How do you get the most out of meetings with new or prospective clients?

We all know first impressions are made quickly; get them wrong and the door may close on what could have been a great, mutually beneficial relationship. Therefore the first handshake, that initial small talk or the first time you make eye contact could be more important than you’ve previously acknowledged.

We often look back at our own meetings and analyse what went well, what didn’t, and why. Is there a common recipe for success? 

A business meeting is like a game of chess, but your competition is not the person or people you’re meeting. Your competition is the problem they are facing. The challenge is they might not know what their problem is and they might not be able to articulate it. Your job is to find a way to help them do this. 

First off, you have to get the person to let their guard down. For you, the meeting is an opportunity to discover as much as you can about them or their business, and the challenges they are facing.

In order for this to happen, they have to feel comfortable, relaxed and open. They need to trust you and feel that they want to share more. Remember, it’s often really sensitive stuff they’re divulging and they won’t do this if they don’t feel good about you, or if they get the impression you’re only there to make money off them. 

The key is what we call ‘vulnerable intimacy’: I will make myself vulnerable so that we can build intimacy. There is tremendous power in this. It can help if you remove the protection of the table and sit slightly away from it. Open body language is crucial. Face them directly ‘heart-to-heart’ – this says I’ve nothing to hide and that I’m here to help.

The so-called small talk at the outset of any meeting is much more than just that, especially if it’s the first time that you’ve met. It’s an opportunity to connect as human beings.

You’re entering into a relationship, not a transaction. Perhaps you’ll discover common personal ground. It’s not about tricking them or finding artificial shared interests: it’s about being interested in that person as a human being. If you’re genuinely interested and responsive to their needs, you can begin to build trust and speak in a language that you both understand.

That doesn’t mean that every meeting will start with a friendly chat about the weekend, their children, hobbies and what they’re up to that evening. Some very well might, but other meetings may be far more direct. It all depends on the needs of the other person and what they are comfortable to share at that stage. You need to have the emotional intelligence to read, understand and respect that. 

To be clear, vulnerable intimacy is not something you do to make them feel comfortable, a box to tick before getting down to business. You must embody this state throughout. By taking the lead in being open and vulnerable, you help remove the barriers that people often put up and the roles that they play.

When you break through, the conversation becomes fully transparent. This will allow you to connect with the other person and encourage them to share more. When they’re sharing, it’s your duty to listen – really listen – and understand. After all, you’re both there to discover if the relationship has legs. If they trust you and you can help solve their problems, then the business will take care of itself. 

Some top tips to bear in mind before your next meeting: 

  1. Prepare. If you work off a script or even a loose template, know this so deeply that you inhabit it. This will give you the freedom to forget it, and be fully present during the meeting. 
  2. Have a deep trust in yourself, your credibility and what you have to offer.
  3. Listen, understand and respond: When you’re in the meeting, you’re there for them. Trust yourself and focus all your attention on the conversation in the room. 

First impressions are important, but it’s no use being wrapped up in yourself and how you come across. You can’t be. It will destroy your chances of building trust, and discovering more about your client – the very reason for the meeting.

To follow the tips above prepare properly, trust yourself and be completely present. This vulnerable intimacy will create the right first impression with your client and help them to let their guard down. 

By Jonny de Mallet Morgan, 11th October 2018

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