Part II of Do you really know your clients?
Thankfully, the day before my meeting was a Sunday, and I had plenty of time to think about all the details of my meeting. I didn’t know whether the person I was meeting with would bring other people to the meeting –after all, through my work, I know a lot of people in this organization, some of them from upper management. Or whether this would be a one-on-one meeting, which would put me in the spotlight. What if she was a stiff manager? I knew this was a make-it-or-break-it type of meeting.
A script for your meeting
The best way to tackle the unknown is by gathering some knowledge. I did my research about this person. LinkedIn is great resource. A personalized LinkedIn request is an excellent way to both connect with people and learn about their background, interests, etc. This will provide you valuable information and very important: Talking points for your meeting.
You must always have something to talk about other than yourself. Let the other person talk first, and be genuinely interested in what they say, their experience, their background, etc.
In my case, I knew she had been in her position for just a few months, so I could ask her about her new role, ask about her prior experience, and go from there.
Then, a time would come when the other person would want to learn about you and that’s your opportunity to talk about relevant experience, and perhaps tie it all in to your folder and hand it out.
During my meeting, my interlocutor was very approachable and I could tell she had also done her homework. This is another giveaway: Just like you research people, people research you, so be sure to have consistent, up-to-date and relevant information posted in your social media outlets, and website. It was very easy to chat with her and we talked mostly about her at the beginning. We discovered we had crossed paths in different endeavors and that provided some more food for talk.
She then started shifting toward me and talked about what she had seen about my work and that’s how we transitioned to me. At that point, I started talking about my background and handed out my folder where she could learn more about my key services and experience. I can tell she was very impressed with the folder presentation, and I even paused for a few seconds when she started browsing through it. Then resumed talking about projects I was currently working for her organization.
While the purpose of our meeting was to… well, meet in person, I quickly learned she also wanted to find out if I was able to handle larger volumes, which opened the door to something I wanted to discuss with her: Being involved in a certain project.
So, as you can see, while the meeting in itself is a highly dynamic interaction, I can assert there are some basic steps that would help guide it.
- “Learn” about the other person. Even if you already know a thing or two about this person, use this knowledge to invite the other person to talk about him or her as a professional. Avoid personal questions such as “Where are you from?” or “Where did you work before?” Instead, show genuine interest in their role: “It must be really interesting to interact with people of different backgrounds and expertise”, or “I think I read you have a background in journalism. That’s fascinating. What stories did you enjoy covering?”
- If you find out you have other interests in common, talk about them! This will establish a more personal connection. But do take cue from the other person as to when it’s time to move on from the subject.
- Let the other person lead the meeting, but don’t assume a passive role. Don’t limit yourself to answering questions. Do let the other person talk, but pay attention to his or her cues. If they ask you questions that allows for explanations and examples, seize the opportunity! And then, give the floor back with a question. This creates a dynamic conversation that doesn’t die when you’re finished answering the question. It’s like a tennis game: If you let the ball drop, it will take greater effort to put it back in the court.
- Hand out your materials gracefully, preferably weaved into your speech. You can practice this part. Find an anchor phrase that you can use to introduce your materials and talk briefly about them. Think about it as a preview of what’s inside the folder: “I have prepared this folder for you that provides greater detail about my services, and some key areas that set me apart”. It’s your 10-second speech that will make the other person want to read your materials as soon as the meeting is over.
- Offer examples of your work. If you already have a business relationship with this company, use examples of past projects that you found particularly interesting, or that you enjoyed. Otherwise, you may talk about your experience in broad terms. Be careful with the information you share to make sure you’re not breaching any confidentiality rules or offering sensitive information. And again, find a way to include this information in a casual way during the conversation. Otherwise, be sure to include this information in your PowerPoint presentation.
- Be mindful of the other person’s time. Again, pay attention to the cues. If the other person starts showing signs of wanting to wrap up the meeting, gracefully switch to closing statements, such as thanking the other person for his time, “I really appreciate you taking the time to meet with me…”, that type of thing. My meeting was only 30 minutes, and I feel we were able to create a meaningful connection, talk about key areas, and she walked away with additional information that she could reference anytime.
Dress the part
I feel I shouldn’t have to address this topic, but I will, just for (my) peace of mind. Let’s admit it: We’re word people and we spend a lot of time among words. We breathe words. You know you have invested a great deal of time preparing the content and the design of your presentation. You have a script. You have rehearsed. Your personal appearance must match your words –weather they’re written or spoken. You don’t have to look like a corporate attorney or get all Jackie Onassis, but you must look groomed and professional. You don’t have to wear a suit —a nice pair of pants and a dress shirt or blouse will do.
After the meeting
Follow up with a Thank You note –whether by mail or email. In my case, I sent my client an email because her department was in the process of moving to a different office and I wanted to make sure she received my message. Otherwise, I would have preferred to send her a handwritten note by regular mail.
But regardless of the medium, make sure to let them know you had an enjoyable time meeting with them, to reiterate your willingness to continue collaborating, and to thank them for their time.
Take your business to the next level: Get out there to visit clients and to create meaningful connections!
Have you visited any clients? What was your experience? Share it here!