What’s your agenda? How having an agenda changes the meeting for everyone

Most meetings that you and I go to will have an agenda, some of these are sent out in advance of the meeting and for others the agenda may be agreed at the start of the meeting. And the format may be driven by the client because that’s the way they’ve always done it.

Very often too much thought goes into the planning of an agenda and getting the wording right and sometimes the timing right, including other times items are on an agenda that you know are a waste of time because there isn’t going to be an update it’s a just a marker. It almost needs a committee to agree the agenda.

Meetings

How about having your own structured agenda that you use for every meeting with every client no matter whether it’s the first meeting with them or a regular meeting?

The agenda I use gives structure to the meeting that is more useful than most agendas I’ve used or seen on the past and allows a very simple process to be used for the meeting.

Even if you aren’t ‘chairing’ the meeting it allows you to be in charge of the meeting as it’s one that you’ve prepared and it can also take the pressure off the others attending the meeting as from the get go you are gently leading them.

The agenda items are very simple:

  1. Background
  2. Company structure/diagram
  3. Current situation
  4. Possible solutions
  5. Cost implications
  6. Your questions answered
  7. The way forward
  8. Anything else

Unless the client absolutely insists, don’t send the agenda in advance of the meeting. You’ll have had a conversation about the meeting and agreed that it should take place, the time of the meeting and the time for the meeting so none of it is going to be a great surprise.

Well maybe other than the fact that the agenda has space for items they may want to add, most people wouldn’t consider doing that. The catch all item at the end can of course include those items they want to include.

Don’t just hand the agenda out to everyone at the start; position the agenda saying – “I’ve been thinking about our meeting and I’ve prepared an agenda, is there anything else that you’d like to add?” and give a copy to each person as you say it. The statements you’ve made shows that you’ve prepared for the meeting; also if we make a statement(s) followed by a question then people don’t tend to question the statements, this point is really important to note for any potential sales meeting with or in fact any client meeting.

The wording of the items is purposefully ambiguous, it will mean something to the client which may or may not be what you’re going to lead them to talk about, its familiar words and phrases that allows them to relax into the meeting.

If it’s a first meeting with a client take time to understand the company structure as this will paint a picture of the organisation and also start to show where there are issues.

The current situation is where you uncover the pain the client has – the issues, concerns, recurring problems etc.

Possible solutions is where you give away your best stuff for free – offer up a couple of things that could help them with one of two of the major issues walking them through how it can be applied in their situation.

Cost implications may mean to the client how much is it going to cost me to fix this i.e. how much will you charge to fix this but that’s something to talk about in later items, specifically the way forward. This item is to take the information they’ve given you about the current situation and then talk them through how much the current situation is costing them in lost sales, revenue, production or even lost customers and clients.

So its not about selling solutions but allowing clients to see for themselves what they are losing out on and if a situation has been going on for some time then what’s the overall cost for say the last 5 years and not just the cost in this year?

The way forward is where you’ll talk about how you would work with them and having seen the cost of the current situation and possible solutions you’ve already shared with them its allowing them to buy the services and or products that take away the pain and plug the gaps with the potential to grow the business and the profits in a sustainable way and build a more resilient business.

If the way forward for the client is that you submit a proposal then ask them what should be in the proposal, write down what they are asking for and check back with them that the proposal is to include the following. And even ask the question if it includes this, this, this and this will you go ahead? (Again statements followed by a question) Ask for the sale, all to often we go to a meeting with a client and don’t ask for the business, we agree to send in a proposal and then just leave it there. Its not about the hard sell, you don’t need to do that if you know what their pain is, know what they want to get to, can demonstrate the cost of the pain and have already given them some solutions.

Always remember to book the return journey i.e. the next meeting or call. Even if you agree that next step is to send them a proposal by an agreed date also book a time to meet/talk.

And finally a few other things that make the agenda more powerful:

  • At the top of the agenda include the client’s logo on the left and your logo on the right
  • Detail who is attending
  • Show the date of the meeting and the venue
  • Include a title/compelling headline for the meeting, don’t just call it agenda
  • Add a box for notes to be taken at the bottom of the page
  • Add a box for actions on the right hand side next to the agenda items
  • Encourage the client to use the notes box as you’re talking

Don’t forget to use the agenda for the next and subsequent meetings, adapting the agenda a little as you may not need the company structure section, always remember to position the agenda at each meeting and to leave the blank items, just in case.

If you are running internal meetings then the action agenda can be used very well for these meetings as well.

I’ve used the action agenda with potential clients and its immediately positioned me as the expert and they’ve always been impressed that I’ve brought an agenda to the meeting. I’ve used it with clients where in the past we only had a rough plan for what we’d discuss and its changed the focus of the meeting and we’ve achieved far more in a shorter time. So it does work, even more so where its positioned at the start of the meeting.

With thanks to Peter Thomson for the use of the ABGS material including the action agenda.

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