The first meeting with a new client is a lot like a first date. It's a chance to put your best foot forward and lay the foundation for a successful long-term working relationship. Then again, a first client meeting is also like a job interview. You want to ooze professionalism, inspire confidence and thoroughly convince the client that your potential client's money is in good hands.
We've assembled five essential tips for making an excellent first impression at a client meeting. We'll start off with something you can do days before the meeting begins.
While it's important to update your portfolio, iron your dress slacks and practice your best "firm but friendly" handshake, remember that a successful client meeting is all about listening. Get a head start by "listening" to what the client has to say on his or her Web site and in the press. Keep reading for more research and planning tips.
5: Plan and Prepare
When preparing for the first meeting with a new client, it's easy to get caught up in everything that you want to accomplish. Depending on your business, you might want to sell the highest number of units or set the design direction of the company's new Web site. But even if you think you have the best products and the best ideas in the world, the only important opinion is the client's.
In the days leading up to the meeting, do as much research as you can about the client. Read the company Web site from top to bottom, paying particular attention to mission and vision statements. Companies put a lot of time into crafting these messages, so your pitch has to jibe with company culture. Read recent press releases and blog posts to understand what the company is most excited about right now. Then make a list of questions that remain unanswered. These might be useful at the meeting to get the conversation rolling.
Put yourself in the client's shoes, says client loyalty expert Andrew Sobel [source: Sobel]. What are the client's key business concerns? What pressures might the client be feeling in the marketplace? Where does the client want to go and how can you help him or her get there? Keep all of these concerns front and center as you craft your proposal.
When it's almost time for the meeting, get everyone on the same page with a well-written agenda. We'll discuss those on the next page.
4: Set an Agenda
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A meeting without an agenda is like an orchestra without a conductor. An agenda sets the expectations of the meeting, establishes and orderly flow and helps everyone understand his or her roles.
A day before the meeting, e-mail a short agenda to everyone who'll be in attendance. It doesn't have to be detailed. It can be a spare outline or a simple bullet-point list that includes the main points to be covered and tasks to accomplish [source: Entity]. This might also be a good opportunity to introduce your team members to the client. Link to full bios on your Web site or include a short blurb about each team member, as well as his or her job title and responsibilities. Again, this will help the client know what to expect when you walk in the door.
Remember, though, that an agenda isn't written in stone (it's barely written on paper). Start the meeting by addressing each point on the agenda in the order you've suggested. But if the client wants to talk about the last point first, let him or her do it. If the client wants to talk about something completely different, however, be prepared to ditch the agenda altogether. Again, the main goal of this meeting is to listen to the client. If the agenda doesn't help you meet that goal, scrap it.
When the day of the meeting arrives, it's time to put on your best face (and shirt and tie). Keep reading for important tips on professionalism.
3: Make a Professional Impression
The first meeting with a new client is not the time to be yourself. Instead, be your most courteous, polite and professional self. It starts with your clothes. Even if you work at the most casual office in the world, bump it up a notch or two for the client meeting. Skirts, slacks and ties show that you take the client seriously. So does arriving on time. Never make the client wait!
Turn on the charm as soon as you walk in the door. Be polite and friendly to everyone you meet in the office, from receptionists to interns [source: Farber]. You never know whose opinion counts and who can be your advocate down the line. If you come with other team members, don't joke loudly or badmouth other clients while waiting for the meeting to begin.
Show respect for your client's time and attention. Before jumping into the meeting, re-establish the time frame you proposed in the agenda [source: Farber]. "Is two hours still all right?" It's a simple act of professional courtesy that speaks volumes.
If you want to maintain that professional attitude, avoid the following "don'ts":
- Don't eat during the meeting, unless it's a lunch meeting.
- Don't answer your cell phone. In fact, shut it off.
- Don't text or e-mail.
- Don't whisper to your teammates while the client is talking.
- Don't appear tired or distracted.
A great way to stay engaged in the conversation and boost the client's ego is to take notes. Learn why on the next page.
2: Take Notes
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Never forget that the main goal of meeting with a new client is to listen. It doesn't matter if the client is an inspiring innovator or a complete bore -- pretend that every word out of his mouth is pure gold. Make a show of taking out a notepad or opening your laptop computer to take notes. Columnist Barry Farber, writing for Entrepreneur.com, suggests that you even ask, "Do you mind if I take notes" [source: Farber]? Just watch your client sit up taller in his or her seat.
For most people, the easiest way to take notes is to use a computer. To keep your notes organized, try to enter information in outline form or at least bullet-points under separate headers. If you bring more than one person to the meeting, have one team member be the assigned note-taker so the others can engage more fully with the client.
If you're the only person from your team, be careful not to bury your head in your computer while the client is talking. Try to make frequent eye contact and bounce back supportive statements like "Good point," or "That's important to know." If you have questions, write them in your notes and wait until the client has finished talking to ask them.
Your work isn't over when the meeting ends. Keep the working relationship rolling with a courteous and professional follow-up e-mail.
1: Send a Meeting Summary
The first meeting with a new client is important -- but remember that it's only the beginning of a longer relationship. Keep the momentum going by following up after the meeting with a short e-mailed summary, also called a contact report. A contact report accomplishes several important things at once: It's a simple way to say thank you, to recap what was discussed, and to propose some next steps.
The contact report should include the following information:
- Name of project
- Date of meeting
- Team members in attendance
- Bullet-point list of what was discussed
- Next steps: what will be accomplished next, who will do it, and when it will be finished [source: Entity]
If the meeting was with a potential client, this would also be the time send along your price quote. The price quote is only an estimate of actual costs, but it should be as detailed as possible. Along with standard services and billing rates, include optional services and their prices. Make it clear -- in a polite and professional way -- that the work cannot go forward until the client signs the price estimate.
For lots more information about business and job search etiquette, take a look at the links on the next page.