Engaging with a C-Level Executive, Part II - Be Prepared, Be Very Prepared!
Now that you’ve done the initial prep for your meeting with the C-Suite, the real work is set to begin. Namely, preparing the agenda and assembling the messages and the team. You can do all the best initial preparations, but if you don’t have the meeting messages and agenda down, as well as the right team assembled, your meeting will not be optimized.
How to Build an Agenda for a C-Level executive meeting–
One word. SIMPLE. The agenda for a c-level executive needs to be ‘spare’ and well-researched and ‘practiced’. Generally speaking, there should only be a few meaty points that you cover, and the majority of your time in the meeting needs to be spent listening and not talking. Aim for an agenda that allows for about 80% listening and 20% talking.
I would suggest that you do not go to a C-level meeting without first validating your agenda with someone at your client’s company who could do so. For example, I met with a CEO of a $5B publicly traded firm along with his CFO and CIO. I developed an agenda and shared it with the meeting ‘sponsor’ ahead of time, who in this case was the CIO. Because of all the research I’d done, my initial agenda ended up being fairly close to the final version. The CIO did provide some material inputs, which allowed me to fine tune the messages.
If you are planning to add a company overview (your company) to the agenda, make it brief. In the meeting with the CEO, I had a PowerPoint deck of less than 10 total slides (provided to him as a bound document) and had only one or two brief pages on my firm. These were not the initial slides. The first point in the agenda was about them – what I knew about their business problem and the opportunity this presented. In the meeting, I had the CEO validate this ‘problem statement’ (even though I’d vetted the agenda ahead of time). He provided feedback that allowed me to understand his issues at a deeper level. Note that if you, too, make this the first part of your meeting, your client will be impressed! This is because many clients are used to ‘suffering’ through pitches in which business partners talk too much about themselves.
The ‘thesis’ of the agenda is the big idea that you did your research on that you got validated. In my case, I knew the firm was looking at ways to cut costs and was possibly looking at outsourcing non-core business processes. This was a core competency of my firm, so I built the entire agenda around the theme of cost-cutting. None of my messages were generic. All of it was about them – processes of theirs that we felt could be outsourced, what the implications were to them, and maybe most importantly, the business and financial case around the outsourcing. The ‘wrapper’ around all of this is how we could help them uniquely in this area.
Building the Team for the meeting with the C-Suite –
Another very important aspect of prepping for your meeting is assembling the team. This is key; take this very seriously! You will want to bring very few people with you to the meeting with the CEO. Ideally it is just you. If this isn’t an option, it is best if it is just you and one other subject matter expert. Your success in this meeting will be proportionate to the number of people that you DON’T take along! I’ll give one example. When I was at Oracle, we had an important meeting with a senior vice president on the business side, and several of his executives. We were to share our understanding of the client’s business problem and propose a solution, as well as demonstrate the capability we had that could help them in this area. Because the meeting was with a senior team of executives, there were several folks at my company who wanted to come along. I was leading the meeting, and it was my job to determine who could go. I had a few convincing co-workers, and I ended up having too many people with me. The client called this out to me afterwards. They felt there were too many people from my firm who had attended, specifically, too many people who didn’t add value in the meeting. Once you’ve settled on your agenda, think carefully about who will attend – what value can they add? – and make every effort to choose only those who must go along. You may have to play the heavy in this regard. Bring extra folks with you at your own peril! Pare back your attendees and keep it simple and you will excel. Next up.. Final prep and the big meeting!..