Client meetings are incredibly important for your business' success. Without exceptional client relationships, it is nearly impossible to sell your product or service over a phone call or in a meeting. Many times, client meetings are disorganized and expectations are not made clear. If this is the case at your organization, it may be time to create Up Front Contracts.
The Basic Rules of Client Meetings
In this world of “seller beware”—as Daniel Pink notes in To Sell is Human—the buyer has all of the power, and there is nothing more detrimental than a sales call with no purpose. Many uncomfortable calls, presentations, and meetings occur because sales and account professionals don’t follow basic rules for properly setting the stage for the call or meeting.
When a call starts well, it ends well. But when the conversation gets derailed and there’s no clear mutually-agreed upon agenda to keep the 3-10 people involved all focused on the prize, time is wasted and opportunities are lost.
What is The Up Front Contract?
If your client meetings suck, then The Up Front Contract should be your solution. No, this isn’t a document to be signed by your prospect or customer before the meeting. Instead, it’s a set of mutually agreed upon expectations that keeps everyone on track, and to which you can refer when the call or meeting starts to drift into areas you’d rather avoid.
According to David Sandler, the guy who gave The Up Front Contract its name, “…if an Up Front Contract is established, the sales professional can confidently guide client interactions and keep the sales process on track.”
Translation: let’s show an appreciation for one another’s time. Set expectations. And overstate the obvious because it’s never safe to assume what you know has been beamed into the other participants’ brains.
All Up Front Contracts Should Include...
1. Purpose: Why are we here? Plain and simple. No matter who set the meeting or made the call, it’s critical that everyone understands the reason that made it a reality.
2. The Amount of Time Allotted: It doesn’t matter how painstakingly clear your calendar invite was, meetings run over. And while this is occasionally ok, most of the time this is a bad thing. That means it’s up to you to re-emphasize the time allotted to meet everyone’s goals. We keep all parties honest and efficient at managing the clock, so that when we start approaching the 10min mark and still have 10 things to talk about, we are confidently able to interrupt the conversation and re-focus it.
3. The Client’s Agenda: If you’ve ever found yourself on a date in which one person thought the date went really well, but ends up never hearing from the other person again (you really should have called them back, you heartbreaker), then you can probably understand why this is important. Barreling ahead without taking the time to ask the client what they want to accomplish can leave the best of sales reps on the other end of a dead conversation. Similarly, waiting to ask until the end of the conversation (i.e., “Did we cover everything?”) might as well be pointless – no one really wants another call to talk about the things you should have covered the first time around.
4. Your Agenda: No ulterior motives please. Be upfront about what you’d like to discuss, and you will gain a tremendous amount of credibility with the customer. They know you’re trying to sell to them, so there’s no use hiding it. But it may be helpful for them to also know that you don’t really expect them to make any decisions this time around.
5. Outcome and Next Steps: Once we walk away, what needs to happen next? This is your chance to protect yourself from ever having to worry about waiting to hear back from the person on the other line. If we hit these points, then this is what we would all like to see happen next and this is when they will happen. Uncertainty of roles and responsibilities is the last thing anyone wants after investing in the time together, so be prepared to make sure all are aware of what’s down the road. Over communicate and encourage questions here.
Remember: the purpose of the Up Front Contract is to make your meeting more efficient and effective. While it may seem like a lot to cover, all of these points can very easily be discussed in 5 minutes, which, once refined, turns out to be a pretty great return on investment for all involved. That means the most important questions you have to answer after implementing the Up Front Contract may very well be what to do with all of the extra time and deals you have on your hands.