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 © 2023 David A. Fields, all rights reserved.
Brilliant per usual!!!!
Why, thank you, Gayle! Of course, I didn’t make this concept up. Vision meetings were a staple source of new business at the boutique firm where I cut my teeth in consulting.
This really, REALLY needs a link to the definitive article defining a Context Discussion. 😉
That’s a fair comment. For what it’s worth, the definitive “article” on the Context Discussion is chapters 18 & 19 of my new book. [Electronic version will be out Fall 2016; physical version in April, 2017]. I’ve been reluctant to shorten that to a 700-word, single post, but for you, Tom, I’ll reconsider!
Perhaps an obvious question but speaks to a big concern I have based on past experience: what happens if such a significant investment of time, energy and intellectual capital does NOT lead to business? Working with an existing client certainly helps mitigate some of that risk but it still exists. What’s your point of view on this?
Supriya, that’s a very good question. The meeting in the article cost about $8,000 in fees to consultants. If you bake in my time (and make some assumptions about where my revenue/day ends up in a typical year), the meeting cost around $20-30,000. Not a small investment. But only 10% of the value of the projects that resulted.
Does every meeting lead to projects? Surprisingly, when you do this with existing clients, the “hit rate” tends to be 70% or so. That makes Drawbridge Meetings a very worthwhile investment. With new clients, the hit rate is much lower–20% is a better estimate.
But let’s address the bigger issues: fear and risk. No matter what you do or what you try there’s a chance it won’t work. Your investment may evaporate in a gut-wrenching whirlwind of rejection. How do you handle this? One response is to avoid the risk. If you don’t try, you won’t lose. My response is the opposite: double down and use a portfolio approach to mitigate the risk.
Let’s say you invest $10k in a meeting with a 20% chance of winning a $100k project. Mathematically, that pays out well, but emotionally, it’s too stressful. Instead, invest $60k in six meetings. At least one of those meetings is going to produce a valuable new client in the short term. In the long term you’ll probably win two or three. Emotionally and financially more rewarding.
Does that answer your question?
I LOVE this David. I use a similar concept called a Capabilities Briefing with the same intended purpose but I love your breakdown of a winning meeting flow formula! Thank you
Felicia, it sounds like we’ve both experienced success with this type of meeting. Out of curiosity, why do you call it a Capabilities Briefing? Is there a possibility the client will think the meeting is about you (your capabilities) rather than about them, or is the idea that you’re going to walk them through their own capabilities and gaps?
P.S. You get extra points for using your middle initial in your website name.
David, that’s a great question and an even greater point. Capabilities Briefing came from one of my coaches who taught me the strategies BUT you have enlightened me with a much better positioning strategy as never considered it from the perspective of the name possibly blocking more opportunities. My current success rate with getting the meeting is about 45-50% (with current clients and prospects) BUT my upfront investment is nowhere as high as yours…my ultimate project win $$ isn’t either. (-;. There is a step in the process where I book a paid VIP Strategy Day to flesh out the details of how I can support them…then the proposal is submitted. I like your perspective on the name so I am going to test it with a refreshed name to see what my success rate is. Thank again (-; Oh and I think I added my middle initial by default because my nae without it wasn’t available. LOL
Felicia, please let me know your success with the changed name. A paid day during which you scope out a larger project is a good gig if you can get it. The only challenge I’ve seen with that type of setup is pushback if your fee is very high for a typical one-day consulting project (for instance a one-day facilitation).