You’ve scheduled a first meeting with a potential new client. Fantastic! What do you do next?
How you handle your first meetings has a lot to do with personal preference. However, there is a flow to most meetings that helps improve rapport and communication. Over the next few blogs I’ll be breaking down the anatomy of a first meeting in order to find those points. Today we’ll be digging into the first two points on my First Meeting Checklist: Connect and Align.
The First Step of a First Meeting: Connect
Small talk: you either love it or you hate it. Whether you’re meeting in person, on the phone, or in any other situation, you’re going to spend a few minutes building rapport.
While it may seem a little frivolous at the outset, this period of connection plays an important role. Building rapport sets the groundwork for the rest of the meeting. It’s your chance to profile the person in a casual way.
As you start to connect with your meeting partner, ask questions that help you dig a little deeper into who they are and what they need. Where did they go to school? What are they educated in? What has their work experience been like? Do they have a family? This is all stuff you can use later.
The connection stage of a meeting creates a tone that will carry you through the rest of the conversation. It may be tempting to rush right into the meat of the conversation, but don’t skip this step!
The Second Step of a First Meeting: Align
The goal of this segment is to answer the question “what are we both trying to get out of this meeting?” Additionally, you want to find out what it is you need to put a proposal together. Identify the reason for the meeting, and clarify what the outcome should be.
This is the point to decide how long the meeting will last. You can say something like “I have an hour for this meeting, but if we need more time I can reschedule the other meeting.” I often find that after an hour or so your attention starts to wane. If you’re listening and engaging, an hour is a long time.
This is also the time to clarify the potential client’s goals. Ask them directly: “If you had the perfect partner for this project, what would they look like?” Listen to what they have to say, and ask clarifying questions. You want to learn what’s important to them, and what the main purchasing decision is for each person present.
As your potential client outlines what they need in a partner, make a note about how you can address each need. This is valuable, because some clients will have needs that you simply can’t meet. If there’s a problem you can’t overcome, you don’t want to waste time putting together a proposal.
The Bottom Line
The first part of the meeting is a time to feel out who you’re talking to and determine what they need. Sometimes you can find out within the first five minutes whether or not you’ll be a good match. Leveraging your efforts wisely here can establish you as the answer to your client’s problems, or save you both time by confirming that you’re not a great match.