You’re the CEO of a startup. Think of all the time you spend in client meetings and the outcome of those meetings over time. Now consider this: what is the ROI of your investment of time and resources dedicated to client meetings?

Every client meeting needs to be looked at as an opportunity to increase the value of your business. As with most investments, there are near-term and long-term benefits that arise from client meetings.

  • Near-term: Direct returns, by way of sales revenue
  • Long-term: Product feedback, competitive information, and client relationships

Large companies use various substitutes to compute the value of meetings – typically, it is at the level of tracking the cost of a specific sales pursuit, which is used to determine whether one should continue committing resources to the pursuit, or to compute the contract profitability when there is a sales win.

Since every client meeting is an investment of valuable time and resources, it is very important to deploy these resources effectively. After all, if you had to invest your personal funds in buying a company’s stock, wouldn’t you research the company thoroughly?

Here are some identifying factors of good meetings (i.e. ones that are a worthwhile investment of time and resources):

  • The right client executive was in the meeting
  • The right team from the provider’s side was in the meeting
  • The client team was engaged and actively involved in the meeting
  • The provider’s team was prepared with content that was relevant and appropriate
  • The meeting achieved goals of both parties within the time allotted

Generally, the opposite is true for meetings that don’t go well. Most of you know when you’re in a bad meeting – we’ve all been there. The challenge for most teams is to ensure that every meeting is effective. It boils down to being disciplined and structured about preparing adequately for client meetings. And the bigger the stakes, the more important it is to prepare.

5 ways to maximize the effectiveness client meetings

So, here are a few recommendations to maximize the ROI from client meetings:

1. Understand the agenda for the meeting. It sounds simple, but many teams prepare as if the meeting agenda is enough to tell the client everything there is to know about the product and/or service offering(s). The client may have a very different expectation, so it’s generally a good idea to spend a few minutes ahead of the meeting to confirm what the client wants to accomplish and prepare accordingly. This is also a good opportunity to learn a bit more about attendees you may not be familiar with.

2. Understand who will be in the meeting and why. In large enterprises, buying decisions are rarely made by one individual. It’s always good practice to ask your client contact for a list of attendees, their roles, and their expectations. Your meeting prep should address concerns or questions they are likely to ask. As an example, if there’s someone from finance in the room, expect questions around pricing.

There is usually a “pecking order” among meeting attendees, and client team members will usually defer to the most senior person on any important item. Pay particular attention to what this VIP asks or says.  A related item is understanding the “social styles” of client attendees. There are four types of commonly understood social styles: analytical, expressive, driving, and amiable. Understand which category your client executives fit into, and use it to adapt your communication style accordingly.

3. Make sure the right people are in the room from your team. There’s no right answer on this – use your judgment. For small start-ups, this may include the CEO and the key technical individuals, with the CEO perhaps playing the role of sales person as well.  A common mistake teams make is having too many people come to the meeting. If there’s only one client executive attending, you don’t want to go in with more than 3 (ideally 2) from your team. Refer to the point above on social styles – make sure your team’s social styles don’t conflict with the client’s.

4. Plan out the meeting. This goes back to the first point about understanding the agenda, and putting together content that fully speaks to the agenda. Also, make sure that the speaking roles of your team members are clearly agreed upon in advance. Leave enough time for interactive discussion during the meeting. Do one or two “dry runs” before the meeting to check the flow of the messages. It’s also important to think about the likely questions or objections the client may have to your messages, and then to prepare your responses to these questions.

It’s a good idea to have a meeting objective in mind and works towards it. The meeting prep needs to include a consciously thought-out approach towards achieving the meeting end-goal. Finally, make sure you don’t go over the time allotted for the meeting. Teams can easily get wrapped up in their cool and sexy product or service, and before they know it, their hour is up. Don’t let this happen during your meetings.

5. Act like every meeting is the only one you’ll ever get. Client meetings are very valuable opportunities for startup teams trying to gain traction in the market. You never get a second chance to make a great first impression, as the old saying goes. Teams should therefore prepare thoroughly for every client interaction. A caveat to all this is that most meetings will not play out exactly the way you planned it. As Sun Tzu put it many centuries ago, “the best battle plans do not survive first contact with the enemy,” so be ready to pivot when a curve ball is thrown at you. Finally, understand that the benefits are near-term as well as long-term, so don’t throw away any information or follow-ups that come out of the meeting.

Well prepared teams have a significant impact on the client relationships that produce near-term and long-term benefits, and can vastly increase the value of the company in the long term.  The value they create is also more sustainable because the success and longevity of every business is determined by the loyalty and commitment of the customer base. So make every meeting count – it may be the best investment you ever make in your business.