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First Client Meeting… Like A First Date?!

by Finance Magnates Staff
  • Upon starting a new job, we are very excited. We try to impress our others by speaking and acting in just the right way.
First Client Meeting… Like A First Date?!
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Upon starting a new job, we are often very excited. We strive hard to do our best from Day One.

We try to impress our bosses and our colleagues by speaking and acting in just the right way. We demonstrate our drive to deliver value and meaning, starting from the beginning.

But what happens when it’s time for you to go to your first meeting with a client or prospect?

That’s a lot of pressure. A lot of weight suddenly on your shoulders. You may feel very eager to prove to yourself and to your managers that they smartly hired you, for a good reason. Your first client or prospect meeting is a perfect first chance to really show-off your value. And… as some say… “No points for coming in second place!”… and “No second chances at a first impression.”

Even if you are a very experienced salesperson with years of meetings under your belt, the first time with a new client or prospect still constitutes a FIRST TIME – and so it can be a mixture of emotions.

My favorite analogy: as a gentleman, even if you’ve dated many women in your life, the first time that you go out with a new lady whom you like, you likely experience a strange and bizarre feeling – in which a great many emotions emerge at once, including fear and nervousness… felt in your heart, and potentially even affecting your behavior. You may feel a little bit “on edge.” Ladies or gentlemen reading this, try to remember what it felt like the very first time you went on a date with someone who really captured your attention?

I very clearly remember my first date (how young I was!) – who doesn’t remember?! The thoughts in my head (and flowing throughout my body were): “What should I wear? What should I say?” (I even prepared a speech in front of a mirror.) “Where shall I take her? What are good topics of conversation? What should I not say?” All of these questions – and the desire to do it ‘right’ – were gripping me, felt in both my mind and body.

On my first date, my only real objective was to “do things right” in order to arrive at my ultimate goal: to experience reciprocal appreciation and secure a second date!

Although much difference in context, the same ultimate goal is true when we first meet a promising new business prospect and we want to secure reciprocal interest and respect – interest and respect that results in a second meeting!

In both dating and business prospecting (or client service), a second meeting is typically a strong indicator – and a better indicator than no second meeting – that things are “moving in the right direction.”

Ask yourself this: What steps, directly within your control, can you take to help ensure the success of a first meeting (be it a date or a prospect meeting – since these two very different events share so much common ground ;-)? At its simplest, the prescription for a positive first meeting involves a few controllable aspects:

(1) Dressing the part – show up in a manner that demonstrates your confidence, personality, and capability;

(2) Be openly expressive and candid;

(3) Listen extremely closely to what is being said – and with a business prospect, you very well may wish to take notes; in some cultures, taking notes is considered a visual cue that you are committed to paying extremely close attention (and to remembering what is being said) and also that you care deeply about what the person is saying (taking notes is more recommended in business meetings than on a date ;-)

(4) Make the person you are meeting with not only feel important—but truly be important during the whole time you are together; really pour forth your respect for this person, your undivided attention, and your curiosity about who they are and what makes them ‘tick’—independent of any business or personal interest you have in them. Take real steps to get to know them; and

(5) Perhaps most importantly – Have fun (Actually, also be fun! Be you!)… and sincerely enjoy the meeting and the presence of the other person!

You often know you are successful in showing up to a first meeting in ways that honor such a “prescription” if you walk away at the end of the meeting feeling awesome, delighted, and excited – in a manner that is not always easily described in words.

So, circling back to one of the central questions/theses of this article: What do we truly need to consider when we have our first meeting with a prospect or a client?

The short answer is: it depends. The longer answer is: it depends on many factors, including for example, cultural considerations. It’s safe to say that each first meeting with a client must be treated differently. Using a “cookie-cutter” approach to first meetings would not allow you to consider the nuances of each culture. You would not wish to apply the same approach and practices when meeting a Latin American prospect/client that you would apply when meeting an Asian client or when meeting a European client. You must do your homework and first learn (and come to honor and potentially embody) the habits and customs of the person whom you will be meeting. For example, if you meet a person from Japan, you will Exchange business cards much differently than if you meet a person from Peru.

I strongly recommend learning, reading, and preparing to demonstrate highly culturally proficient (culturally aligned and custom-honoring) behavior with each new person you meet, whether Asian, European, or South American – and at a more granular level: whether Japanese, Czech, or Peruvian. Do not make any assumptions about cultural practices. Prepare well: Learn all that you can in advance of your meeting.

Other factors to consider with regard to the key practice of preparation:

Returning to my “first date” analogy again, consider the following. When you go out on a successful first date with a popular person who has captured your attention, you will have taken the time to find out as much information as you can about what she truly enjoys: type of music, favorite drink(s), hobbies, restaurants that appeal to her, how she likes to spend and devote her professional/creative and personal energy at this particular time in her life. Almost as a magician (in her experience), you will have demonstrated commitment in advance to researching meaningful information about her (finding out facts that she has made publicly available).

You will have sought and found this information systematically. Perhaps you’ve even asked her friends, who understand your goodwill and positive character. You’ve demonstrated to her your willingness to take great initiative with positive intent, respect, and diligence to gather spirit-revealing information that helps you answer the question: “Who is she? And what is important and meaningful to how she lives her life? – so that I can be a positive contributor to that life.”

The same degree of diligent preparation and positive intent to truly know important things about another person in advance, applies to meeting a business prospect or client for the first time. Find out what your client likes, what (s)he doesn’t like. Understand your prospect’s interests. Take the time to engage with and honor your authentic curiosity about this person. For example, you know or learn that your prospect or client loves Formula One racing so: engage your curiosity and learn the fact that Nico Rosberg is winning this year and that Vettel is a 3-time road World Champion! Even if you personally have never attended a race, you will be able, during your first meeting, to honor one of your prospect’s interests or passions and be able to speak with some authentic awareness about this sport.

On your first date with a woman, again, for example, if you take initiative and order a wine that you know is her favorite, she may ask you quizzically (and with a smile), “How did you know?” And you can confidently reply, “I like you a lot and I did my homework.” At this, she may laugh (with appreciation). And silently, she may be saying “10 more points for Luis!”

Clients and prospects respond to this same degree of attention, respect, interest-alignment, and nurturing. With just a little bit of extra preparation before your first meeting, you can easily score and earn lots of “points” very early in (and throughout) a first meeting – truly earning the right for a second meeting. The important thing is to be real in your curiosity and not just going through the motions.

Perhaps think about your own dating experience or the experience of friends who’ve shared with you their dating stories. How many times have you encountered this: the date has ended, and as you and she part, you think to yourself, “And now?...” “What will happen?” You are likely wishing that she will say, “I had a great night. Call me soon. I want to meet again.”

This is the same wish many business people have vis-à-vis their prospective clients. At the end of a meeting with a prospect/new client, you want to hear, “I had a great meeting. Your proposal looks interesting. Let’s keep in touch and schedule a second meeting soon.” P.S. I declare this: always have printed material with data and supported statistics to back up your comments and thoughts. Further, be prepared to use visual materials when the right time presents itself. Don’t throw your business card or literature on the table in advance. Be wise. Be connected with your client’s need, interest, pacing. Tune in (use your intuition) and anticipate the best time to share any materials that you’re eager to deliver in order to reveal synergistic potential.

One common pitfall in the preparation or first-meeting stage is: not fully “tuning in” to what will make your client “tick”. Put another way, you risk falling out of synch with what your client needs and what (s)he understands to be the purpose of the meeting. A result of this situation is: your client is speaking about one thing, but you are hearing another. Your client may ask, “What time is it?” and you may respond, “The sky is blue.” That is a big disconnect, and if it occurs in a first meeting, the damage could be irreparable. To avoid such an outcome, do all that you can in advance to assure that you start and remain on the same page.

If your client temporarily veers off the page (the agreed-upon purpose for meeting), don’t hesitate to gently bring him back to your page. Stay focused. React fast (if you feel a disconnect occurring). Sometimes you can end a meeting initially feeling great, but it’s not until later that you realize that you were expecting one type of follow-up trajectory, and your client was expecting another. To pre-emptively overcome disappointed expectations about future events, take extra prep time to make sure that you both understand what is intended to happen next, and the day after the meeting, send a follow-up email with a brief summary indicating what the next steps will be. This is a connective action. And nurturing such connective action is very important.

One way to improve the chances of a first meeting turning into a second meeting and a long-lasting relationship, is to set expectations early and help the prospect/client to envision a future that you are building together. You want to leave the client or prospect with an understanding of what (s)he can gain as a result of remaining connected to and with you. With your company and products behind this person, what benefits can your prospective client expect to experience and receive? Be clear. Remember: in our roles, we exist to enable a rewarding type of simplicity with in a complex market.

This part of your work is about painting a picture of not just today’s simplicity and rewards, but also tomorrow’s simplicity and rewards—in the near and far future. Especially in situations that involve institutional sales, attention to the long run can be very important. You must provide a long-term vision. You want your prospect to deeply understand: “I’m not just one more of those sales people who pass by your office for a meeting now and then. Rather, I am ‘the one’ who will change your present and future – ffor the better. Your vision should embody hope, abundance, stability, and loyal collaboration to a far away horizon.

Another way to improve the chance of a first meeting leading to a long-lasting mutually productive relationship is to actively cultivate shared experiences. Right from the first meeting, aim to organize activities done together: dinner to start, golf next week? Sharing time together is important in this business. Particularly in some cultures, your prioritizing shared-time can reinforce the relationship and build a stronger business bond. (One caution: there must be genuine overlap of appreciation for the experiences chosen. Don’t ever do an activity that you don’t like or with which you disagree.) Honor the motto in this business (as in serious dating): time together is more important than money. And regardless of monetary gains or losses, you as my client, are independently (and sincerely) very important to me and my company.

The truth: Remember Rule Number One in all relationships – always tell the truth. Honesty and transparency are the fundamentals (the ‘ABCs’) of all relationships. Trust must be built and gained. Trust, through sharing of truth, solidifies relationships. This reminder is only needed by some: Don’t lie for the sake of making a sale and moving on. Instead, be very honest about the ups and downs of your products and proposals. Your honesty will constitute a strong pillar of your budding and enduring relationships. Start telling the truth right from your first meetings, because if not, in the near future you will lose. In any situation, do not pretend to be someone who you are not. Just be yourself. Make it easy – and wise – for people to love you.

Embrace the unexpected: Lastly, my advice is: expect and embrace the unexpected. Be prepared for responding spontaneously and confidently to circumstances beyond your control and outside of what anyone predicted would happen. Condition yourself to think quickly and smartly. Control any aspects of the situation within your reach, and do so calmly. Help others to feel calm. Mindfully do not over-react. Let people know and feel that you are the right person to be with them during an unpredictable turn.

Borrowing from a mild personal example: once at a high-stakes business meal, the server suddenly spilled a drink all over my slacks and shirt. I was a bit stunned for just a moment. I remained physically and mentally calm. I was fully present in the moment. I assured the server (who was so upset at what had happened) that everything’s okay… accidents happen. I said to the others around the table, “Gentlemen, don’t worry. This is why washing machines were invented, and what I’m wearing will go directly into the laundry. Shall we continue our meeting?”

This approach, which came naturally to me in this situation, put everyone else at ease, and further built trust, calm, and credibility. All I had to do was to be mindful and to put myself in the shoes of all others around that table (including the server). I encourage you to cultivate, express, or experience this same type of calm in the face of any unexpected events. When you show that you can be a calm solution in what could have instead/otherwise become more problematic or more turbulent, you build even more appreciation and respect from your peers and clients than if nothing unexpected had even happened in the first place.

Invitation to respond – and good luck!

I hope this light-hearted article, including my playful analogy with a first date, helps you in your future first-meetings with prospects and clients. I invite – and humbly encourage – each of you to post comments and/or to offer advice based on your own experiences. Remember that dating and new client business meetings are very similar. Love and business go together. I wish you great luck in your next meeting! – whether a date or a business meeting.

And always remember: every meeting should be considered as precious as a first meeting, in terms of preparation and the opportunity for trust-building, excitement, and co-creating a shared vision with the unique person you are privileged to meet with.

Upon starting a new job, we are often very excited. We strive hard to do our best from Day One.

We try to impress our bosses and our colleagues by speaking and acting in just the right way. We demonstrate our drive to deliver value and meaning, starting from the beginning.

But what happens when it’s time for you to go to your first meeting with a client or prospect?

That’s a lot of pressure. A lot of weight suddenly on your shoulders. You may feel very eager to prove to yourself and to your managers that they smartly hired you, for a good reason. Your first client or prospect meeting is a perfect first chance to really show-off your value. And… as some say… “No points for coming in second place!”… and “No second chances at a first impression.”

Even if you are a very experienced salesperson with years of meetings under your belt, the first time with a new client or prospect still constitutes a FIRST TIME – and so it can be a mixture of emotions.

My favorite analogy: as a gentleman, even if you’ve dated many women in your life, the first time that you go out with a new lady whom you like, you likely experience a strange and bizarre feeling – in which a great many emotions emerge at once, including fear and nervousness… felt in your heart, and potentially even affecting your behavior. You may feel a little bit “on edge.” Ladies or gentlemen reading this, try to remember what it felt like the very first time you went on a date with someone who really captured your attention?

I very clearly remember my first date (how young I was!) – who doesn’t remember?! The thoughts in my head (and flowing throughout my body were): “What should I wear? What should I say?” (I even prepared a speech in front of a mirror.) “Where shall I take her? What are good topics of conversation? What should I not say?” All of these questions – and the desire to do it ‘right’ – were gripping me, felt in both my mind and body.

On my first date, my only real objective was to “do things right” in order to arrive at my ultimate goal: to experience reciprocal appreciation and secure a second date!

Although much difference in context, the same ultimate goal is true when we first meet a promising new business prospect and we want to secure reciprocal interest and respect – interest and respect that results in a second meeting!

In both dating and business prospecting (or client service), a second meeting is typically a strong indicator – and a better indicator than no second meeting – that things are “moving in the right direction.”

Ask yourself this: What steps, directly within your control, can you take to help ensure the success of a first meeting (be it a date or a prospect meeting – since these two very different events share so much common ground ;-)? At its simplest, the prescription for a positive first meeting involves a few controllable aspects:

(1) Dressing the part – show up in a manner that demonstrates your confidence, personality, and capability;

(2) Be openly expressive and candid;

(3) Listen extremely closely to what is being said – and with a business prospect, you very well may wish to take notes; in some cultures, taking notes is considered a visual cue that you are committed to paying extremely close attention (and to remembering what is being said) and also that you care deeply about what the person is saying (taking notes is more recommended in business meetings than on a date ;-)

(4) Make the person you are meeting with not only feel important—but truly be important during the whole time you are together; really pour forth your respect for this person, your undivided attention, and your curiosity about who they are and what makes them ‘tick’—independent of any business or personal interest you have in them. Take real steps to get to know them; and

(5) Perhaps most importantly – Have fun (Actually, also be fun! Be you!)… and sincerely enjoy the meeting and the presence of the other person!

You often know you are successful in showing up to a first meeting in ways that honor such a “prescription” if you walk away at the end of the meeting feeling awesome, delighted, and excited – in a manner that is not always easily described in words.

So, circling back to one of the central questions/theses of this article: What do we truly need to consider when we have our first meeting with a prospect or a client?

The short answer is: it depends. The longer answer is: it depends on many factors, including for example, cultural considerations. It’s safe to say that each first meeting with a client must be treated differently. Using a “cookie-cutter” approach to first meetings would not allow you to consider the nuances of each culture. You would not wish to apply the same approach and practices when meeting a Latin American prospect/client that you would apply when meeting an Asian client or when meeting a European client. You must do your homework and first learn (and come to honor and potentially embody) the habits and customs of the person whom you will be meeting. For example, if you meet a person from Japan, you will Exchange business cards much differently than if you meet a person from Peru.

I strongly recommend learning, reading, and preparing to demonstrate highly culturally proficient (culturally aligned and custom-honoring) behavior with each new person you meet, whether Asian, European, or South American – and at a more granular level: whether Japanese, Czech, or Peruvian. Do not make any assumptions about cultural practices. Prepare well: Learn all that you can in advance of your meeting.

Other factors to consider with regard to the key practice of preparation:

Returning to my “first date” analogy again, consider the following. When you go out on a successful first date with a popular person who has captured your attention, you will have taken the time to find out as much information as you can about what she truly enjoys: type of music, favorite drink(s), hobbies, restaurants that appeal to her, how she likes to spend and devote her professional/creative and personal energy at this particular time in her life. Almost as a magician (in her experience), you will have demonstrated commitment in advance to researching meaningful information about her (finding out facts that she has made publicly available).

You will have sought and found this information systematically. Perhaps you’ve even asked her friends, who understand your goodwill and positive character. You’ve demonstrated to her your willingness to take great initiative with positive intent, respect, and diligence to gather spirit-revealing information that helps you answer the question: “Who is she? And what is important and meaningful to how she lives her life? – so that I can be a positive contributor to that life.”

The same degree of diligent preparation and positive intent to truly know important things about another person in advance, applies to meeting a business prospect or client for the first time. Find out what your client likes, what (s)he doesn’t like. Understand your prospect’s interests. Take the time to engage with and honor your authentic curiosity about this person. For example, you know or learn that your prospect or client loves Formula One racing so: engage your curiosity and learn the fact that Nico Rosberg is winning this year and that Vettel is a 3-time road World Champion! Even if you personally have never attended a race, you will be able, during your first meeting, to honor one of your prospect’s interests or passions and be able to speak with some authentic awareness about this sport.

On your first date with a woman, again, for example, if you take initiative and order a wine that you know is her favorite, she may ask you quizzically (and with a smile), “How did you know?” And you can confidently reply, “I like you a lot and I did my homework.” At this, she may laugh (with appreciation). And silently, she may be saying “10 more points for Luis!”

Clients and prospects respond to this same degree of attention, respect, interest-alignment, and nurturing. With just a little bit of extra preparation before your first meeting, you can easily score and earn lots of “points” very early in (and throughout) a first meeting – truly earning the right for a second meeting. The important thing is to be real in your curiosity and not just going through the motions.

Perhaps think about your own dating experience or the experience of friends who’ve shared with you their dating stories. How many times have you encountered this: the date has ended, and as you and she part, you think to yourself, “And now?...” “What will happen?” You are likely wishing that she will say, “I had a great night. Call me soon. I want to meet again.”

This is the same wish many business people have vis-à-vis their prospective clients. At the end of a meeting with a prospect/new client, you want to hear, “I had a great meeting. Your proposal looks interesting. Let’s keep in touch and schedule a second meeting soon.” P.S. I declare this: always have printed material with data and supported statistics to back up your comments and thoughts. Further, be prepared to use visual materials when the right time presents itself. Don’t throw your business card or literature on the table in advance. Be wise. Be connected with your client’s need, interest, pacing. Tune in (use your intuition) and anticipate the best time to share any materials that you’re eager to deliver in order to reveal synergistic potential.

One common pitfall in the preparation or first-meeting stage is: not fully “tuning in” to what will make your client “tick”. Put another way, you risk falling out of synch with what your client needs and what (s)he understands to be the purpose of the meeting. A result of this situation is: your client is speaking about one thing, but you are hearing another. Your client may ask, “What time is it?” and you may respond, “The sky is blue.” That is a big disconnect, and if it occurs in a first meeting, the damage could be irreparable. To avoid such an outcome, do all that you can in advance to assure that you start and remain on the same page.

If your client temporarily veers off the page (the agreed-upon purpose for meeting), don’t hesitate to gently bring him back to your page. Stay focused. React fast (if you feel a disconnect occurring). Sometimes you can end a meeting initially feeling great, but it’s not until later that you realize that you were expecting one type of follow-up trajectory, and your client was expecting another. To pre-emptively overcome disappointed expectations about future events, take extra prep time to make sure that you both understand what is intended to happen next, and the day after the meeting, send a follow-up email with a brief summary indicating what the next steps will be. This is a connective action. And nurturing such connective action is very important.

One way to improve the chances of a first meeting turning into a second meeting and a long-lasting relationship, is to set expectations early and help the prospect/client to envision a future that you are building together. You want to leave the client or prospect with an understanding of what (s)he can gain as a result of remaining connected to and with you. With your company and products behind this person, what benefits can your prospective client expect to experience and receive? Be clear. Remember: in our roles, we exist to enable a rewarding type of simplicity with in a complex market.

This part of your work is about painting a picture of not just today’s simplicity and rewards, but also tomorrow’s simplicity and rewards—in the near and far future. Especially in situations that involve institutional sales, attention to the long run can be very important. You must provide a long-term vision. You want your prospect to deeply understand: “I’m not just one more of those sales people who pass by your office for a meeting now and then. Rather, I am ‘the one’ who will change your present and future – ffor the better. Your vision should embody hope, abundance, stability, and loyal collaboration to a far away horizon.

Another way to improve the chance of a first meeting leading to a long-lasting mutually productive relationship is to actively cultivate shared experiences. Right from the first meeting, aim to organize activities done together: dinner to start, golf next week? Sharing time together is important in this business. Particularly in some cultures, your prioritizing shared-time can reinforce the relationship and build a stronger business bond. (One caution: there must be genuine overlap of appreciation for the experiences chosen. Don’t ever do an activity that you don’t like or with which you disagree.) Honor the motto in this business (as in serious dating): time together is more important than money. And regardless of monetary gains or losses, you as my client, are independently (and sincerely) very important to me and my company.

The truth: Remember Rule Number One in all relationships – always tell the truth. Honesty and transparency are the fundamentals (the ‘ABCs’) of all relationships. Trust must be built and gained. Trust, through sharing of truth, solidifies relationships. This reminder is only needed by some: Don’t lie for the sake of making a sale and moving on. Instead, be very honest about the ups and downs of your products and proposals. Your honesty will constitute a strong pillar of your budding and enduring relationships. Start telling the truth right from your first meetings, because if not, in the near future you will lose. In any situation, do not pretend to be someone who you are not. Just be yourself. Make it easy – and wise – for people to love you.

Embrace the unexpected: Lastly, my advice is: expect and embrace the unexpected. Be prepared for responding spontaneously and confidently to circumstances beyond your control and outside of what anyone predicted would happen. Condition yourself to think quickly and smartly. Control any aspects of the situation within your reach, and do so calmly. Help others to feel calm. Mindfully do not over-react. Let people know and feel that you are the right person to be with them during an unpredictable turn.

Borrowing from a mild personal example: once at a high-stakes business meal, the server suddenly spilled a drink all over my slacks and shirt. I was a bit stunned for just a moment. I remained physically and mentally calm. I was fully present in the moment. I assured the server (who was so upset at what had happened) that everything’s okay… accidents happen. I said to the others around the table, “Gentlemen, don’t worry. This is why washing machines were invented, and what I’m wearing will go directly into the laundry. Shall we continue our meeting?”

This approach, which came naturally to me in this situation, put everyone else at ease, and further built trust, calm, and credibility. All I had to do was to be mindful and to put myself in the shoes of all others around that table (including the server). I encourage you to cultivate, express, or experience this same type of calm in the face of any unexpected events. When you show that you can be a calm solution in what could have instead/otherwise become more problematic or more turbulent, you build even more appreciation and respect from your peers and clients than if nothing unexpected had even happened in the first place.

Invitation to respond – and good luck!

I hope this light-hearted article, including my playful analogy with a first date, helps you in your future first-meetings with prospects and clients. I invite – and humbly encourage – each of you to post comments and/or to offer advice based on your own experiences. Remember that dating and new client business meetings are very similar. Love and business go together. I wish you great luck in your next meeting! – whether a date or a business meeting.

And always remember: every meeting should be considered as precious as a first meeting, in terms of preparation and the opportunity for trust-building, excitement, and co-creating a shared vision with the unique person you are privileged to meet with.

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