Engaging with a C-Level Executive, Part III - Be Prepared, Be Very Prepared!
The big meeting is about to take place. You have done extensive research on the firm and the C-level executive that you will be meeting with. You have also produced a thoughtful, relevant agenda and gone through the process of assembling a – very – small team to take to the meeting. Now it is time to practice for the big day.
Final Preparations for a C-Level Executive Meeting and the Big Day!
Specifically, you will want to run through the agenda from start to finish with anyone attending and practice who is saying what. This needs to be done in concert with any material or slides you will be bringing along. You as the meeting leader need to be prepared to open and close the meeting. Anyone attending with you needs to understand that you will be the principal voice. C-level executive meetings can go awry quickly when there are too many unrestrained ‘voices’ (and that refers to your side, not theirs). Prepare to control the meeting tightly from your side. Make this clear with your team in advance. You are the meeting leader and the conduit to the client.
I’m a big believer in preparing so well that your meeting messages are second nature. I am not a believer in any sort of scripting. You do not want to script executive meetings. Scripts sound canned and do not work in an executive setting. Your upcoming meeting will take twists and turns you will never be able to anticipate. You need to do a full run-through of your material in your preparations, but you want to allow for a lot of flexibility. There is an art I believe to holding and managing senior executive meetings, but you will grow and build your skills in this area over time.
Run through everything with your team from top to bottom. Practice in a mock manner, as if the meeting was actually taking place. Do this preparation with your team in person if at all possible. If not, then prepare by phone. Just ensure you have practiced! If it is just you, run through the whole meeting yourself – either think through it or verbalize what you will say. You may even want to come up with a ‘safe’ word with your team members in the event the meeting goes off the rails. I have been in meetings before where I had practiced extensively with the team and one of the speakers went off on a tangent. This is not good and you as the meeting leader will need to rein this in. It is also critical in executive meetings that you end on time. Practice your material in the time allowed. If in the actual meeting you are running long, you will need to curb material to get back on track. And, as discussed in my prior pieces, you will want to build in time for active listening; aim for about 80% listening and 20% talking. Be clear with your team that the goal really is a listening and learning exercise. You will want to listen very closely to needs, problems, use cases and opportunities your client voices in the meeting.
The Big C-Level Meeting!
The big day has arrived. It is probably relatively common to have some nerves leading up to an important meeting. Worry not. In my experience, senior executives really do want to hear what you have to say. This is because a big part of their job is to stay fresh and current on the market, industry and competitors. This is where you come in. You will provide this crucial voice from the outside. Once your client has given the go-ahead to start the meeting, they will look to you to kick things off. You will already have ‘floated’ the agenda past your meeting sponsor and may even have sent it to the admin of the exec you will be meeting with, so they are aware what you will be presenting.
After you do the intros, go over the agenda and then take a pause and ask if that agenda sounds ok to them. Be prepared to pivot! On that particular day, they may want to only focus on a key area that represents just a piece of your ‘pitch’. They may want you to scrap the agenda altogether. Go with the flow. You will need to adjust on the fly and provide to them – as best you can – exactly what they are asking for at that time. The preparations you did should lessen any surprises though. If you had vetted your agenda ahead of time, you should be relatively close. Go through your presentation – not too quickly, not too slowly. Take frequent pauses to gauge the client’s perspective and answer any questions they may have. This is critical. You do not want to run through your whole presentation from start to finish without ‘getting’ the client to interject. You want them to provide frequent inputs. Your goal here is to listen very carefully to what they have to say and make mental or physical notes of all of it. Your objective is to uncover the true pains and opportunities that the client sees.
Keep a close watch on the meeting time. You will need to ensure you wrap up at the stated time. The exec will look to you to do this. And be sure you build in time to ‘close’. Specifically, you will want to recap any next steps and action items – or propose any appropriate next steps. Possibly the most important step will be to gain buy-in for another meeting. So, it will be critical that you highlight next steps that are in-line with their thinking and propose these at the end of the meeting. You have wrapped your meeting and earned a follow-on appointment, now take the time (do this at any point where it makes sense) to get to know your client personally. Clients ultimately buy from people they like and this goes for C-level execs as well. If you have done all these steps, good job. You are well on your way to C-level meeting success.
Tracy DeCicco is the principal and founder of sales strategy firm, Konposit.
Konposit provides sales strategy and sales execution support to leading technology firms in the US and abroad, specializing in C-level messaging and engagement.
She can be reached at either firstname.lastname@example.org or at 303–570–3801