Many careers depend on the ability to attract and interact with customers, clients or members, and yet, the first meeting with someone new can be nerve-rattling — ranking somewhere between getting ready for a first date and going to a job interview.
You rehearse what to say, all the while hoping that you’ll not only represent your organization well, but impress a prospective customer enough to win their trust and their business. Of course, there’s a bit of added pressure knowing that you’ll have to face your boss, who will be asking, “Well? How did it go?”
If you do some initial fact gathering before the meeting; that is, knowing who you’re meeting with and why, you should be assured that you’re walking in with a clear understanding that they are a good fit for your services. A little preparation will ensure that you are not wasting their time or yours. Now on to Step Two.
Like a job interview or first date, all the little things that you do add up to making a good impression.
First and foremost, be respectful. Show up for the meeting on time, if not five minutes early. Dress professionally and appropriately for the place you are meeting (when in doubt, bump it up a notch to show that you take this customer seriously). If the meeting is at the client’s place of business, be courteous to the receptionist and everyone you come in contact with, because you never know whose opinion will factor in to a final decision.
After you and your potential customer exchange polite handshakes and smiles, what you do and say can really set you apart. Here are some tips for making a great impression:
DO take notes. Remember that the goal of the meeting is to learn what their needs are and how you can meet them, so make a point of taking down notes as you listen. At the same time, be sure not to bury your head in your notepad or tablet. Make frequent eye contact to show that you are engaged in the conversation.
DO take notice of items around their office and search for the right opportunity to use these items as a catalyst for building a relationship. For example, you may notice they have several golf-related trinkets and could enquire about their interest in golf and share your love of the game. Making these kind of connections early in the conversation can go a long way to building trust.
DON’T answer your phone or view texts during the meeting. Whatever it is can wait, so just shut your phone off to avoid distraction and give the customer your full attention.
DO stop pitching and take time to listen. Yes, you may be there to sell, but remember that you are also on a mission to learn everything you can about this person’s business and to become a trusted service provider to them. As a rule of thumb: talk less, listen more.
DON’T whisper to the colleague you brought along.
DON’T overwhelm the potential customer with jargon, it comes off as arrogance. You risk losing their attention or leaving them confused, which is no way to win them over.
DO be honest and establish trust. It’s important to present your organization’s strengths, achievements and other shining attributes, but if they ask to hear about your failures or weaknesses, be truthful. It’s a great opportunity to explain how your organization has learned from its mistakes, fixed them properly and moved on to do bigger and better things.
DON’T over-promise more than you can realistically deliver, or else you are setting up expectations that will lead to disappointment down the road.
DO clarify next steps. Don’t leave things in limbo or wait for them to make the next move. It is appropriate to make an action plan before you leave the meeting. In fact, it lets the customer know that you don’t expect the time you’ve spent together to have been wasted.
DON’T forget to bring “leave behinds.” A meeting quickly loses momentum as soon as it is over, and a customer can easily forget what has been said. Leave behind some marketing materials or follow up with a brief meeting summary to keep the conversation going.
DO thank them for their time. Their time is valuable and you want to ensure they know you appreciate the time they have extended to you.
Above all, be considerate of the client before, during and after your meeting. That means always putting yourself in their shoes and thinking about what their needs are in order to create a relationship of trust and loyalty.
— With reporting by Barbara Chabai
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 H2