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#SalesMeetings: What to Do Before Every Meeting to Make It a Success

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
18 min read

If you had to rate how well you ran a meeting on a scale of 1 to 10, what would you give yourself?

Did you fall in the top 25%? We tend to have an inflated sense of our ability to run a great meeting, but often we’re wrong. Statistics show that people find most meetings to be poorly run and a waste of time (See previous episode: #SalesMeetings: Why Bad Meetings Are Killing Your Numbers).

A meeting should be productive for everyone, and that means putting some thought and intention into it before it starts (hint: a meeting agenda isn’t enough). If you take the right steps before the meeting, you can set yourself and your client up for success.

In today’s episode of Modern Sales, I’ll tell you how to plan your next meeting so it accomplishes everything you want it to, for yourself and your client, without a moment wasted. This is part of the #SalesMeetings series where we’re covering the science behind good and bad meetings. Throughout this series, we’ll be discussing how to plan meetings, run them successfully, and what should happen afterwards.

You’ll learn:

Why it’s important to prepare for meetings

  • When we prepare for meetings, not only is the meeting more efficient but we make everyone else feel more at ease. And when we set the agenda, we guide our prospects on the fastest path to decision-making and we send the message that we’re an expert. It’s all about risk management: preparing = fewer risks.

Steps to take before any meeting

  • Do you know the goal of your meeting? How would you know if your meeting was a bust, and what steps would you take to address it? We’ll get into a list of considerations you should be thinking about before any meeting.

How to prepare for sales meetings with prospects

  • When you first meet with a prospective client, the goal of your meeting shouldn’t be to make a sale. I explain why in this episode. We’ll also cover the length of the meeting, engaging your attendees, going remote vs the energy in the room, automation, and more.

How to prepare for sales management meetings

  • Have you ever been a part of a meeting where employees were called out for their underperformance? I have, and it’s a terrible way to run a management meeting. I’ll cover how to productively solicit input, whether it’s one person or a group.


Sales Hacker Summit: “SHUT UP! How to Smash Your Quota by Listening Better”
#SalesMeetings: Why Bad Meetings Are Killing Your Numbers
The Surprising Science of Meetings by Steven Rogelburg
Logan Nickelson at Music For Makers

For more information on remote selling and a complete list of links mentioned in this podcast, visit this remote selling article on our website.

#SalesMeetings: What to Do Before Every Meeting to Make It a Success:

Full Transcript

A war hero wants to know, are we doing the important work today or just the urgent stuff? That war hero made all of his decisions about how to spend time based on his quadrant weighing the urgent with the important. It’s our classic two-by-two. Now, if it was both urgent and important, he always did it first. Everything else is harder to prioritize. This war hero was also a U.S. President, Dwight D. Eisenhower. He was something of a task master and absolutely hated wasting time. I don’t know what his meetings were like, but I’d imagine they were focused, organized, and just the perfect length. The meeting had to move forward the urgent and the important without wasting precious time needed for other pressing matters.

Now, you don’t have to operate with the dispatch or military efficiency of Eisenhower, but your meetings had better be good. I mean, you spend so much time in them and they’re so crucial to your success. And if you want them to be good, then you have to set yourself up for success right from the outset with the plan that you have in place for your meetings. In today’s episode of Modern Sales, I’ll tell you how to plan your next meeting so it accomplishes everything you want it to and not a single moment is wasted.

Welcome to Modern Sales, a podcast for entrepreneurs, business owners, and salespeople looking to have more and better conversations with your perfect clients. You’ll get a healthy scoop of psychology, behavioral economics, and sales studies to help you create win-win relationships. I’m your host, Liston Witherill, and I’m pleased to welcome you to Modern Sales.

Welcome once again to Modern Sales. This is the Sales Meeting series where we’re talking about the science behind good and bad meetings. This series covers meeting planning, conducting a successful meeting, and what should happen afterwards.

I want to give you a quick announcement here. I recently joined the Sales Hacker summit, an online conference with over 40 sales experts put on by the website It’s a fantastic resource for information. I’m really excited that I’m a part of it. The summit itself is packed with valuable insights and content about filling the pipeline, closing the deal, enterprise sales, discovery, prospecting, and more. There’s so much good stuff in there. There’s definitely talks relevant to you.

Two good friends of mine, Jason Bay and Raj Nathan, also gave talks, and I recommend you check those out, too. My talk is called Shut Up! How to Smash Your Quota by Listening Better. And you can sign up right now totally for free. The link is in the show notes. If you do attend the talk, you’ll also get a bonus checklist on how to become a top 1% listener that has a few extra exercises that aren’t in the talk itself. Again, the link is in the show notes or you can just go to, and I hope to see you there.

Now, in today’s episode, I will be covering meeting planning, the stuff that happens before the meeting so you know exactly what to do before in order to set yourself up for success. And if you think that the meeting planning is as simple as setting an agenda, you are sadly mistaken, my friend. I’ll tell you why after this short break from our sponsor.

Welcome back to Modern Sales. Now, let’s talk about meeting planning, shall we? Now, most meetings aren’t set up for success because there’s not enough planning and thought put into them. A meeting agenda alone is not a guarantee for success. There needs to be more thought and intention put into it. I mean, anybody can go scribble a few bullet points on a Google Doc, or in an email, or on a whiteboard, but just setting the meeting agenda alone isn’t enough. Now, don’t worry. You don’t have to have meetings about meetings about meetings, but you do need to identify your goal so that the meeting’s actually useful.

One of the reasons that an agenda alone is insufficient is because we have an inflated sense of our ability to run a great meeting, but we’re often wrong, sadly. In almost every study where people are asked to rate themselves in a particular task, especially against their peers, they almost always overestimate how good they are. A few examples here. 88% of U.S. drivers think they’re in the top 50%. 87% of Stanford MBA students thought they were above average, while only 10% thought that they were below average. 85% of people think they’re above average at getting along with others, and 25% thought they were in the top 1% of social skills. Obviously, not all of these people are right, and obviously we have an inflated sense of self.

This leaks into meetings. We think the meetings that we run are fantastic, but there’s a good chance they’re not. If you can’t be totally honest with yourself about the quality of your meetings, at least do this thought exercise. If people thought the meetings didn’t go well, what steps would you take to address it? I’ll give you the planning steps in this episode, but the one thing to just keep in mind is that putting some time and effort into the meeting setup is required. That’s why a little planning goes a long way. In this episode, I’ll be giving you all the different factors to think about, plus I’ll be covering two different types of meetings relevant to you, dear listener. Number one is sales meetings with prospects and number two is sales management meetings.

A quick note about the series. A lot of the content you’re listening to in here is largely based on the book, The Surprising Science of Meetings: How You Can Lead Your Team to Peak Performance. It’s a fantastic book. I highly recommend you read it. Again, a lot of the ideas in this podcast are borrowed from it. And if you want to go read the book, it is linked below in the show notes with my Amazon affiliate link.

Now, before we get into the meeting itself, I want to talk quickly about the psychology of a good plan. And the first thing to think about is framing an agenda setting. So if you do create an agenda, which you always should do … But again, an agenda alone is insufficient. But when you do that, you control the content of the meeting because you know the fastest path to help your client make a buying decision. Plus, it sends a signal that you know what you’re talking about, that you’ve been there before. It’s a form of risk management. You’ll be sure that less can go wrong during the course of the meeting and your client can be sure of that, too.

And on the preparation front, there are two big reasons why psychologically preparation is so important. Now, number one is different personalities require different things. One thing that I personally like to do is plan. These episodes that you’re hearing, including this one, are highly scripted. I know what I’m going to say before I ever press record. If you gave me the choice between winging it and spending time, any time, planning something, I’ll always take the extra time. And a lot of people agree with me. A lot of people feel the same way. So giving those people time to plan not only helps you by getting better, more productive time spent in your meetings, but it also puts them at ease and helps them be comfortable. Some people just want to prepare.

Now on the other side of it, when you prepare, psychologically, you don’t have to worry about what’s going to be covered. All you have to think about is being present in the moment, moving the meeting forward, and staying on task. So overall, in terms of planning the meeting, the first thing you really have to do is answer, what is the goal? What are you trying to achieve? Once you answer that, you can ask how long do I need in order to achieve that? And I would recommend doing what’s called a premortem. So this again comes from the book The Surprising Science of Meetings. And they recommend doing this exercise where you ask yourself if a meeting were a total bust, what would have happened?

I’d also ask you to do the inverse. Now, this is just me talking. If the meeting went perfectly, what was the outcome and what led you there? What steps were required in order to have that perfect outcome? Once you do that, now we can come to the agenda, right? We know what our goal is. We know how long it’s going to take. We’ve already planned for things that might sabotage the meeting or make the meeting go excellent. Now we can talk about the agenda.

The next thing you should really do is solicit some input, and by that I mean asking other people either what they want to cover or what their goals are for the meeting because you want to make sure that there’s alignment when everybody shows up. They should be there for the same reasons. They should be hoping to achieve the same things. And if there’s a difference in expectations, you really want to know what that is coming in. Actually, people are probably going to suggest things from time to time that you didn’t think of but should be covered in the meeting. So you want to make sure you understand what those are. Now, I’ll cover this more in the sales meeting context, but this is way more important when you’re talking to prospects, in my opinion, because of all of the things you can surface simply by including them in setting the meeting agenda.

The next thing is involving the right people and involving the right number of people. Now, fun fact about attendees, with each subsequent person you add to the meeting, you’ll reduce decision-making effectiveness by 10%, which means the difference between involving one person and six people is a 50% reduction in effectiveness of decision-making. Now, if the goal of the meeting isn’t to make decisions, if it’s purely informational, A, maybe you don’t need a meeting, but, B, maybe that’s okay. But overall, as you know, and I’ve talked about this before, the more decision makers you involve, the harder it is to complete a sale. It just kind of falls off a cliff as soon as you involve anybody else. So you really want to avoid that as much as you can.

Now, let’s talk specifically about sales meetings and calls with clients. The first big goal is to understand what the point is, right? The point of the meeting isn’t really to get a sale, especially as you sell more expensive, more complicated things. Most people aren’t going to do a one-call close. And if you are, I have a lot to say about why that’s possible and all the problems that that will bring to your business. But basically, we don’t want to rush people to the finish line, right? We want to do it in sequence. And if you buy into the serve don’t sell method, you already agree, hey, we have to ask really good questions up front before we can know if I should even sell anything. And once I do know that, then I will present. So at a minimum, we’re looking at two different calls.

So the point of the first sales meeting with a prospect would be really to understand from them what’s going on, what situation are they in, what things have they tried. And the point of the second call would be then to show them how we might be able to create impact for their business and really give them something that’s going to solve those problems that they’re having. So if you go in and you say, “Look, the point of my sales meeting obviously is to get a sale,” the problem with that approach is that it’s unclear how you’ll do it. A better goal for a particular meeting is something like I want to qualify the buyer with background information and briefly discuss options with them. This would be more in an outbound capacity. I’m going out and reaching out to people, and I want to understand a little bit about them and I also want to show them something that’s really helpful.

Now, as you probably know, I can’t prescribe a sales process for you over this podcast because it’s so highly dependent on who you’re selling to, what you’re selling, where you are in the market, whether you’re a startup or very established. But in most cases, I recommend at least two separate calls with two separate goals, and one is primarily to listen and one is primarily to talk, as I already outlined. Once you understand the goal of your sales meeting or meetings plural, because you’re going to have many meetings, very likely two or more, that will then turn into an agenda. What do we need to cover in order for this meeting to go well? So now we have the basic content of our meeting, what we’re going to talk about.

Then we decide on the length. Now, one interesting thing about meeting length that came up over and over again in The Science of Meetings book is that most people book either 30-minute or one-hour meetings. It’s kind of funny because the reason we do that I think is because that was the default setting in Outlook and now in Google Calendar is everything happens in 30-minute increments. The problem with that, of course, is that meeting length doesn’t necessarily match the amount of time we need. It may be too much or too little. But the other problem with that is once we start having a lot of meetings, we’re not allowing any time at the end of each meeting to do our follow-up, the stuff that happens afterwards, which I’ll cover later in the series. And we’re also not allowing any time to prepare for the next one.

The big problem with that is I’ve been in many meetings where people show up and I can tell I’m now witnessing them think about what we’re covering for the first time. So rather than them taking 5 or 10 minutes to go over the content of what we’re trying to cover, they’re showing up in a rush, not sure what exactly they want to say or what they want to contribute. And that, I have to tell you, personally, feels like a gigantic waste of my time. I don’t want to watch you do your homework live in front of me.

So one of the problems with making these meetings exactly 30 minutes or exactly one hour is that as we get busier and busier, all of our time gets eaten up by meetings. We have a full calendar. And now, rather than processing what happened in each meeting, and doing our follow-up, and then prepping for the next one before our next meeting starts, the problem is we’re doing all of that at the end of the day or, more likely, we’re just not doing it at all.

Now, the point of the meeting is to have a live discussion synchronously at the same time with other people who can contribute. It’s something we can’t do asynchronously. What will always come out of that inevitably is additional work. We’ve made decisions together, we’ve reviewed information together, and now we need to do something next. And if that last part is missing and our meetings are too long, then we have a problem. So what they propose in the book is rather than having hour-long meetings, have 48-minute meetings. That may or may not be possible for you. For me, the easiest thing is to make my default meeting 25 minutes instead of 30 minutes or 50 minutes instead of one hour. The funny thing you’ll see if you start doing this is people will ask you, “Why is your meeting 25 minutes?” And I can give them a little speech about how wasteful meetings are. But whatever works for you. You can do 20 minutes instead of 30, whatever. But just allocate some time to actually digest.

Another thing that you can do is if you use a calendar scheduling tool like Calendly, or Mixmax, or any other variety of tools out there that allow people to book your calendar, you can add in there a buffer between meetings so you never have them exactly back to back. The downside of this is you can’t get as many meetings on the calendar. The upside is all of the meetings that you have will be so much better. So you choose what you want. Is it all about volume or is it about quality?

The next thing to consider in your sales meetings with prospects is attendees. Now, the more attendees you involve, the harder it is to schedule these meetings, so that becomes a pain in the butt. But if you don’t involve the right people, these meetings won’t be as productive as you want them to be. Only include the people who absolutely have to be there. Again, ideally, we want to be in a position where our decision making comes down to one single person because we’re much more likely to close a sale there. But make sure you have the right people in attendance.

One thing I want to note here for modern sellers, like you and me, dear listener, is going remote. I do all of my meetings remotely over Zoom. It’s very rare that I do in-person meetings. One thing to consider about going remote is some of the technical issues, how you look on camera. Is everything set up properly? Are you in a quiet place? You want to create an environment where you’re going to have a productive meeting and you’re not going to be interrupted. You can’t really control what’s going on with the other person, but you can prep them for it, and so I do recommend you do that as part of your calendar invite, which brings me to automation.

There are four kinds of automations that I use for my meetings. One is email templates. The next is call recordings. Then we have meeting reminders. And then we have decks and materials which aren’t really automations, but I had nowhere else to put it so deal with it. Sorry about that. For email templates, I have one for before the meeting. I have one for after the meeting. Those typically go out automatically, and they let the person know what we’re going to cover, how we’re going to meet on Zoom, what they need to know coming into the meeting, any materials I want them to look at beforehand. Those are sent so that they can be prepared. Sometimes I’ll send a quick little video to kind of walk them through what we’re going to cover. Then after sort of the follow-up after the meeting, that’s also a template which always gets customized, but that’s saved into my email app so I can quickly send the bulk of the email saved. 60 to 80% of it never changes. But that makes my follow-up a lot easier.

The next thing is call recordings. If you do want to record your calls, again, I use Zoom. You can do that automatically. That can be set up so you don’t forget to do it. Meeting reminders can also be automated with your scheduling app. So again, if you’re using Calendly or Mixmax, it can fire off an email an hour beforehand or a day beforehand. I like to do the agenda a day before and then a reminder an hour before just so people remember to be there. So that covers sales meetings with clients. If you do those things to prepare, you’re going to be way ahead of the game.

Next thing is sales management meetings. Now, I was part of a company that did sales management meetings the wrong way. You’ve probably been a part of this, too. Instead of using the meetings productively, they were used primarily as a mechanism to shame and ridicule people for underperformance. In the meetings, the person running them told everybody what they were doing wrong, and it became a pipeline review for each individual. So these meetings, I am not joking, would sometimes last three hours, which is utterly ridiculous. This is not how a management meeting should go. Perhaps I can bring a dedicated series on productive one-on-ones and group management meetings, but the key thing here is that these meetings should be productive for everybody. Soliciting input is the key here, and having a series of different meeting options to choose from is one of the helpful ways to do that. Soliciting input is key here, so ask your team, “What’s going on?” Or ask your peers, “What’s going on? What should we cover in this meeting? Does anybody have anything that they’re working on, need help with, would be valuable for everyone else to hear?”

Then the second thing you can do to make these meetings more productive is to have a series of different meeting options to choose from. So think of them like little segments in a variety show. For instance, Jimmy Fallon has a bunch of different segment types he can use for his show. One’s called Slap Jack where he and a guest where this giant hand and they play blackjack and then slap each other. One is where they slow jam the news. Another is the Whisper Challenge, a lip sync battle. There’s Blow Your Mind where they ask questions and then blow a huge stream of air into the person’s face. There’s all these different things that he does that are segments that are known to the audience and known to the show and allow him to quickly put together interesting segments with guests.

You can have a similar rotating format in your sales meetings. One thing you could do is wins this week, which is a good thing to do. Have people share good news. Another is market news. What’s going on out there with our market with maybe some of our customers with a big gigantic glacial player in the market? Another thing you could have people do is individual contributors could teach one thing that they’ve learned or they’re working on or has worked with a client. Another one could be pitch us, right? Give us your pitch as if we’re a client in a specific scenario. There could be practice where you do listening exercises or all kinds of other things. Whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. All of these different kinds of “segments” for your sales meetings can really help increase the expectation of the people there, drive relevance, and make it a little bit easier to put together valuable agenda content that you already know is strategic for these meetings.

The key takeaways in this episode, number one, most meetings they’re not set up for success because there’s not enough planning or thought put into them. We have an inflated sense of our ability to run a great meeting, but we’re often wrong, so start with the goal of the meeting and then a little planning goes a long way. Think about if the meeting goes horribly, what happened? And think about if the meeting went perfectly, how’d we get there? Some of the things to consider, the actual content of the meeting, the length of the meeting, the right attendees, having some automation and documentation around your meetings, soliciting feedback from the attendees, and having meeting segments that actually work and drive value for everybody. That’s it for this episode of the Sales Meeting series.

In next week’s episode, I’ll tell you why you should run your meetings like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. If you aren’t subscribed to this podcast already, please do so by clicking the subscribe button. You can also get notified of all podcast episodes with some behind-the-scenes info as well as other exclusive sales content I put out by signing up for the newsletter at It’s totally free, and it’s linked in the show notes.

Thank again to everyone who makes this podcast possible. Tess Malijenovsky is our producer. Juan Perez is our editor. And Mary Ann Nocum is our show assistant. Our show theme and ad music is produced by me, Liston Witherill, and show music is by Logan Nickleson at Music for Makers. Thanks so much for listening. I’m Liston Witherill of Serve Don’t Sell, and I hope you have a fantastic day.

Modern Sales Podcast