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
If you want to impress a distributor sales rep who just put time and effort into planning for and attending a B2B sales meeting, try sending him follow-up notes, action points, and cut sheets within a few hours of wrapping up the pow-wow. “It’s great when manufacturers do follow-up on the same day,” says one outside sales rep for an NAED distributor in Pennsylvania. “We just finished up some joint calls with one supplier who had all of that information and more to us by about 9:30pm on the day of the meeting. That was pretty impressive.”
Beyond impressing the outside sales rep, such diligence on the follow-up helped position that supplier as a firm that truly values the time, effort, and energy that all parties put into joint sales calls. “The sooner you can at least acknowledge that the meeting took place, and then answer any ‘hot point’ questions, the better,” says the sales rep, who realizes that same-day follow up isn’t always necessary or feasible. In those cases, he says a quick email – from the supplier, distributor, or both – stating that the materials are “being gathered and will be sent over within a week” is a good stand-in. “That at least buys you some time,” he says, “and lets the other party know that you didn’t just walk out of the door of the meeting room and forget about everything that was discussed.”
Inaction is the Biggest Challenge
In assessing some of the other B2B meetings he’s been involved with over the last few quarters, the sales rep says one of his biggest challenges is inaction after the meeting has been completed and everyone has returned to their day-to-day jobs. “Even if we talk about a lot of great stuff and discuss some viable ideas, the odds that the information just sits idle are very high, unfortunately,” he says. “That’s where you really run into trouble with meetings, and everyone is guilty of it.”
Take the recent annual sales meeting that the Pennsylvania distributor participated in with its strategic partners/suppliers. The meeting was supposed to center on strategic planning for the coming year, but instead it “basically just turned into a product show,” the rep recalls. “There was a definite lack of planning on the part of our suppliers, whether it was the manufacturers’ reps or the suppliers themselves that participated,” he laments. “From these events, we’re really looking for more than just a product demo or design announcements; it’s about more than that.”
Digging down a little deeper into this particular issue, the sales rep says he’s picked up on a noticeable lack of actual customer group targeting (for specific products and applications) on the part of his firm’s supplier base. This goes hand-in-hand with the bigger picture: suppliers don’t come to the table with well-thought-out strategic plans anymore. “Most of the time the interactions revolve around reporting on past sessions or displaying new products,” he says, “versus putting any effort into a planned, market-focused approach.”
Some Are Better Than Others
When the sales rep and his team sit down with multiple suppliers (generally 5-6 at any given meeting), the group uses a formal or verbal “scorecard” system to determine which manufacturers “did the best in presenting a goal and then achieving that goal within the designated timeframe,” the sales rep says. “Everything is scored, whether it’s on a card or just used as a basis of comparison. We discuss everything after the event and look at things like how the supplier presented itself, the impact that it made, and whether any actual plans were formulated (or not).”
For this and other reasons, the sales rep says manufacturers shouldn’t take B2B meetings lightly. During an era when few professionals have any hours in the day to waste, every minute is precious. “At the end of the meeting, it shouldn’t be just, ‘Well thanks for showing up and giving us this really nice presentation about your new products, we’ll see you later,’” he says. “Nothing ever comes of that. What we’d really like to see are meetings that are looked upon as the start of a discussion, with more to follow at a later date. We’re all striving for that, but it’s something that some companies do better than others at this point.”
Up next in our Making Your B2B Business Meetings Pay Off series: It’s all in the follow-up. 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.net
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