Exclusive Features

Making Your B2B Business Meetings Pay Off: Part 7

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

Right after meeting with a multimillion-dollar customer last week, the senior national account manager for a global tool manufacturer knew exactly what he needed to do. Rather than allow too much time to elapse between the meeting and his next contact with the customer, this account manager fired up his laptop at the airport and started typing up a follow-up email that outlined the key points discussed and action items agreed to by both parties. “If you wait until too long after the meeting,” he says, “things tend to fall by the wayside and are forgotten about. You really have to do the follow-up when things are still fresh.”

With an eye on continuous improvement, the account manager says he also asks for feedback on how the meetings went, what was covered, and what could have been done better. “We want to know what we can be doing better moving forward,” he says, “and what our distributors would like to hear more of. We’ve received both positive and constructive feedback on the process and used that information to develop even more productive meetings.”

Creating a Successful Agenda 
To make the most out of typical B2B meetings and those that take place at events like NAED’s National Meeting, this account manager uses an agenda that’s been previewed and commented on by all involved parties. “We don’t just walk into a room and start shooting from the hip,” he says. Developed in collaboration with the distributors that he and his team are meeting with, the agenda usually includes a mix of high- and lower-priority items that are ranked by order of importance. An objective could be as broad as a business review of the previous year’s sales activity, for example, or as narrow as the launch of a new tool promotion. 

“Urgent items are either critical in nature, non-critical items that have been put on a fast timeline,” he says, “or something that we’re trying to accomplish within a specific expiration period.”

Centered on specific objectives and goals, the best meeting agendas vary according to the involved parties and their particular issues, questions, and concerns. And while not every agenda is the same, all of the ones that the account manager uses do share a common denominator:  they clearly state the goals and objectives of the meeting. “We include the specific topics that need to be covered and then use that information as the baseline for the appointment,” he says. “Each party will have specific items and if there is extra prep work that needs to take place, the other party will share in advance and ask to come prepared.”

The person requesting the meeting should be the author of the agenda, he says, but to also ask the other party what items they would like to cover. Advanced preparation is important. To prepare for the typical NAED National Meeting appointment, for example, this account manager allocates anywhere from three to four hours of research and brainstorming per every meeting hour. “When preparing a specific account,” he adds, “the reporting, planning, and activity are all reviewed in extensive detail.” 

No Time-Wasters Please 
Realizing the events like a national trade show or conference can be hectic and fast-paced, this account manager says he understands some NAED distributors’ frustration over exactly who is representing his manufacturing firm at these types of meetings. However, he says the issue is a 2-way street that also trips up well-meaning suppliers that come to these events ready to take key action steps and create successful plans for the future. 

To ensure the most productive appointments, he says distributors should send key employees (vice presidents of marketing, purchasing directors, sales managers who are charged with allocating resources out in the field, and so forth) who can make decisions on the spot – rather than those who have to “get back to you” at a later date. In many cases, that later date may never come, particularly when the distributor is meeting with dozens of suppliers over a multi-day period. 

“When you have the key people in the right places, it’s much easier to come to agreements and make decisions,” he says. On the supplier side, he says local sales representatives who know the ins and outs of their customers’ businesses are generally the best bet. Equally as effective are those managers who oversee electrical national accounts and who can either make decisions on the fly or commit to reviewing issues in further detail either at or directly after the meeting. “There’s no doubt that having the people on deck who are closest to the specific accounts and able to make decisions is the key to successful meetings,” says the account manager. “Without this element in place, and without a solid agenda in place, the odds that you’ll just be wasting your time are very high.”

This is part seven in our series. Read part one here, part two here, part three here, part four here, and part five here, and part six here.

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 bridgetmc@earthlink.net or visit her website at www.expertghostwriter.net

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