How to run a vague biz dev meeting

THREAD: How to run a vague biz dev meeting. Some tips I've learned and observed from some of the best (including one favorite from Sheryl Sandberg) over the years.


If you're in any medium/big company (or even a small one), you'll eventually be pulled into a vague partner meeting. Where some partner company will bring their execs/CEO over to visit (or you go visit them). These can be confusing if you work in product/eng but they needn't be!

What makes them confusing: there are multiple stakeholders on all sides. Sales, BD, your CEO perhaps, multiple teams. Same on "their side". And it isn't clear what needs to be accomplished by either side.

  1. Take the meeting! Especially if you're young in your career, say yes to these. You learn a ton about other industries and more importantly, the ppl who run them.

This is part of why I recommend all PMs spend some time in ad products - you get exposed to multiple industries.

  1. How do you get into one? Easy, ask! Every sales person LOVES having someone from tech/product in a meeting - it shows you're serious. If you work in ad products, ask to get in some sales meetings today (I assure you, you'll soon be very popular with your sales team)

  2. Next step: prepare. Google who they are, the people who are attending. Know their competition, their latest numbers, read their interviews, their career trajectories. You never know when this will save you or change a meeting's tone (it has frequently for me).

  3. The pre-meeting: Get together with the "home team" (your company's folks attending the meeting). Find out who's running the meeting (usually the most senior person). This is key - this person kicks it off, keeps things on track and brings it home.

  4. Go over what you want to accomplish from this meeting. Maybe get a test kicked off? Get their CEO to nudge his/her CMO to take you folks more seriously? Get a lay of the land of the people and the politics (a good home team prep goes deep on this).

  5. Game-plan who talks and covers what. For example: "home team" exec kicks off, throws to lead account manager to pitch what your company's big message is, throws to you as product manager to talk about some cool launch, lead into some test/partnership opportunities.

  6. Maybe have a few slides to help anchor and guide the discussion. Don't go overboard, I have sat in way too many of these meetings which have drowned in slideware. They're to act as a reference point, not the core of the meeting.

  7. Always start with the big picture and the basics of what your company do. Assume they know nothing about you. Even today any Twitter meeting will start with assuming they nothing about Twitter.. even though that is always hilariously not true.

  8. Customize the deck/narrative for the company visiting. Showcase past wins together, tie it in with what you know about their current challenges. A good account manager should be pre-gaming this with his/her counterpart on the other side.

  9. Have scripts/talking points prepared for the "obvious" questions that will come up (e.g. have you been in the press recently?). If you dont know what these are for your company, you aren't doing your homework.

  10. Onto the meeting itself: location is important if you can control it. If it's at home, make sure you have tested AV, have a notepad at the table, entered their names in the visitor system, etc. Get some swag/merch. The details matter.

pro-tip: customize the swag/merch. Does one of the execs have an upcoming wedding? A new baby? A baby oneside with your company logo will go a long way.

Again, details matter.

  1. The meeting starts. Always start with introductions. Always assume they know nothing so contextualize. Don't say "I'm a PM of the internal FooBar team". Say "I work on the product team that helps recommend content to users" (say).

  2. Meeting kicks off. Usually home team exec kicks off with a little big picture. Now here comes the first BIG tip.

ALWAYS ask them (usually the most senior person) what they care about, what they hope to get out of it. Get them to explain their biz to you.

I've seen so many meetings fail because this wasn't done. By just letting them talk (and not interrupting - pay close attention), you'll learn so much. What is worrying them, what are their priorities, what are their preconceived notions, etc.

  1. Use this to frame everything else. Don't be afraid to change up the agenda on the fly if it is clear the partner CEO is going to only care about the last bit of your agenda. This is their meeting. Reflect their priorities.

  2. You're now in the thick of the meeting. This is very much an art. You are part pitching what you have but also discussing, trying to understand how your pitch is landing on them.

Very key here: keep quiet! it is ok to let the room breathe and to let them talk.

  1. Especially awesome if they talk among themselves for you really get a sense of their internal thinking.

  2. Leave a lot of time for open discussion. ideally your deck should be only half the meeting (or less). It's ok to go very short, I've never seen any of these end because someone had too little slides.

  3. Now, you as young PM are called upon to speak. Newbie mistake here is to just dive into "cool feature X". Always start with big picture. Why does the world care about this? What is the industry situation on this? Why should they care about this?Contextualize. Make it relevant

This is where your homework really helps you. Meetings can go amazingly well when you can say "oh and btw, when this launches, your next movie launch X will be perfect because X fits this model perfectly" It shows you paid attention.

  1. Finally, you are about to wrap up. Here are two big tips. One from @nedsegal. Always get a commitment from them for a next step in the room. Show them a menu of options and get their CEO/SVP/whoever to say "Hey why don't we try this out?". Get a point of contact/commitment

  2. And one tip I learned from Sheryl who does this in every partner meeting. Say at the end "What are you going to say about this meeting when we leave the room?". This TOTALLY changes the tone of the meeting and acts as a meta conversation. Do this!

  3. Finally, you're done. Shake hands. Get everyone's emails or cards. And then - follow up! Add them on Linkedin, send them thank you notes.

  4. Most important: the follow up. Make sure you (or your team) follow up with them later and actually do the things you said you were going to do. Meetings are momentum creators - seize the momentum, don't let it fizzle out.

And that's it! I used to hate these but now see them as fun ways to learn other businesses. Go attend a few and try these out and I bet you'll get a mini-MBA and have fun along the way. Fin!

By Sriram Krishnan

Product @Twitter. Previously FB/Snap/MSFT.


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