Create a Relationship, Not a Client – Right from the First Client Meeting Agenda

Create a lasting relationship with your client by making the first client meeting agenda about the client and listening to their needs and concerns

Sell What You Can Do, Not Yourself

People are always more comfortable selling something or someone besides themselves. It’s human nature. Many people just aren’t comfortable selling period.

Let’s start with a common myth—you do need to be able to sell yourself to clients and referral partners. Think of your background and the impact you have on companies as your product, not you. When thinking through it, take you out of the equation and use your company name, such as JKL Solutions, rather than your own name (for example, Jeanne K. Long). If you are challenged with this, make it a little less personal initially: think of yourself as talking about a friend or a company. Focus on the relatable experience, activities, actions, and results of JKL Solutions rather than those of Jeanne K. Long.

Don’t Sell; Tell a Story Instead

Using a story about a similar company you have worked with, start telling a prospect what was happening in that company at the time, how you were a part of it, the great team you had, and the results you achieved at the end of that engagement. Make sure you describe the formula that made the team so great, because when you go into a new client, sometimes you aren’t able to duplicate the same results because it will be a different team, different decision-makers, and different culture. Mentioning the team you worked with can also keep you from sounding as if it was just you who fixed the issues at that company. Ego and taking credit for everything rarely goes over well when selling yourself and your services.

Building a Partnership

For some executives, the sales process is seamless and comes naturally. For many, however, it is neither seamless nor natural. It is a painful process that seems like it never goes anywhere or drags on forever. If you are in that group, we’ve put together some guidelines for you to pick and choose from as you formulate your own process and style when working with clients, from due diligence to introduction to engagement.

For starters, stop thinking of it as a sales process and more of building a partnership. When we surveyed CEOs and asked, “when faced with a challenge or opportunity, what stops you from hiring a management consultant or independent executive,” the top response was, “Trust—Believing they can do what they say they can do.” When building a partnership, you need to establish credibility and reliability in order to create trust.

Your First Client Meeting Agenda Should Not Be an Interview—Listen to Your Client

Practice reading people. Really listen; ask the questions that are important to the client and work to understand the pains they are having. If you don’t, they will likely end up talking about something that is not really the issue. Listen carefully and key in on what they are meaning to say, not just what they are actually saying. When answering their questions, again listen, and answer them directly. Stay on point as much as you can. Make sure that if you tell a story, it is relevant. Tell a story about a client or past situation that is similar to this client’s situation and focus on how you resolved it together with the team. This will be really helpful to them. We have seen executives who struggle to connect with clients or bridge the gap between their experience and what clients need have greater success using this technique.

Do Your Due Diligence

As much as you want business, not all leads are created equal, and neither are all companies. Each company and situation are unique. As much as the company will be doing due diligence on you, you should be doing the same. Not every opportunity is right for you, and not every company is a good client. Think of conversations with the potential client as doing due diligence rather than an interview. Your goal is to get quality client leads, not just quantity.

Due diligence is an easy way to get information. Take the time and do it. Don’t leave anything out. Review potential clients’ social media, websites, blogs, etc., and also Google them to see what comes up. You may find information to help you connect and stay in touch or something that may cause you to question whether you want to do business with them at all. For example, Denise had a situation with a potential client in which the company really needed help and she was excited to work with them, but while doing some up-front research, a social media site called Glassdoor raised some red flags. It was heavily weighted with employees complaining about the company—more than one would expect. The challenge was that the company had never brought up any internal issues. The company didn’t even know this information was out there. This actually helped reframe the priorities and work to be done.

Start with everything you can find out about the company, the executives, and who specifically you will be meeting. Between the Internet and the source of the lead, you should walk into the first meeting with a lot of information on the company. If you aren’t familiar with the industry, include that in your initial research. This is a great time to connect with someone in your network who works in that industry. There is nothing more frustrating to a client than being asked questions the executive could have easily answered through some basic research. If your approach is to ask confirming questions to compare their answers with your research, let the client know up front that you’d like to make sure you have all of the facts straight.

First Client Meeting Agenda

Your goals for the first client meeting agenda are:

  1. To determine if you are the right fit for what the client is looking for
  2. To determine if this is a client and/or engagement you want
  3. To understand the client’s situation, what they need, what they are looking to accomplish, and what types of results they are expecting
  4. To get as much detail as you need, because you will need this information for your Proposal/Statement of Work later, along with deliverables and timelines.

The last goal is by far the most involved and may sometimes take multiple meetings if:

  • The client is not used to having these types of conversations
  • This is a big move for the client and they are working towards building trust with you
  • The responses have not been very concrete or clear
  • You have follow-up questions
  • You are receiving contrasting information from various people with whom you have met

Your first client meeting agenda is with a “qualifier” like a clerk in HR or an assistant and is not in the best position to be giving you the detailed information you need to qualify the lead Think of these first meetings as discovery and planning discussions. The goal is not for you to rehash your resume and answer the client’s questions. To accomplish the goals outlined above, they should be active discussions, with the potential client doing most of the talking. As the client explains situations similar to those you have dealt with in your past, share those stories. Explain the similarities, what you did to help, and the impact you had. Stay in tune with what the client is saying and keep the discussion relevant. The same goes for any questions you are asked. Answer the question you were asked; don’t get sidetracked to a point you want to try to get across. Through an active discussion centered around understanding and planning, the client will develop a better sense of your abilities and begin to trust that you can help them.

Stay focused on the client’s situation at all times and begin thinking about how you might solve that issue. This approach turns the tables on CEOs. We have seen their entire demeanors change during meetings like this. Clients appreciate when executives have done their homework and are truly interested in helping them solve their issues. Let the CEO do the talking while you guide the conversation toward planning and solving rather than facts and statistics.

Be aware of the number of initial meetings the company asks of you and your up-front time investment. Depending on the size of the company and the engagement, you may need to have separate meetings with various stakeholders, either due to their availability or simply because it’s part of their process. Be cautious of meeting with the same individual(s) more than two times, and ask yourself, is the first client meeting agenda focused on information needed to scope the engagement, or have they strayed into actually beginning the engagement?

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