It’s the moment of truth. Your heart rate picks up as you click open your calendar and dial into the conference line. You’re about to lead an hour-long meeting with your customer. Just one hour is all you have to make an impression and show your customer that you’ve done your research, understand their challenges, and know the right solution.
Unfortunately, you were recently thrown onto this account. You scrambled to do research, attempted to figure out where the last rep left off and worked hard to create a PowerPoint that would retain the attention of your customer throughout the meeting. Marketing gave you a list of bullet points to include, graphics, and benefits that you hope will hit the mark.
As you walk through the presentation, you spend more time than you’d like wondering why the customer is quiet on the other end of the phone. Is the presentation so good that I’ve left them speechless? Are they distracted, busy with an unexpected issue from their team? Or is my presentation not relevant at all, and they’re heading to Starbucks for a coffee refill?
In the midst of all of these challenges, how can you possibly keep the conversation engaging and exciting?
It’s not an easy task. But there’s one significant tip I’ve learned from countless conversations with customers: The key to avoiding customer conversation pitfalls is to treat the conversation like it’s a feature film.
What do I mean by that? Recently, our team in video production has been working on a few new exciting projects. The team told me that in order to make a film, 40% of the total time spent on the film is planning for it. Only 20% is actual filming, and the remaining 40% is post-production (editing).
Compared to the time “on camera,” the majority of time is spent planning for the film.
This makes sense. After all, there are a lot of details that need to come together. The storyboard needs to be outlined, filming locations need to be secured, actors and actresses recruited, timelines scheduled, scripts solidified, budget allocated. But we often don’t think of this process, because we only see the 20% on camera.
This is exactly how it should be for your customer. The time you spend with them on the phone is the 20%. This is the major production, the part that should go flawlessly, because of the 40% you spend strategically planning.
The 40/20/40 tactic is similar to the approach I’ve been recommending to the account managers I work with. We’ve streamlined the planning stage into a series of targeted questions.
Whether you have 10 minutes or 40 minutes to prepare, by understanding the answers to these questions you will be on track to a more powerful conversation. The time you spend answering these questions will leave the customer wishing they could give YOU an Academy Award.
I answered my phone the other day to hear an account manager on the other end, talking so quickly that I could barely understand him. His sentences flew across the phone; words like pinballs dodging up and down and sideways. He had been drowning in work over the past few weeks, picking up a new account and trying to learn the business. His first customer meeting was the next day and he wasn’t prepared.
“I’ll be conducting the meeting remotely, and I’m worried I’ll lose the attention of the people on the call.”
I told him that I could help him. I heard the rustling of paper as he flipped through his notes and files.
I shared my screen and asked him to walk through a few questions with me–questions developed by the Value Management Office (VMO) to prepare for customer conversations. It took a few hours to walk through the questions (the 40% of our process) and it set us up for success in the 20% with our customer.
At the end of the preparation, we had created a streamlined set of insights. Each insight corresponded to a recommendation and business impact for the customer.
The next day, the account manager led the hour call with his customer, sharing insight, relevant solutions, and impact. He kept his introduction under 5 minutes and conducted the call as if he’d been on the account for years, moving through the presentation with confidence:
“Here is an insight I need you to see.”
“This is what I recommend.”
“If you improve in this area, you’ll see the following results.”
Throughout the call, the customer was fully engaged. Together, we created a list of 14 action items and the customer asked to review the program in more depth on a future call.
Without the upfront planning, the account manager would probably not have seen such successful results (and such an engaged customer!).
The remaining 40% of the time after the call should be spent creating a plan for next steps. What are the action items from the call? Who needs to join future conversations?