings to go smoothly and produce results. “We look for opportunities that are not only going to be good for us, but that will also be beneficial for our partners,” says the executive. “Otherwise, you just wind up beating around the bush and wasting everyone’s time.” Layer a solid agenda on top of the right participant selection and a win-win attitude, he says, and you’ll never feel like you’re wasting your time in a business meeting again.
Of course, in some cases there’s only so much one company can do to ensure a smooth-running meeting. After all, there are two sides to the equation and if the other party isn’t on task and engaged, then the meeting outcome will still be less than satisfactory. In many cases, the executive says the distributor’s internal culture and/or branding is at fault for the missteps. “We’ve dealt with some companies where there just wasn’t an ‘empowering culture’ in place, and where individuals weren’t able to make decisions on the spot or within a certain timeframe,” he points out.
“We’ve met with purchasing professionals who were all excited about our products, but who then had to go up the corporate ladder to a boss, vice president, and/or president for approval,” he says. “Then, come to find out, the president is using another supplier because he golfs with the head of the company. It’s frustrating.”
Challenges aside, the executive says he takes copious notes on his laptop during the meetings – all in the name of being able to convey the information back to his team at the office. “Some people may think it’s overkill, but I always take very detailed notes,” he says. When he gets back to the office, he quickly reviews and revises the notes and then – within two days or sooner – sends out a meeting recap to everyone who attended. “This serves as an automatic follow-up and also a reminder about things people agreed to do post-meeting,” he notes.
The meeting recap is a simple step, he admits, but it’s one that positions his firm as a professional entity that wants to get tasks handled in a timely fashion and moving along to the next target. He also uses the notes to bring his firm’s sales representatives into the loop. “We ultimately share with them all of the information that we discussed in that meeting,” he points out, “along with my notes, any follow-ups, names, contacts, etc., to get them involved as much as possible.”
To manufacturers and distributors that are struggling to up the productivity quotients of their own sales meetings, he says the best approach is to keep the interactions simple and transparent. Don’t try to pull any last-minute punches or surprises. “Always create an agenda and share it well in advance of the meeting to give everyone time to read it and react to it,” he says, “and then always follow up with meeting recap notes. It sounds simple enough in theory, but just these two steps can lead to considerably better meeting outcomes and more post-meeting actions.”
Up next in our Making Your B2B Business Meetings Pay Off series: improving the value of B2B meetings with real, strategic thinking and planning for the future. Stay tuned to read more soon.
McCrea is a Florida-based writer who covers business, industrial, and educational topics for a variety of magazines and journals. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.netTagged with tED