Today’s post is by the lovely Jo Seidel from the Indianapolis, IN area. We’re thrilled to have this contribution of Jo’s expertise. Thanks Jo!
As this economy brings changing market conditions, the process of scouting, or honing in on the preferred customer, becomes essential. It is the dedication to a focused, strategic business development process for targeting that ideal customer that may mean the difference between accelerated growth versus business as usual.
Scouting is an iterative process. It generates leads; helps companies learn to say no to customers that will only drain resources rather than produce profits; and, works as a strategic management tool. Scouting and the creation of a great target filter that fits the criteria below, means the difference between developing a strategic process to conduct and generate new business and one that is haphazard and not embedded within the business culture.
There are four characteristics of a great target filter:
In order to develop a collaborative team and environment for developing great target filters that will prioritize and generate quality leads and sales over time, process tools are necessary. One of the first rules at sea for scouting is that of setting up a conducive environment as a foundation for great scouting to occur. It starts with rules of engagement to prevent mutiny when seas are rough and a tight meeting protocol to drive improvement and action throughout the business development cycle.
To prepare the right foundation for great scouting, rules of engagement for team meetings must be established. This not only sets high expectations, but also keeps tight focus on priorities. Rules to guide team behavior support development of shared responsibility by all on the team to engage and develop ownership in the business development process to land that big sale that will propel the company forward.
One way I have found that teams find engaging to begin this process is with the Cotter Question*: What could this group do to assure that our team fails? Assign the team to take a moment to chart their greatest irritations with company or departmental meetings. This usually generates some laughter or at least raised eyebrows, but soon the team discovers that had they considered these behaviors that need to be avoided prior to having their scouting meetings, their team and meeting experiences would have generated quite different results. From this list of negatives, the group will be ready to identify five to seven key priorities to guide meeting behavior. A few priorities that are helpful are as follows:
- Meetings will start on time and end on time.
- We will come to all meetings with assignments completed and be prepared to productively contribute to discussions and decisions.
- Meetings are not for reporting, but reserved for action.
- We will observe time limits.
- We will be nice. This doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t have important conversations where points of view differ, but we will stay focused on ideas and be courteous in our interchanges.
Once these guiding principles for team behavior are generated, consensus needs to be gained and the rules of engagement posted for every meeting.
A series of tight, action-oriented meetings form a process that leads to continuous improvement in the way a company does business over time. There are four key elements in developing a meeting plan. These elements are:
1. A clearly stated purpose and objective for meeting, i.e., to develop the criteria of the preferred whale customer for the target filter tool,
2. Logistics that are standardized. Ongoing team meetings need standardized meeting dates, times, and places so that thinking energy can be focused on content and purpose and distractions kept to a minimum.
3. An explicit written agenda needs to be developed for each meeting in the process that communicates the meeting purpose, what action items will be covered, how much time will be allotted for each agenda item, and who will be involved or who will be responsible for that agenda item during the meeting (including the preparation prior to meeting). An example might be, Jo will bring a completed dossier for team review on a key company that the team had identified was a priority from their target filter. This agenda needs to be circulated to each team member prior to the meeting to ensure thorough preparation and clear assignments.
4. Communication parameters need to be established, such as how people will be informed about the meeting, the meeting’s purpose and their role, i.e., a timekeeper to adhere to allotted time constraints per agenda item, a facilitator to keep things moving and members focused, and a recorder to document the meeting actions/discussions. In addition, a standardized communication form needs to be established and then circulated in the same way for each meeting. Will members receive an electronic copy, an interdepartmental memo, or some more efficient format? This ensures that all members will become accustomed to expecting the agenda prior to the meeting. Who will be responsible for this communication and when it will happen needs to be established as well.
To increase efficiency and effectiveness, I suggest a one page standardized agenda format for all meetings with room allotted for flex items and next steps to prepare the agenda for the following meeting. This guarantees that all have a voice in creating a prioritized, realistic agenda. It also guarantees that each team member’s role in the next meeting and responsibility for action between meetings is clearly communicated and documented. It is important to hold members accountable for preparation and completion of assignments between meetings.
A focused agenda ensures one last aspect essential to scouting. It surfaces the need for any assistance or support team members may require between meetings to accomplish their assignment and expedite the scouting process. For example, scouting involves deep research. Scouts may need to learn ways to mine sites such as Manta.com for key company dossier information. This needs to be revealed and supported or the scouting process cannot move forward in a timely fashion and dossier documentation will not be robust enough for key decision-making.
And lastly, what is an agenda flex item? It is important in this market of rapid change, that agendas remain timely and prioritized on the strategic few actions that will create the greatest gain and business growth. To assure this, flex items become paramount. During the agenda review, flag a flex item or two on the agenda that the entire group agrees may be eliminated, postponed, or dealt with in a different way should time run out at the meeting or discussion become more lengthy than the time limit identifies. This flex item may also change to represent a more pressing issue that needs to move to the forefront of the meeting agenda based on the current sales strategy.
These are but a few tips that may assist your company in preparing for meetings that drive results, are officially recorded so that meeting decisions and actions can be reviewed/debriefed, revised, and improved over time. The last meeting in the process should focus on analyzing results and debriefing ways to refocus and tighten the overall meeting process to guide scouting actions.
Meetings guided by protocols and action-driven agendas are great ways to strengthen your business development process and to build evidence/data that can be reviewed for continuous improvement, i.e., metrics on how long it took to produce an in-depth dossier on a preferred whale customer as evidenced by agenda item analysis. With a few key modifications, meetings can change from being points of pain to tools for accelerated gain. They can work to a company’s advantage as a means for re-energizing team members who begin to view meetings as opportunities for productive, engaging, collaborative work shared among thinking colleagues.
*Named for its creator, Maury Cotter, University of Wisconsin, Office for Quality Improvement
Jo Seidel is a Certified Partner with The Whale Hunters. As a consultant and coach, she works with clients throughout the country. Her work focuses on systemic improvement centered on needs analysis to promote collaboration, professional learning, and accelerated sales growth.