Who should be in the room for important meetings?

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I spoke to an exec this week with extensive experience at both ad agencies and client companies. As a client, he hated to be outnumbered by agency people in big meetings, including one example of 19:6! Instead of being dazzled, his first thought was “Am I paying for all these people?”

This struck home because I coached two business to business pitches this month and expressed the same concern where the pitch teams were larger than the interviewing teams. 

Two factors lead to overloading the boat: wanting to impress with the number of people you will throw at it, and internal politics not wanting to exclude various team members. There’s some validity to the first, but equal risk of backfiring per the exec’s comment above. To the second, there are far better ways of making people feel respected and appreciated than putting a meeting outcome at risk.

The criteria for attending should be whether that person is absolutely essential to success. The question should be “What do they bring that no one else could?” not “Who’s on the core team?” or “What if a question in their area comes up?”

Every attendee should also be a strong performer in a big meeting environment. Some brilliant people and unquestioned subject experts are terrible in a rapid fire, high consequence setting. Similarly, title should not dictate who leads the meeting or covers critical content. 

Credentials get checked at the door. Once the meeting begins, savvy clients or prospects respond to the most knowledgeable, confident voices. They assume any person present wouldn’t be there unless they were an integral part of the team…exactly as it should be. If the line manager is more convincing than the director or SVP, so be it.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, but having been involved in hundreds of such meetings on both sides of the table, these guides are easily on the heavy side of the 80/20 rule!

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