If you are fortunate enough to have a relationship with a major client that asks you to participate in any part of their own annual planning process – whether that’s an agency day, a sales summit, or a marketing or branding update—congratulations! You’ve just earned a place at the table. Now it’s time to make the most of it.

Don’t squander this opportunity. Here are a few tips to make the most of your experience – and maybe even enjoy the process.

Before You Go

  • Show and tell. Begin by getting everyone who’s worked, networked, or touched this client in the past year into one room—or at least on one teleconference bridge. Review what you’ve recommended and achieved for the client. Invite everyone to share what they have worked on. Be candid about missteps or missed opportunities. Get in the know.
  • Map it out. If you have access to the client’s org chart, download it. If not, draw it out. Identify who you’ve worked with, where they are at in the organization, and where they’ve been. If possible, put names to faces and draw lines. Be thorough – you’ll be surprised what connections you’ll find and what trends you’ll uncover.
  • Change your perspective. Do a quick year in review from the other side of the desk. What has your client achieved in the past year? Have they released a new product line, lost market share to a competitor, or seen some changes in the C-suite? Depending on how robust your account planning process is and how deep your resources, this could mean asking research for some competitive analysis or putting in a couple hours of online research to write a quick brief.
  • Begin with the end in mind. Now that you have an informed understanding of what’s taken place this past year for everyone involved, put together a list of what you want to accomplish during the meeting. Do you want to introduce a new offering, triage some client issues, maybe meet a new executive, or get to know someone who is up and coming in the organization? Identify three or four key points to keep in mind.

While You’re There

  • Choose your team. If you can, don’t go it alone. Depending on the event, you may have an opportunity to invite a cross-section of people from your own client team. Each person will bring a different sensibility to what you will learn. Share your messaging strategy with them. Then spread out and work the room.
  • Make friends. It’s good to know the lay of the land, and chances are good that you’re not the only organization that’s been tapped to attend. This may be a great opportunity to get a closer look at your competition or realize the opportunity for strategic alliances with other vendors whose products and services are complementary to your own. Make some friends. Or frenemies. Or both.
  • Make time for face time. In today’s virtual world, it’s sometimes easy to forget how valuable it is to spend time with people face to face. If budget allows, go in person. If not, use teleconferencing software, if you can, or send an email with photos and bios beforehand to introduce your team. Either way, be present during the meetings. Log off email, listen and learn. Take notes. Enjoy this rare chance to have a focused, forward-looking conversation.

After the Meeting

  • Huddle up. Within 24 hours after the meeting, be sure to send a thank you note for your invitation. Then set up a recon meeting within 2-3 business days with the team who attended the meeting. Compare notes and make a plan about how you can take action on what you’ve just learned. Assign tasks with deadlines. Prioritize your follow-up plan by meeting regularly with the team.
  • Share back. Now it’s your turn to return the favor. Your client has shared their plans with you. How can you help them meet their goals? How can you contribute to their success? What did you learn that you can put into action? Make a commitment to respond with some fresh ideas that show you listened and learned.

With the right follow-up, you can look forward to getting invited to more planning sessions — and further deepen your client relationships.