There were about fifteen of us—three from my team and a dozen client personnel—in a conference room at the headquarters of one of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies.
The meeting was long. Lively, but grueling. It took an investment of time and even a bit of cash to pull together. (I brought two, contract consultants in to prep and attend the meeting.)
At the end of the day we walked away with a commitment for about $300,000 of consulting business, spread over a handful of initiatives. (Since a meaningful portion of the new projects was completed while preparing for the meeting, the margin on the engagement and ROI on the meeting were both astounding.)
This was not an aberration. It’s the norm. In almost 20 years of consulting, this type of meeting has been the most reliable source of consulting projects I have encountered—especially to win large, high-margin engagements.
When I set these meetings up with clients I call them Vision Meetings. Internally, though, I have a different name: Drawbridge Meetings.
During the course of the session the client gazes at the wondrous lands within reach of their current castle. Simultaneously they dig a moat. They realize they want to reach the riches out yonder, but need a way across the trench. They need a drawbridge. Guess who can provide that?
Let me sketch out the bones of a Drawbridge Meeting.
Who. The best target for a Drawbridge Meeting is a current client. You can conduct a Drawbridge Meeting with a new prospect, but it’s riskier. Either way, they only work after you have built a solid relationship and you’re seen as a trusted adviser.
Attendees. Senior personnel—often these folks are above the level that you typically work with on a project. They could include members of the c-suite, executive v.p.s, division presidents, and functional leaders. Your goal is a broad audience with decision-making power.
Length of Meeting. Typically one full day.
Focus. Mid-level strategy. At a Drawbridge Meeting you want to attack strategy and vision at the highest level of your specific specialty.
For instance, if you’re working with one division at a company you might focus on that division’s strategy. If you’re a financial consultant, perhaps your meeting focuses on the financial vision for the company. If you’re a lean operations consultant, perhaps your meeting focuses on the vision for plant efficiency.
Preparation. Conduct research and analysis that will support the landscape assessment and opportunities you’re going to detail for them. (See Meeting Flow, below.) If your client will share their data, that’s ideal. In my case, I often get permission to survey their customers and to review their marketing and sales data.
Your preparation must also include strategic thinking and developing your stories. In this case, a story is not a tale or anecdote; rather, it’s the message you want to convey to your client. Think that through clearly in advance of the meeting.
Finally, develop and include new metaphors and frameworks to direct your client’s thinking on issues. When you frame the discussions, you are inextricably tied to the client’s thinking and become an obvious collaborator on next steps.
Ostensible Meeting Purpose. Build consensus around priorities and develop a roadmap of activities to address key opportunities.
Explicit Outcomes. Prioritization of initiatives to close gaps you’ve identified; specific direction on next steps.
Follow-Up. Recap the meeting and conduct a “light” Context Discussion with the decision-maker. You already know most of the Context from the Drawbridge Meeting. Therefore, in this discussion you confirm your role and discuss parameters such as budget and timing. Then you follow up with a proposal.
Have you conducted a Drawbridge Meeting? If not, can you imagine running one? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Text and images are © 2019 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.