Al is a sales rep for a company that designs and implements learning management systems (LMS). He was contacted by Tom, the owner of a business equipment company, who wants to establish an online training program for his remotely located service technicians.
After two lengthy phone conversations, Al scheduled a meeting. He was aware that Tom had already met with two other LMS providers. However, based on the two conversations, during which Tom asked a lot of questions and was more than willing to share a lot of information, Al believed that he had a good chance of securing the business.
Al started the meeting with some initial pleasantries and then began asking Tom questions to help recap and further define the requirements of the LMS. He asked:
How many initial users will there be?
How many additional users do you anticipate...and over what period of time?
How often will they be accessing the system?
Will they be using PCs or mobile devices?
How often will you need to upload new material to the system?
Will you need to verify and document user access?
Will you be incorporating any form of testing to go with the training?...and many more.
He chose questions that revolved around specific aspects and capabilities of his system that he felt were better executed than his competitor's systems - aspects he wanted to develop so he could showcase them in an eventual presentation.
Tom patiently answered Al's questions...at first. Then the meeting took a downhill turn. After the eleventh question (Or was it the thirteenth?), and what was beginning to feel like an interrogation, Tom put his right hand up like a traffic cop and said, quite sharply, "Stop." He then asked, "Where are we going with this? We've already had two lengthy phone conversations. Now we're more or less rehashing things we've already discussed. I've already told you what I'm trying to do. Just tell me what you can do for me."
Al was a bit surprised. After all, he reasoned, you can't design an appropriate solution without first defining the full scope of the requirement. He attempted to convey that point and confirm the rationale for the questions. He said, "Tom, obviously my questions are testing your patience ... and I apologize for that. It's important that I understand the full scope of your requirements in order to develop a solution that not only meets your current needs, but is readily adaptable to your future needs ... and thereby maximize the return on your initial investment."
That should have calmed down Tom somewhat ... but it didn't. It had the opposite effect, and the slope of the downhill path on which the meeting was moving became steeper. Tom said, "Look, I've heard all the 'return on investment' malarkey before. In my view, once the money's spent ... it's spent. It's not returning. All I want to know is if you can create the system I need ... and why I should choose your firm instead of LME or K&I Systems. That's it. Either tell me that ... or we're done."
Al was feeling quite a bit of pressure ... and was unprepared to respond to Tom's questions. He was there to define the scope of the project ... and perhaps "test the waters" regarding a few features of his company's LMS that his competitors don't include in their systems. He had not planned to make a presentation, but he gave it a shot.
To reassure Tom that his company could effectively develop, implement, and sustain the system he needed, Al cited some technical data about defined user group, cross-platform integration, user collaboration functionality, and scalability ... along with the practical application and benefits of those elements. To Tom, it was meaningless techno-speak.
Al then referenced three clients for whom his company had recently implemented LMS's similar in scope to what Tom requires.
Was Tom impressed, intrigued, convinced? No. Quite the opposite. He ended the meeting and told Al, "Leave your information. I'll call you if I want to talk further."
Al left the meeting wondering how an opportunity that looked so promising an hour ago could now look so hopeless.
What happened? ... Why was Al "unprepared" for the meeting? And why was Tom so irritated by Al's questions?
Al and Tom had different expectations for the meeting. So, even though they had a common goal - to determine if working together represented a good fit - their expectations of how they would accomplish the goal were inconsistent. And that inconsistency led to the frustration ... the conflict ... and the termination of the meeting.
Whose fault was it that they had inconsistent expectations? Should Tom have asked Al, at the time they scheduled the meeting, to describe exactly what he had intended to do at the meeting? Or, was it Al's responsibility to reveal his intentions to Tom and obtain his OK?
Ultimately, the responsibility for establishing an agenda for a meeting rests on the shoulders of the salesperson ... if he or she intends to have any control over the meeting and have it progress in a predictable manner.
Had Al established an agenda, Tom would likely not have become so agitated by Al's questions ... because he would have known that's how Al intended to start the meeting. He would have understood that Al's questions were an integral part of the process of fully identifying the scope of the project. And, Al would not have found himself making a presentation he was not prepared to make ... which led to the demise of the meeting.
If you can relate to Al's experience ... even remotely, you can appreciate the strategy of developing clear agendas at the time you schedule meetings with prospects. Decide exactly what you intend to accomplish ... and how you intend to go about it. Let the prospects know what you will expect from them, and what they can expect from you. When you both agree to what will take place, there are far fewer unfulfilled expectations, frustrations, and impromptu presentations.