Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Customers Visiting Headquarters, Part 2

Corporate visits were a critical component of sales at a larger enterprise company I worked at. There were 200 to 300 customer visits per year at this company; sometimes there were three a day. We had a very nice corporate visitor facility; with dedicated staff, and with dedicated resources. Sales people, who wanted to have a customer visit staged, would call the visitor center and all of the particulars of the visit would be coordinated for that sales person and customer by the assigned visitor center staff.

I had an opportunity to see how the enterprise visit worked from the point of view of a “subject matter expert”. In a year-and-a-half I gave approximately 30 presentations on the company’s integration story. Each time after the visit the presenters were evaluated by the customer on their presentation quality, we received a grade, and the presenter with the highest grade at the end of the month received recognition for being recognized by the customers. In the 29 out of the 30 times I presented I was not briefed on the history the customer had with our company, what was the visitor’s objective, what was the sales objective, who the individuals were, their role in their organization and what was the customer’s objective.

The one time that was different was when a sales representative from Scotland came to my office the day before his customer was scheduled to visit. He had contacted me the week before and said he wanted to bring me up to speed on what he was trying to accomplish. He told me what the customer was evaluating for purchase, he told me why integration was important to his customer (my pitch was on integration), what he hoped they would learn from my presentation, how much they had bought from our company the last 5 years (year by year), who would be attending (and their roles), and he wanted to make sure I brought handouts of my presentation.

On most visits I knew only the name of the company that was in our visitor center, what room to show up at, and the time. At the end of my presentation the sales representative left the room with me and thanked me for presenting to his client, and gave me a rough appraisal of how it went from his point of view. Most of the selling that are supposed to happen on a customer visit he had prepared for.


From this and other positive and negative experiences I had at the visitor center I have developed a list of things that you might want to consider on staging a customer visit;

  1. Before the customers are on site have a crystal clear idea of what their objectives are,
  2. At the start of the visit list the visitor’s objectives and how you are going to accomplish those,
  3. Make sure the visit is designed to address the customer sales and product issues,
  4. Get executive sponsorship for each visit, at least have a letter from the CEO welcoming the visitors,
  5. Make sure the people involved are briefed, at least with a background document,
  6. Make sure the presentations are meaningful to the customers situation,
  7. If you are the sales representative, request a copy for yourself of every presentation (I have seen presenters with 80 slides that were slotted for 45 minutes, and would not leave the lectern till finished),
  8. At the end get feedback, not just on the presenters, but on how well the visit met the objectives your visitors had prior to the meeting,
  9. Have handouts that are related to the visitor issues that are uniform in appearance for visitors,
  10. Do not hold the visitors captive all day, provide breaks after most presentations, have the subject matter experts available for side discussion,
  11. Stay on time,
  12. Set-up a question “parking lot” for follow-up at the end of each session,
  13. Ask customers to sign a visitor wall or hang their picture (something personal) that leaves their mark on the company that day,
  14. Have sales person rate support staff, facilities, and subject matter experts (this goes to top sales management),
  15. Stay flexible, and enjoy the time with your customer.


The customer visit is an important sales event that requires careful coordination between the field and headquarters. When headquarters is in the planning mode they should not forget that the focus should be on helping the field close and support important and critical customers.

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