It certainly happens to me, and I suspect that it is true for all of us from time to time. Nevertheless, a simple process and a few tools can tip the odds of a successful field encounter in our favor (I write “Field” as in Field Applications Engineer. A meeting can be anywhere, including a field, but also in an office, on the telephone, Skype etc).

For such an encounter, a good, 30,000 feet flow is:

  • Prepare
  • Engage
  • Discover
  • Recommend
  • Commitments

These steps help me through the field obstacle course. This is depicted in the figure: a wall to represent the hurdle of getting a meeting and syncing up with the customer; a murky pool for the situation to be investigated; the gulf between your customer’s current position and where you would like them to be; the final goal of commitments from both sides, constituting a win-win solution.

Painful experience has shown that all the five steps are needed, and that the order of the flow must be followed. When an encounter goes badly wrong and a post-mortem is performed (metaphorically speaking), problems can often be traced back to process/flow steps that have been skipped.

For example, the unprepared meeting, where I forget to look at basic information on the web beforehand; the meeting where I rushed to get started, not noticing that my host was looking like Death warmed up (for whatever reason); the famous occasion where I gave the presentation-to-die-for, before I had discovered anything about my audience, its needs and preferences; and the hurried call where I started harassing my client for time and resources before I had outlined any plan or alternatives.

So much for the 30,000 foot view. Down on the ground, an excellent way to ensure that the encounter flow is followed is, just as in design, to use a few tools.

The simplest of all tools is an acronym. For example, PEDRO could be an acronym tool for remembering the meeting process: Prepare, Engage, Discover, Recommend, cOmmitments (I could even switch “cOmmitments” to “Obligations” to tidy this up). Of course, not all tools are as simple as this, and even acronyms can mask a large body of theory – their simplicity is deceptive.

I give training courses to engineers with customer-facing responsibilities, and I find that the use of process tools has many advantages. In future blog entries I will develop the theme of using tools to support field training , and give further examples.

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