Don’t Let Your Company Executive Go Into a Customer Meeting UNPREPARED

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Businesspeople shaking hands, finishing up a meeting.
Businesspeople shaking hands, finishing up a meeting.
I have been a buy-side executive most of my professional career. I never counted but a rough estimate is I’ve experienced 2,000 face-to-face encounters with sales/account executives, 5,000 phone calls and 20,000 emails, voice messages, text messages, and old-fashioned letters. As you can imagine I have seen all kind of sales strategies, methods, techniques and gimmicks ranging from value-adding to time-wasting.

Interestingly, I only remember the extremes: the 10% of the very best sales interactions and the 10% of the very worst. The 80% in the middle are undifferentiated fuzz in my mind. If I remember your name and the company you represented, there’s a 50/50 chance I either loved you or hated you – not personally mind you, but professionally.

In a cruel twist of fate, more than several of the sales interactions I experienced landed in both buckets – best and worst – at the same time. How can that happen? The answer: the sales/account team did everything right to earn my executive-level sponsorship, but they decided to bring in an executive from their company who was UNPREPARED!

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Has This Ever Happened To You?

You and your team have done everything right with the XYZ Company (your prospect or customer). You’ve thoroughly researched their business priorities and performance metrics. You’ve analyzed their financial performance and uncovered critical success factors that map to your solution and their business initiatives. You’ve successfully engaged at the executive level and demonstrated relevance and potential financial impact. Generously, they’ve started to open doors and offer resources within their organization. They have even given you verbal indications that you’re on the right track in earning that coveted Business Advisor role.

Then you get the email that your company’s CXO will be flying into town and wants to visit as many customers and key prospects as humanly possible in one day. And to make matters worse, your company CXO specifically requests a meeting with the buy-side executives at the XYZ Company – the very company you have meticulously managed through the credibility building process. Things could get interesting!

The day arrives and you meet your company’s CXO in the lobby of the XYZ Company. You shake hands, exchange pleasantries and enter the elevator. As the door closes, he asks for last minute advice. Caught off guard all you can think to say is “Try to get them talking; they like talking about their company and their customers”.

The elevator door opens and you’re whisked into the meeting room with your sponsors, the COO, CFO and CIO of the XYZ Company. After brief introductions and some kind comments from your sponsor about the professionalism of you and your sales team, guess who starts talking?

Your company CXO starts his verbal engine, talking about everything pertaining to YOU: your company and its growing market share; your new products and their great features; your competition and their inferior solutions. And for added emphasis, he reverts back to mentioning your growing market share again. It’s almost like he’s practicing his pitch for the upcoming investor presentation at Morgan Stanley. Out of the corner of your eye, you see the CFO of the XYZ Company looking at his watch.

The meeting ends, pleasantries are exchange and then in the following weeks your customer goes radio silent.

Why Do Your Company Executives Talk So Much About Themselves?

From the other side of the desk, I used to like timing how long it would take for a visiting executive to engage me and my team in a subject other than his or her own company. Most would briefly peek out from under their comfort zone blanket, ask a few sweeping questions (“So, how is business?”) and then snuggle back into the safety of their company talking points. I was constantly amazed at how little these executives actually knew about my company, our business initiatives, and our performance metrics. Were they concerned about whether they were making a favorable first impression with a potential customer?

My Most Memorable Meetings

Let me share some examples from my most memorable sales meetings. While I was with BFGoodrich, one visiting executive kept calling us Goodyear until one of my executive colleagues reminded him that we were the other guys and didn’t have a blimp. In a meeting at Rubbermaid, a visiting executive called us Tupperware three times. To add insult to injury, he didn’t realize that we actually didn’t carry a line of plastic product called Tupperware and weren’t in the party plan business. I used to work for the company that owned the Jacuzzi line of spas and bath fixtures. One visiting executive asked if we created the word ‘Jacuzzi’. He was from San Francisco so I told him to look up Roy Jacuzzi in his local phone book. Roy was the leader of our largest business unit based in northern California and his family created the company that carried his name. In all three examples, I’ll never forget the faces of the account managers as their company executives made these meetings so memorable for me!

Unfortunately these visiting executives derailed the trust and sponsorship that their sales teams had begun to develop with us. The sales team had been prepared and asked insightful questions; but their CXO didn’t know the facts about our company and demonstrated no knowledge about our business initiatives and performance metrics. They talked with passion about what they loved the most: their own company. That didn’t interest us.

Be Proactive and Discharge Your Responsibilities

If you find yourself in this situation, don’t place full blame on your CXO. Sure, there will be mitigating facts and circumstances. Some company executives are incorrigible and refuse to take your advice. (They are the ones that are gently referred to inside your company as “not good with customers”.) But this is your prospect or your customer and the ultimate responsibility for managing the relationship is yours!

Be proactive the next time you accompanying your company CXO on a sales call. You can help manage the situation by considering the questions:

1. Would the visit from your CXO add value to your relationship with the prospect or customer? Are there egos on the other side that this executive visit would appease? Where in the sales process are you and how will it be impacted by the timing of this visit? Does your customer sponsor feel comfortable with the visit? Don’t be timid if you come to the conclusion that an executive visit doesn’t make sense. State your logical, business-based opinion with your sales management and make your case to your company executive. My guess is he or she will appreciate your passion and customer-centric point of view.

2. Don’t fear the visit. Instead, focus on the value that can be generated. Review how you can help your CXO participate in a successful meeting. Have you prepared a one-page executive summary on your prospect or customers? What information is contained in this summary? Does it expand beyond traditional CRM-type information into business priorities and performance metrics? This is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your insights on the company with one of your top leaders.

3. In most cases, your CXO will appreciate the time you spend to prepare him or her. Have you sent the executive summary to your company executive well in advance of the event? Have you given them sufficient time to absorb the information? Have you followed up to schedule some time to prepare your company executive for this meeting?

The next time your company executive wants to meet with your prospect or customer, take the lead and fully discharge your responsibilities. Keep your company executive on board and make sure they are adequately prepared with the right information. It’s your responsibility to keep the train on the track and leverage this executive visit to reinforce the customer relationship you’ve worked so hard to build.

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