One of the questions I get asked often is; “how do you follow up after a meeting when category managers are so busy and they never return calls”. No doubt this can be a challenge and very frustrating. When you are sitting across the table you have a very productive conversation, you deliver your message and they seem to be positive but it takes weeks to get an answer.
The first thing you need to do is follow up during the meeting. You know the issues where you need answers and which ones are your priorities. Insert this content as early as possible so you can have the discussion. Move on to other agenda items and return to the issues you want resolved. Within the meeting revisit the key issues to see if you can get an answer. This tactic can be effective to give them a bit of time but ensure you walk away with the answers you need.
If they still will not commit then ask for a date where the decision will be made. It helps if you can tie the timing to purchase of inputs, packaging or something that is not really in your control. They do not like to work around your timelines but if you need to order packaging, then you aren’t being difficult, it is just realities of the business. Make sure they understand the date for the decision.
You should go into the meeting with your issues prioritized. If you leave them too many things, chances are some will not get done. When you see that you are not going to get the decisions, you want review the list of 3-5 and make sure they know your timing. It always helps if you have items to follow up on as well. They like to think they are making you work for it.
Two to three days after the meeting follow up via email with your short list and the dates. If you have an assistant category manager you work with copy them on the email. The work might get delegated which is fine, as long as it gets done. Depending on your time lines follow up periodically. Try different methods of communication if one is not working. Time of day can also be important. Some category managers are in early or work late after their kids go to bed. Find the sweet spot with each of them.
When you are getting closer to your deadlines change your message to be more direct and depending on the situation you can also include, “in our meeting we discussed our packaging deadline of XX”.
You have three choices;
Go to their boss. This is not usually desirable because it will hurt your relationship but if your business depends on it you might have to.
Try to make another appointment to meet face to face with the stated purpose of the meeting to get a decision.
Walk away. This is frustrating and can be difficult for your business but if they can’t get back to you to make a decision, chances are execution on your program will be weak too. You do have choices so perhaps a seodn option is a better one.
There are many reasons why you have to wait for decisions. Some might have nothing to do with you. It is part of the process. Keep the communication lines open and make sure you are part of their world. Be realistic about your deadlines and have a plan to get the answers you need.