Customer meetings: The need to knows

When you’ve finally earned a meeting with a sought-after new customer, it’s likely you’ve already done some research on them to make the acquaintance.

The next challenge is being able to articulate your strategy to them in a way that makes them want to purchase your products or services.

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It’s crucial to prepare for a customer meeting, to work out beforehand what you need to know, giving you the best chance of success. Having a deep knowledge of the customer is your team’s biggest asset, as most people, particularly senior executives, don’t want to be simply sold to.
Companies that understand the customer’s business will have the most success when it comes to laying the foundations of a solid long term relationship, so do your homework and research the person or people you’re meeting, their company’s overall strategy and their goals.

What should you research?
Study your customers’ history, such as how long they have been in their current position, where they worked before and what their responsibilities were. Find out if they’re members of any professional associations, or whether they serve on any boards.

Try to dig deeper to find out if you have anything in common, such as hobbies and interests, to find some affinities. Maybe they have a special interest in philanthropy or mentoring other people.

Look into their overall company strategy, finding out what direction the company is taking, or whether there have been any recent changes. You may discover they’re cultivating a new customer base, or that there have been executive changes, acquisitions or mergers.

Find out if their business has any new initiatives, what their key goals and challenges are and whether they’re expanding, or cutting jobs. Maybe they are even a new competitor, who’s had a recent management shakeup?

The more you find out about them, the better chance you have of success around the meeting table, as you can steer the discussions in a way that will benefit your business – so where do you find all this information?

How do you research new customers?
Thanks to the internet, there are many ways you can find out important information. LinkedIn can be a good source, as many executives have a profile there. Also check for other social media accounts on sites such as Facebook and Twitter.

Search for published interviews, as these are particularly useful for learning about an individual’s professional focus, or about any new products. Try to use interviews that are no more than one year old.

Check out the company’s website for news of upcoming partnerships, new products and personnel, business contacts and the latest initiatives. Look for the latest press releases, current articles and quarterly earnings.

Once you’ve done your homework, organise all your information into one page of useful facts, a synopsis of the customer’s company strategies, priorities, sales triggers and the key people you need to know about.

This may seem time-consuming, but it’s well worth the effort. Doing your homework gives you an advantage over your competitors. Rather than chatting about product features and sales talk, you can show a deep understanding of your customer’s interests, philosophies and challenges.

Your team can then deliver reasoned and thoughtful recommendations that are pertinent to customer needs. The goal is to position yourself as the vendor or business partner that they can’t do without.

Does winging it ever work?
If someone was to go into the meeting having done no research, believing they can wing it, this is more likely than not to have a negative impact. Teams who have prepared properly for key customer meetings have so many advantages and far fewer risks.

Without the proper research and preparation, you may have the desire to succeed, but it will come across that you’re not willing to put in the time and effort to prepare. Why take a chance on the customer realising this and getting the impression you’re a firm that cuts corners and isn’t ready to go the extra mile?

You might strike lucky and the meeting will start off in the right direction, but it’s hard to take it to the next level if you’re not 100% certain who you’re dealing with. If your luck runs out and you hit a roadblock, there’s a chance you’ll lose a huge opportunity, so it’s really not worth the risk.

Start preparing early and give your team enough time to put together a detailed brief about the customer. Then, plan a strategy for the meeting, so you can steer it in the direction you’re hoping for. In today’s challenging trading climate, you can’t afford to miss chances, so always go the extra mile.

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