Your First Meeting….Like a First Date? It sounds silly, but it’s true; a first meeting with a prospective client is in a lot of ways like a first date; It’s not about getting ‘what you want’ at the first meeting, it’s about laying groundwork; you have to prove that you add value to this client’s business; you have to approach the first meeting as the first of many in a long and happy relationship; you have to show interest in getting to know your client; and you have to keep the first meeting in perspective, i.e. there are other fish in the sea… First meetings, like first dates, can also be nerve-wracking and can ruffle the feathers of even the smoothest operator. So we’ve put together a few tips on keeping your cool and making your date...er...meeting, go as well as possible.
- Keep your expectations realistic- Of course you’re excited about that first meeting, but don’t build it up as the end-all-be-all. If you have sacrificed attention to other clients and have put all your energy into this one meeting, what happens if you don’t get the sale? Make sure you are also working on other prospectives and other clients that you are enthusiastic about, so that if your ‘big meeting’ doesn’t work out, you still have positive momentum to keep you moving forward.
- Do your homework- Research your prospect on the internet, or through any contacts you have in their industry. you want a good idea of where they stand in their industry in terms of technology, supply chain efficiency, image, and financials. Knowing the company’s back-story and being able to refer to it in a presentation will win you points.
- Keep communication open before the meeting- After you’ve set a date, create an agenda for the meeting. Send the agenda to your prospect and ask if there’s anything else they’d like to add to it. This allows the client to prepare for the meeting as well, by being able to bring materials they want to show you, or being able to compose a list of questions they’ll want to ask you. Things will flow a lot more smoothly and efficiently if there is a road map that both sides are following in the first meeting. The day before the meeting, call to confirm that the time still works for them. They will appreciate your sensitivity to their busy schedules.
- Stay on task- At the meeting, don’t forget that even though the prospect is aware of the agenda, it is still your responsibility to act as Chair for the meeting and to drive it. Move through your agenda efficiently; if the conversation starts getting sidetracked, simply say, “We seem to have drifted away from our agenda, and I want to make sure we have time to cover everything we need to and answer all your questions, so I’m going to make a note of what we’re discussing now, and we will come back to it at the end of our meeting.” Showing your comfort and skill in making presentations will put the prospect at ease and start building that crucial trust in your abilities. Make sure that the last item on your agenda is titled, “Next Steps” so that you are setting the stage early with the presumption that there will be next steps in your business together.
- Debrief yourself- Whether the meeting was a smashing success, or didn’t quite go as you’d hoped, take a few minutes in private the first chance you have after the meeting to write yourself some notes on what went well in the meeting, and what needs improvement; Were you asked a question where you stumbled with the answer? Make a note to practice your responses to common questions. Did you catch yourself using jargon that was unfamiliar to the client? Were your transitions from item to item in the agenda smooth and comfortable? Even if the meeting was a bust, you can benefit from it in the opportunity it gave you to hone your presentation skills, and in making decisions about what to do differently next time.