I spent a good amount of my professional life in meetings. Tons of meetings. When I worked for a Fortune 500 company, I started to think they were paying me just to fill a chair in a conference room. I started jotting down notes on meetings and how to best run them. I recently came across those notes and figured I would just throw them up here in the event they happen to be useful to someone else. Full disclosure, I am a well documented anti-meeting guy. I am not a fan of them and feel that more times than not, they are a waste of time and money. However they are a necessary evil, especially when working for a large organization or with large teams, and if handled correctly can actually become productive. One area where meetings can't be avoided and have a high requirement to be well organized is when meeting with new vendors.
Meeting with a new, or potential new, vendor can be like having to talk to someone you don't know at a friends party. You know you have the friend in common but really don't know much more about one another and yet you need to try and have a conversation with them. I've found following a couple of rules make meetings with vendors a lot more efficient and productive.
Before you start
Before I even start working with a vendor there are a couple of rules I follow. My big number one rule, "No Cold Calls!" I use to be the biggest offender of this.I enjoy technology and the field I am in and I always wanted to try and make time to listen to what was out there even if I wasn't looking. Hands down the biggest mistake you can make. One "sure I'll hear you out" type of meeting turns into months of follow up even when you've clearly established you are not interested. By filtering out who you do business with to only people you have initiated a conversation saves you a ton of time.
Only thing worse than getting cold calls from vendors of solutions I manage, is getting cold calls from vendors of solutions I don't manage;
vendor: "Hello, I was wondering if I could talk to you about your SAP implementation"
me: "I don't manage the SAP environment, nor do I know anything about it"
vendor: "OK, can you put me in touch with who is responsible for the SAP environment"
The vendor has given you a lot of information at this stage. One, they have no idea who they need to talk to in your organization. Two, nobody from your organization has tried to establish a relation with this vendor. Three, your organization probably isn't looking for the solution the vendor wants to talk about. And whatever you do, do not give the vendor another name within your organization to call, even if you don't like that person.
A little research on a vendor goes a long way. The Internet is you friend and use it, Google, Twitter, the vendor's blog, Yahoo Finance are all great resources to get a understanding of a company, where it came from and where it appears to be going. So much of your initial meeting with a vendor is this information but it really should be on your shoulders to have already found out this information and the fact that you are having the meeting means you are comfortable with what you discovered.
Getting the meeting started
So you've worked through all the "pre-flight" procedures and have established a meeting. First thing you want to do is be on time, and expect the vendor to do the same. The meetings are usually slotted into specific and small time frames within your day and a few minutes of lateness can disrupt the entire goal of the meeting. Depending on the size of the meeting, you may have others who can't help but run late. This is understandable, if they are not running the meeting and are just participants, they may be tied up somewhere else. Late comers are OK but make sure they are not disruptive. Don't rewind the conversation that has already happen to "catch them up". If you feel it's really necessary, hit on the quick highlights and move on.
While we are on the topic on timelines, let's touch on the case if you are one of the ones running late. First off, if its "your meeting" you really should not run late. You've established the meeting at a time and have taken on responsibility for your organization to conduct the meeting, you should be on time. But as I mentioned, if you are participating in someone else meeting and can't help but run a little late please help in keeping the meeting moving forward. When you get to the meeting don't draw attention to yourself right away. Sometimes the meeting are on the phone and there is a alert you joined which you obviously can't help. The first small break in conversation flow, do a quick introduction, especially if its on the phone. A quick, "Hello everyone, from just joined and I am" There will be a reaction from the vendor to want to rehash the information they just discussed with the full group. Try and avoid this, letting them know you will "catch up" and keep the meeting moving forward. Work on catching up via IM or notes if possible.
The Who's and What's
At this stage, you are in a meeting with a vendor you want to speak with and have everyone ready to go. The next thing you probably want to do is establish who is who and what is their role. I strongly recommend you document this, even if its just scratching down on a piece of paper during the meeting itself and even if you are just participating in a meeting and not running it. It's good to keep organized who is who.
Next ground rules. Establish what the goal of the meeting is and discuss the agenda of the meeting so others know if there will be a opportunity to ask questions.In some cases, establish what you are not going to talk about. I do this a lot for my cloud meetings. Been working with Cloud for a few years and every meeting with a Cloud vendor turn into 15 or 20 minute tutorial from the vendor on what Cloud is, so now I make it clear we can skip this piece.
Keeping things moving along
Vendors typically have somewhat of a script, after all they typically have these same conversations over and over again. Keep small talk to a minimum. Help the vendor stay on topic and target with getting through their presentation. Establishing a clear Q&A period at the end of the meeting can help accomplish reducing chatter during the meeting.
Time checks are a great way of to make sure everyone if aware on where you are in the meeting. I typically start time check at about half way through the meeting then again at the 3/4 mark. But sometimes, I will mention time at the beginning if I think initial introductions are taking too long.
Keep it Business
You should remember, time is money for both you and the vendor. Where it's ok to have a friendly relationship with you vendor, you should keep the business piece "business". It helps to treat the meeting as a interview, be it the first time you meet a vendor of to 5th, act like you are interviewing them for a position. After all, its your money you are thinking about spending, treat the relationship as such.
Dont be a fan. I am guilty of getting caught up in this. Being a fan of technology and even a bigger fan of Open Source, there are vendors I deal with that I just personally enjoy. I either use their products personally or follow the company and the accomplishments they are working on. This needs to be shelved when trying to conduct business.
That's about it, those are some of my general guidelines for meetings with new vendors that I have establish over the years. Hope you find some of the tips helpful.