How to Hold Kickass Virtual Meetings

clip_image002_thumb1Guest Post by Saeed Khan

One of the core activities for Product Management  is to get out of the office and gain first hand understanding of needs of customers and partners, and other issues in the market  There’s little that can substitute for good field research.

Having said that, getting out of the office to collect primary information is not always possible. There are many reasons including lack of travel budget, lack of time and distributed teams (on your side as well as for your customer/partner).

So, whether we wanted it or not, we had to deal with these issues and still get the research done. Here’s how we did it.

Planning & Recruiting for Kickass Virtual Meetings

Holding the virtual meeting

After all this effort, make sure you make the best of the time you have with the customer. The fact that they are virtual means you have to keep them engaged during the meeting or they will drift off and do other things and you won’t get the information you need.

I had one virtual meeting where one of the participants was furiously typing away in the background. Clearly they were not paying attention to what we were discussing. When I mentioned the background typing noise — hoping they’d stop and listen — the person apologized and announced he’d mute his phone! Not a good sign. Needless to say we didn’t get much from that person.

So here’s what you can do to maximize the value of the virtual meeting.

1. Guide the discussion with a simple slide deck

The purpose of the deck (prepared in advance) is to structure and guide the discussion and should contain the following:

  • Agenda with topics of discussion and allocated time
  • 1 slide per discussion topic
  • Key questions to answer for each topic

This deck should NOT be a marketing or detailed technical slide deck. That’s a mistake that many people make. The purpose of the meeting is to hear from the customer, not to present to them.

The agenda should list the allocated time for each discussion topic and this will be used to control the discussion and ensure the meeting time is used wisely.

The key questions come from the planning phase of the project.

Overall, keep the deck short and simple. It should facilitate discussion, not be the focus of it.

2. Appoint a lead speaker from your side

If you have multiple people from your company attending the call (in my calls, we had up to 6 people from our company), appoint 1 person as the leader. It will likely be the Product Manager, but whomever it is, set the ground rule (in advance amongst your team) that the leader guides the discussion, and keeps it moving forward. Others can certainly chime in and ask the customer follow up or clarification questions as needed.

This has two benefits. First it stops people from your side from stepping on top of one another during the session; and second, for the customer, it provides some coherence in the conversation flow. Overall, it keeps the discussion organized and flowing.

3. Appoint a time keeper

Have someone (other than the leader), be a timekeeper. Whether the meeting is short or long, this person’s role is to watch the clock and remind the leader when the agenda is falling behind schedule. The agenda timings are not set in stone, but if time is short, use it to focus on the important areas of discussion.

4. Record the call/webinar

Something you can do with a virtual meeting that you can’t do with a face-to-face meeting is record the entire event.  Recording the event frees you (and others) from furiously taking notes during the event. I’ve only met a few people who can take good notes in real-time.  One had a previous career as a stenographer!

Make sure you get the customer’s permission to record the event. Make it clear to them that the recording is only for note taking purposes and it won’t be distributed or used for any other reasons.

Some customers may decline but most won’t, and take my word for it, particularly for a longer meeting, when you review the recording after the fact, you’ll hear comments or statements from the conversation that you missed when it was live.

5. If taking notes, have more than 1 person take notes

If the customer declines to be recorded, then have at least 2 note takers ready and waiting. Why two? Neither note taker will be able to capture 100% of the call. With 2 people taking notes, each will capture points that the other missed.

Also, when consolidating notes after the meeting, if there are discrepancies between the two, it may identify areas of confusion or that need follow-up with the customer.

6. Have interactive exercises to collect input

A dialogue and Q&A type meeting will help you collect information, but information can be collected in a variety of ways. And particularly for a more in-depth (i.e. longer) meeting, exercises help break the tedium of a long discussion.

Exercises can be quite varied, but anything that helps collect data you need in your research, AND is simple to execute online is fair game.

In my work, we conducted some simple stack-ranking exercises of potential product features — including items that the customers had raised themselves earlier in the call. This was well received by the customers and it helped us collect some quantitative information that we could use in our requirements process.

The kinds of exercises are up to you, but make sure they are easy to understand and execute online, and the collected data can be consolidated easily and analysed across the customers you speak with.

7. Finish on time

This goes back to point 3 above (Appoint a time keeper), but make sure you finish on time, or worst case, if you see you are running behind, ask in advance if the customer can extend the call by 5-10 minutes. Most customers I’ve met are very busy and don’t have a lot of extra time.

Additionally, it’s unprofessional in my view to let your own meeting run over. If you can’t finish the full meeting in the allotted time, AND the customer can’t stay on, thank them for their time and either request a short follow up, or collect the rest of your info via email.

And finally…

Once you’ve completed each call, hold a short debrief with your team to review the call and identify anything notable that was learned, as well as anything that should be improved on future calls. This is especially important in the first couple of virtual meetings you have with the team. Once you work out the kinks, you’ll find the meetings flow well, end in a timely manner, and you collect valuable information from your customers.

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the art of the Customer Virtual Meeting, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.

 

Saeed has over 20 years of experience in the software industry with experience in , product management, product marketing, development and education. Having worked in both Toronto and Silicon Valley, at both technology startups and public companies, Saeed has contributed to the success of a broad range of organizations. He has written a number of articles for Pragmatic Marketing’s publications and is co-founder of ProductCamp Toronto. Saeed is based in Toronto Canada, and can be reached via his blog at http://www.onproductmanagement.net

 

Interested in being a Guest Blogger on The Product Guy? Contact me.

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Planning & Recruiting for Kickass Virtual Meetings

clip_image002Guest Post by Saeed Khan

One of the core activities for Product Management  is to get out of the office and gain first hand understanding of needs of customers and partners, and other issues in the market  There’s little that can substitute for good field research.

Face to face meetings are difficult

Having said that, getting out of the office to collect primary information is not always possible. There are many reasons including lack of travel budget, lack of time and distributed teams (on your side as well as for your customer/partner).

And it’s this last situation, with geographically distributed team that makes face-to-face meetings incredibly difficult.

But virtual meetings are no substitute to live, face to face meetings. You can’t read body language over the phone/web; you can’t just get up and "whiteboard" a discussion topic;  you can’t make sure the attendees aren’t ignoring you and simply working on email.

I recently completed a series of in-depth customer engagements (2-3 hours minimum per customer + follow ups) for some new product areas I’m researching. With the exception of one customer, all of the meetings were done via phone and webinar.

There were several reasons for this that included all of the reasons listed above.

In a few cases, the customer team members were geographically separate — London and New York, Boston and Dallas, Seattle and San Francisco — so it was impossible to actually be face-to-face with the customer.

In other cases, the meetings were broken over 2 sessions to accommodate customer schedules. It’s difficult for many customers to find 2 or 3 hour uninterrupted blocks of time.

So, whether we wanted it or not, we had to deal with these issues and still get the research done. Here’s how we did it.

Planning

As with any task, proper planning is key.

1. Clearly identify your goals.

  • What are the key questions that must be answered from these customer meetings?
    • Think of the decisions you will need to make with the collected data and then use that to formalize the questions.
    • What teams or stakeholders will need to use the findings of the research?

2. Who can provide the needed information?

  • Who are the people at your customer sites that you want to speak with?
    • e.g. What are their roles? Are they the users, buyers, managers etc? And in the case of the users, are there different types of users? e.g. administrators, business analysts, developers etc.?
    • Who specifically are the targets for your discussions?

3. Are there specific customer profiles you must speak with?

  • New vs. longtime customers?
  • Large vs. small
  • Vertical specific?
  • Use case specific?
  • Technology specific?
  • etc.

4. How many customer meetings do you need to hold to collect the necessary amount of information?

  • If your objective is to speak to enough customers to start to identify patterns amongst them, then you should target at least 5-7 customers of a similar profile.
  • Depending on your product, market, target audience and objectives, you may need more than that to get the data.

Recruiting

Getting customers to agree to meet — particularly for anything over 30-60 minutes — is like a sales process. You need to start with 2x-3x the number of customers you need to eventually speak with, and then get the necessary number to commit to meetings.

If you need to speak with 8-10 customers, you’ll probably have to solicit between 20-30 customers. Some may not want to speak with you :-(, for others the timing will be bad, and yet for others, particularly ones with distributed teams themselves, the logistics of coordinating schedules may be a problem. Timing — holidays (summer and end of year) as well as seasonal or quarterly busy periods — will also contribute to your success rate.

To maximize your chances, do the following:

1. Prepare a brief outline – 1-2 pages maximum – describing:

  • the purpose of the meeting,
  • the attendees from your side (product management, engineering etc.)
  • who you want to speak with on the customer side
  • the key questions you are looking to discuss,
  • what you will do with the information you collect

Usually customers will be interested in having the meeting if the topic is relevant to them, AND if they know something useful will be done with the information, such as influence into the product roadmap.

2. Leverage personal relationships with customers

If you don’t have strong personal relationships with a number of customers, you’re not speaking to enough customers! :-)  But if you do – and let’s assume you do – then contact some of them as a starting point in your recruiting process.

Not only will you increase your chances of getting commitment to the meetings, but these customers will likely make time for you so that you can get your first meetings completed in short order.

Be warned though, don’t abuse the relationships by constantly asking these customers for meetings. Not only will some of them start pushing back, but you also risk skewing your findings by talking to the same customer set time and time again.

3. Involve your sales teams in this process

Send an email or set up a short call with various sales people to let them know what you are doing and why. Ask for their help in making introductions to customers. Share the outline document with them and let them know that they can pass it onto their customers for background information.

4. Connect with the customer directly to assess their suitability

If you get leads (from sales reps or others in your company) contact the customers directly and have a brief information call with them. This will give you a chance to answer their questions, but also to gauge them to see if they fit the profile(s) you defined in your planning process.

This is particularly important if you are planning extended (> 1hour) meetings. You don’t want to waste your time (or theirs) by having a lengthy call and realizing half-way through that their input is not meaningful to your research.

Now that we have Planning & Recruiting down…

In Part 2 we will learn How to Hold that Kickass Virtual Meeting.

Subscribe now (click here) to make sure you don’t miss any part of this series exploring the art of the Customer Virtual Meeting, as well as other insightful posts from The Product Guy.u

 

Saeed has over 20 years of experience in the software industry with experience in , product management, product marketing, development and education. Having worked in both Toronto and Silicon Valley, at both technology startups and public companies, Saeed has contributed to the success of a broad range of organizations. He has written a number of articles for Pragmatic Marketing’s publications and is co-founder of ProductCamp Toronto. Saeed is based in Toronto Canada, and can be reached via his blog at http://www.onproductmanagement.net

 

Interested in being a Guest Blogger on The Product Guy? Contact me.