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Client Meetings: The Fast Track to Success Begins By Looking Backward

It’s natural for a consultative salesperson to assume that each meeting starts out where the previous meeting left off—  in fact, it rarely actually works that way.  Typically, each new meeting begins at least a little, if not a lot behind the accomplishments of the previous meeting.  Over the course of any given project,  the cumulative effect of this repeated backsliding can substantially delay reaching your goals.  At worst, something that occurs while you’re getting back up to speed can derail the project altogether.  Here’s why it happens this way, and what you can do to minimize these risks.

Especially when it’s your agenda, the client is rarely as ready and buttoned-up for your meeting as you are.  The many other things he/she is doing—  even just the passage of time since your last communication—  cause the client to be less knowledgeable and focused than you, regarding the history, agreements and decisions that led to the current situation.  The last thing you want to do is spend valuable face time on distractions and misleads resulting from the client’s inappropriate (or largely undefined?) mindset.  The solution is simple;  the technique is a bit more challenging.

Always begin every meeting with a concise recap of the most relevant facts, events, agreements and decisions that set the stage for today’s next step.  Tell it as a story, a progression from problem/opportunity toward (future) solution and setting the context for what we need to accomplish today.  This concept underlies those typical weekly television series that begin each episode with flashbacks to (only) those significant past events that will make sense out of today’s episode.  Some recapping technique:

  • Focus on those elements that directly relate to today’s agenda and your desired outcome.
  • Sensitively  remind them of previous decisions and commitments (aimed at forestalling client confusion, misremembering and the unraveling of past agreements).
  • “Allow” your recap to implicitly demonstrate your continuing efforts and contributions on the client’s behalf—  but tread lightly here!
  • Reiterate the client’s needs that are driving this project and are the basis for all your actions and recommendations—  enhancing his/her sense of control and involvement at the outset.

By all means, make your recap tight, but don’t sacrifice clarifying the thread that leads, as directly as possible, from problem/opportunity toward solution.  Performed expertly, your recap does much more than minimize backsliding and make your meetings more efficient.  At best, it can establish a client mindset that is as close as possible to yours—  before you even begin to conduct today’s business.  Clearly,  that’s going to help you achieve your objectives for this meeting;  a better outcome fully justifies the time and effort that you invest in the recap.