After an initial call and one or two follow-up conversations, you’ve secured a face-to-face meeting with the decision makers at a prospective partner. It’s your one shot to make a strong impression and sell the value of a partnership. You know your product cold, and you’re passionate about it and your company. You have reason to believe they will be too. So what could go wrong?
For starters, this type of meeting is often unstructured, and many finish without defined next steps. They’re what I call “Barney” meetings: I love you; you love me. But then what? In order to be effective, you need to go in with specific objectives and a plan. You need to steer the meeting toward the outcome you want. Be in control, but be flexible. Further, be realistic about the power dynamics between the two parties, and set expectations accordingly. In other words, aim high, but remain grounded. Don’t go in asking for an outcome that requires the other party to take on too much risk too soon.
In planning for the meeting, begin with the end in mind. What are the outcomes you want to see? Here is a series of objectives that I’ve used successfully over the years and that I advise others consider as a blueprint. The time available for and flow of the meeting may prevent you from getting to all of these items, but with focus and discipline you can cover all these bases.
Learn more about the company in order to further qualify them as a partner.
Use this time to draw out more detail about how their business operates. Ask questions that help you understand where the bulk of their revenue comes from, what challenges they face, and where their time and attention is focused. They may market and talk more about one product or service, when in reality the majority of their revenue comes from another. It’s important to know where the money comes from, and therefore where their focus will lie. Conversely, they may be focused on developing new revenue streams to offset erosion elsewhere or address flagging customer satisfaction. Your approach in the meeting and odds of success overall will vary with your ability to help them achieve these goals.
Likewise, you’ll want to understand their partnership track record. Ask them to discuss partnerships that have been both successful and problematic for them and why. Knowing their experience in building partnerships and the results they’ve produced to date contributed significantly to predicting your success with them partners.
Understand the players involved in reaching a decision.
Take a few minutes to ask how they typically reach a decision on a partnership. While nuance is important, most experienced business development and alliance professionals will appreciate that a direct question demonstrates your interest in better understanding their process.
Beyond the titles on their business cards and the questions you ask, reading body language and observing behavior will help you understand not only the pecking order, but the more subtle politics of the other party. Who most influences the key decision maker? Who does she look to most frequently for input or cues during the meeting? If you’ve been in sales or negotiations of any kind, this is second nature. If not, it’s a key skill to develop.
- Clearly communicate your value proposition.
- Get them excited about the business opportunity, then your product.
- Establish credibility and traction.
- Anticipate and address other issues affecting their perceived risk.
- Win the meeting and gain commitment to the next step.
With these objectives in mind, the working agenda follows naturally.
- Recap previous discussions to bring everyone up to speed
- Use the playback to ask smart, targeted questions about their business
- Restate agenda and objectives for the meeting, and confirm they’re in agreement
- Slides and demo
- Call to action (could be next meeting, formal feedback on product, etc.)
- Confirm that you have the decision maker’s commitment to a specific next action by or on a specific date