Foundations of a Customer Meeting Part 2

Foundations of a Customer Meeting Part 2


In the last post, we covered the criticality of planning and preparation as well as began an overview of the PGA construct to ensure your team is ready for a customer meeting.  As a reminder, PGA can be summarized as “Their PURPOSE. Our GOAL. Shared AGENDA”.  We also covered the importance of knowing the customer's purpose, or "why are they here?".  Today we’ll finish digging into its elements and cover leveraging it during the event.  

Why have a well-defined goal?

Many years ago, I was responsible for leading the charge to convince my company’s biggest customer to upgrade their hardware from the current gen (which we were about to stop selling) to its replacement, a virtualized solution sitting on our new generic compute platform.

In organizing this discussion, we invited both the product manager (PM) of the virtualized application and the PM for white box platform.  Among several mistakes we made, mishandling our desired outcomes led to conflicts of interest and an unhappy outcome.

You see – the white box PM was looking for a beachhead to get his compute platform into our biggest customer’s labs.  This customer’s certification process could take up to 18 months, and they wouldn’t buy any of something until this was complete.  He could care less whether it ran this application or something completely unrelated.  It would even be a win for him if his servers ran a competitor’s software.  His hardware was available now.

The application PM had three goals.  The first was to get our customer’s commitment to test his next generation product in their lab ahead of its general availability (GA) release, making its insertion into the field significantly easier once it was ready in about a year.  He also wanted to convince the customer to buy as much of the current product as possible now rather than wait for the new solution.  Lastly, he wanted to work out a like-for-like swap so that the customer wasn’t going to be problematic when the old hardware was no longer supported.

So without knowing it, I put together an in-person meeting with two customer senior executives and four competing outcomes.  Things did not go well; our presentation deck contained more than 100 slides, most of which we never got to.  The Hardware PM actively pushed the conversation away from the topics that the customer wanted to discuss -  supportability of the current hardware.  The application PM struggled with his competing needs.  With our wildly diverging goals, we ended up accomplishing zero of the four and ultimately ceded this application to our biggest competitor.

As with most failed meetings, one aspect of the PGA wasn’t strictly responsible for the outcome, but our lack of a clearly aligned goal is what sunk us.


The goal is all about you and your team – “What outcome do you need from the meeting?”.  This outcome should be well understood by everyone attending the call from our side.  The goal must either move the team towards a successful closed opportunity or qualifying out the customer.

It should bring enough value to your opportunity that it exceeds the cost of the team members involved in the conversation plus any preparation they need to do.  It's not hard to get  five, six, or seven resources across your organization to a call once people get excited.  Those investments must be justified, especially your time.

Unlike the purpose, in most circumstances there should be at most two goals.  Each goal past the first adds risk, complications, and length to the discussion.  As in the example above, it took hundred slides to attempt our four goals!  Who wants to sit through that?

That’s not to say that there can't be several related subgoals under one general topic, such as “Get SE introduced to developers and salesperson introduced to marketing”.  Those are both one goal - gain deeper customer access.  But if you are interweaving “get the developers to start building a proof of value” with “gain approval from customer legal team on the Service Level Agreement”, you’re likely set up for failure unless the meeting is intended to be high level with a senior customer executive.

Finally, be as specific as possible.  Generic goals aren't helpful.  A goal should not be “Get the next call”. How do you quantify the investment of resources for that?  But “Get alignment on another call to do <something>” is an excellent goal if <something> is an critical element of your sales methodology.

Some examples of common SE specific goals that I often see are:

  • Introduction to the developer team responsible for <business need>
  • Schedule deep dive on customer’s near-term goals, a demo of the customer's current environment, or target customer journey
  • Identify potential areas to expand the existing opportunity
  • Better understand the business impact of the customer's need
  • Align on Proof-of-Concept / Proof-of-Value success criteria


Since we all know what an agenda is, this part is pretty simple, right?  Maybe, but there painful traps that can catch the unaware.  

For example - once when I was consulting in Alaska, we had a meeting cancelled last minute because the customer's Program Manager, who we worked with to define the agenda, was out of alignment with their CTO and Head of Network Engineering.  The CTO asked us to rework the agenda and reschedule. It sucked... especially since my team had already traveled from Atlanta to attend.

Deploying a successful agenda can be done in 3 steps:

First, the activities and topics to be covered should be written down in an order structured to keeps all parties engaged.  Cover too much of the customer's purpose and they could space out or leave.  Focus to much on your goal and they may get frustrated.

Next, it should be shared with the attendees while asking for feedback.  If an agenda is not reviewed and agreed with by your customer, it's possible your team’s expectations of the call will not be aligned with theirs.  And throw a wide net when sharing to prevent what happened to me in Alaska!  

Last, this should be done with enough time for your team to react.  What I’ve found works best is to share a high-level agenda with the key stakeholder at least two business days before the meeting with the simple question, “What would you change about this agenda for our conversation?” Two days gives them time to respond and your team the opportunity to course correct if necessary. For larger or more critical the meeting, more time to adapt to feedback may be necessary.

Once you’ve shared the agenda, the worst-case scenario is that your customer doesn’t respond. It may be worth sending a follow-up the morning of either by email or text to attempt to prevent misalignment.  The most common outcome is a one- or two-word email response along the lines of “Perfect!” or “Looks good!”.

The best possible outcome is where you receive comments, questions, and suggestions. Not only does this allow you to refine the approach for the conversation but it shows interest from your audience. And since you sent it out 2 days in advance, your team can adjust and execute.

Executing a PGA in practice

Once your team has aligned on the PGA and agenda has been floated by the customer facilitator, you're done with the PGA, right?  No.  The PGA's value continues during the call.

Instead of burning through the agenda to quickly get to the content, use the purpose to align the attendees.  Think how differently the meeting would go if the person walking through the agenda read through it, then asked:

“Harold, Karen, this is what we discussed covering because what your team needs from this call is <purpose>.  What else should we be making time for during our discussion?”.

Just like getting a key stakeholder to share why they are here during an introduction, this technique gets buy-in from your audiences and earns you credibility.

The goal may be useful to call out at the end of the call.  If your goal is a specific next step that you've earned the right to during the conversation, absolutely ask for it!  We should avoid leaving a call without clear alignment on the next steps when possible.  Most of the time if someone vocalizes a commitment then they are likely to follow through.

Finally, in following the old tell-show-tell paradigm, a quick review of the agenda at the end of a meeting can validate that the topics have been covered successfully and is a great way to identify next steps with the customer.

In Conclusion

Leveraging the PGA method can set your team up for success when matched with excellent preparation.  Whether your team uses this approach or not, what's most important is that you and your partner have a plan focused on outcomes that aligns your needs with the customers.

Next month’s post will be about preparation and customer research!