Stop doing dumb things to customers.”
– Peter Massey

THE IDEA:  Recently I received a phone call from an old friend who emphatically presented the merits of collaborating with him on a project his company was spearheading within our industry.  For 20 minutes, he presented a binder full of reasons why it would (in his opinion) be good for me to invest my time, energy, and creativity in his initiative.  After laying out the pitch I asked him a simple question, “would you like to better understand my thoughts?”  My old friend paused and replied, “Ummmm, sure, that would be a good idea, Dan. Tell me what you are trying to accomplish these days?”  We both started laughing and I proceeded to share how my coaching, training, and event facilitation business had evolved since we last spoke.

Most sales leaders do not invest enough time understanding the stated and unstated agenda of their customers, partners, and teammates. They rarely uncover hidden problems or stress points that need to be solved.  My friend forgot the golden rule of sales: it’s not about you, it’s about us. A winning sales blueprint emphasizes diagnosing the situation long before prescribing a solution.


How do you prepare for a “must-win” meeting with a customer or client? Failing to anticipate is the biggest blind spot hindering most sales organizations. They view the landscape with an inward focus, blind to the emerging challenges and weight carried by their customers.

A top executive recently shared with me, “If you don’t care about my agenda, I won’t care about yours.” The job of a sales or service agency is to uncover hidden problems, escalating costs, and the risk of failing to implement a solution. Executives want partners who solve problems and think holistically about their business. Your best allies help you uncover and neutralize threats before they take root.

In my coaching practice, I often remind clients of disciplines that have been forgotten. Recently, I shared with a client the algorithm for preparing for a very important customer meeting. Success is driven by 10 preplanning questions.


  1. What are the customer’s highest-level priorities & growth strategies?
  2. What are the customer’s competitive threats, risks, and pressure points?
  3. What obstacles, problems or constraints will you have to overcome to strengthen the relationship?
  4. What additional knowledge, skills, resources, or capabilities will you require to achieve your strategic objectives with the customer?
  5. Why is it necessary that the customer do what you propose?  What is the proof?
  6. What internal customer politics have you not fully appreciated hindering your story?
  7. Which of your hidden assets could address the customer’s pressure points?
  8. Which influencers must you ensure attend the discussion and what is their role in the meeting?
  9. How can you neutralize your competitor’s most unique strengths?
  10. What one big idea could transform your customer relations?


Sales are less about selling and more about helping others with change management. Many of us get stuck in “pitch mode” and forget to humanize the conversation. Extensive measures are always taken to avoid a loss, and it’s your job to tailor the conversation by helping others understand the risk of complacency. Necessity is the great paradigm shifter, not opportunities.

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “a joke must focus on the structure, word choice, syntax, pacing, and rhythm. It’s performance art. Comedians think in minutes.”I’ve found that an effective approach to a meaningful meeting or call follows similar tenets to what Seinfeld is describing. Often our pace can be too forward or domineering. We lose track of the rhythm and forget to let the conversation breathe. These conversational respites allow for freeform dialogue, uncovering previously unstated goals and agendas. The pause is where true gems in a conversation are unearthed.

When done well, big meetings are moments to strengthen relationships, problem solve and better understand many of the unstated needs of another. When maximized, they are moments when your preparation is so thorough that you are free to improvise at the moment. The algorithm of planning for a big customer meeting is rooted in thoughtfully diagnosing the unstated needs of the customer. It’s not about you, it’s about us.

“Customer service is an attitude ― not a department.” 
– Mo Hardy