Customers are the lifeblood of any organization. While we all think this, sometimes it remains there: a nice thought. Do your customers feel like they are at the core of all you do? Is your team aligned around them and their needs? When was the last time you actually visited them onsite? If you’re like many business leaders, you might be doing a hard swallow right now. But instead of feeling exposed, I want you to feel reinvigorated. You have a golden opportunity to make your customers the North Star they should be – and improve literally everything about your organization as a result all by conducting the perfect customer visit.
Why a Customer Visit is Worth Its Weight … in Actual Gold
How do I know a customer visit is critical to success? We conducted some really interesting research into sales and marketing alignment, in partnership with Drift, recently. In it, we found a significant correlation between the most aligned sales and marketing teams (which were also the most successful teams) and their focus, not only around customers-centric metrics, but also regular visits with those customers.
Planning Customer Visits is Key
Sometimes customer visits are cheap. Although selling to your neighbor comes with considerable savings, most of us aren’t that lucky. This means that most of us are faced with hard costs to customer visits. These costs require us to carefully consider where our investments are best spent. If someone falls into your target account list, and is likely to have a strong lifetime value in your business, they’re worth visiting. But you have to first make sure there’s mutual agreement around the desired outcome of such a meeting. In other words, why are you getting together?
There could be plenty of possibilities, but three main reasons almost always necessitate a customer visit:
- You’re close to creating a proposal. If you’re about to put together a proposal, a customer visit will help you achieve the tight alignment you need to make sure what you’re offering is a good fit with what the customer needs. This will likely come after multiple discovery calls and deep dives. You’ve figured out which challenge you want to solve, and have had conversations with various people that lead you to believe it’s time to create an official proposal.
- You recently created a proposal. (My recommendation is to make the customer happen before the creation of the proposal, but it’s better go after than not at all).
- Upsell. An often underutilized function of customer visits are to the folks who already invest with you, but of course, this can be leveraged to further the relationship and ensure it stays. It can also be used to uncover additional insights into other products or services that may fit additional, previously undiscovered, challenges.
If you’re looking at this list of reason to visit your customers and thinking, “Hey Bob, What about testimonials or other customer success functions” I hear you. But listen, I’m VP of Sales. I have it on good authority a post about all these elements and how to budget for them is coming soon!
Who should be involved?
After the “why” comes the “who.” Who needs to be in the room at your customer visit to achieve your desired outcome? There could be a wide variety of internal stakeholders that you want to include. You might have people from business development, marketing, analytics, general managers or directors and/or someone from the C-Suite. There should only be people there who have direct input into and/or influence over the subject matter at hand; no one extra. Once you figure out who should be there, think about each of their differing priorities. If you’re unsure of someone’s priorities, ask them in advance. This will help you show up prepared.
Then consider who should be there from your side. Again, don’t bring anyone who doesn’t have a clear role. There’s no dedicated team that should go to customer visits; it varies based on the goal and the customer. You should know what the customer cares about before you head there. This helps you decide whether you need your CEO present or whether the principal on the account is sufficient.
Before the Visit
One of the best tips I can give you is to get all skeletons out of the closet before you get in the room. For example, if your customer’s marketing leader beams about his 600 pieces of content, but the business development group complains they are out of date and impossible to find, do you want the first time the marketing leader hears that to be real-time, while you’re onsite? Trust me; you don’t. The whole meeting will go downhill fast.
You can flush out potential issues by asking if there will be multiple budget stakeholders in the room. If so, as it relates to this project, find out whether they will be contributing some of their budget to the meeting’s desired outcome. If so, what does that look like? These questions can help you spot any areas of potential friction before you’re ever in the room.
Preparation is Prince
The content of your meeting is king, but preparing properly to share that content is certainly a strong runner up. Make sure each attendee has a very specific role, and then prepare the right presentation. Consider the following question to guide your preparation:
- Are you sharing a slide show? Audio? Video?
- What assets will you use before the meeting, during the meeting and after the meeting?
- Do you need slides, overheads, pens, markers, etc.?
- Do you need a backup plan? For instance, what if your computers don’t work; do you have a hard copy of your presentation?
- Do you know how to connect to the network onsite?
- Is the room glass or will you have walls you can write on?
It may sound silly, but it’s imperative you know the technical requirements and particulars of the room you’re heading into.
Then it’s time to rehearse. Spend time with your team actually going through the presentation before heading to the customer. Talk about who will cover which slides, and how the flow will go. Make sure you’re bringing value to the customer and the tone of the meeting will be what they’re expecting. Finally, send over a message summarizing the purpose of getting together. I like to call this the DOGMA – Details Outlining Goals & Meeting Agenda. I tell them this is what we agreed to, and offer them a chance to come back and add to it or edit what I’ve sent.
Now you’re in your customer’s home. Whether they’re a prospect or a customer already, they should feel like a customer. Your presentation shouldn’t feel like a pitch (unless that’s what they’re expecting). Go in and conduct it like a workshop. Deliver your presentation how you rehearsed.
Here are a few tips for the meeting itself:
- Watch for signs of misalignment. This often looks like one person repeatedly whispering to another, but never speaking up in front of the whole group. You might catch some subtle expressions that indicate someone doesn’t buy into what’s being presented. If these things happen, try to draw it out so it can be addressed in the room. Don’t be afraid to just say, “Sally, it looks like you might have something to share.” If there are corporate politics involved and you can’t draw out the issue, try to have a conversation during a break and find another delicate way to bring it back into the dialogue. But stay in tune with all parties in the room, as much as you can by reading body language, tone of voice and so on.
- Record the meeting. Some people get weird about recordings, but having your meeting recorded can go a long way in helping you clarify issues later or capture something that even the best notetaker might miss. If you think someone might not like the idea, have a colleague dial into the meeting and record the call. You can say something like, “Peter couldn’t be here in person, but he wanted to call in.” It’s an easy, subtle way to get a recording to happen without making anyone feel uncomfortable.
- Enlist a dedicated note taker.
- Leverage a “Parking Lot.” If someone brings up an idea or thought that isn’t perfectly relevant to where you are in the agenda, jot it down in a “Parking Lot” that you can revisit at the end of the meeting – or afterward.
- Don’t leave the room without recapping what went on, with details and next steps. “This was our desired outcome and here are the five things we discussed. Numbers one through four have been hashed out, but we need to spend more time on number five so let’s set up a call ASAP to flesh that out more.” Make sure to spell out who owns what, and the agreed upon timeline so you set the expectation for accountability.
After the Visit
You had your meeting. You’re back at the office. Now what? This is where you make or break the trust and credibility you worked so hard to create. I suggest sending a quick email to all involved parties, again reiterating what was discussed and the next steps. But take it a step further and get a handwritten thank-you note in the mail that same day. The content should be different – make it personal and send it out fast, and you’ll blow your customer’s socks off. Really.
Take the lead by holding up your end of the bargain. Take care of any items for which you’re responsible, and set up any follow-up meetings that were discussed immediately. The power of a customer visit can quickly be deflated by distraction – and a lack of action – when it’s over.
So, which customers or prospects deserve your time and attention onsite? Make a list, and get to scheduling. It’s the step you’ve been missing toward better alignment and better results too.
Meet Bob Blount
Bob has over 20 years leading and developing sales and marketing teams and programs ranging from influencer marketing to account base marketing. He has created, coordinated and executed sales and marketing campaigns focused on driving brand loyalty and retention. Additionally, Bob developed algorithms that defined influence online helping inform and craft marketing content. Bob’s skills include marketing strategy, persona development, running sales and marketing teams, executive coaching and sales enablement. Bob is an empathetic leader focused on helping others realize their potential so they can achieve personal and professional greatness.