No business survives without repeat clients, but every business starts and grows with new clients. In the not-so-good old days when the upper classes closely regulated the interaction of eligible gentlemen with marriageable young ladies through a series of chaperoned activities, a gentleman and lady navigated the beginnings of a relationship through a series of public interactions. Bringing on a new client can resemble that delicate, yet somehow scripted, construction of a business relationship.
That first meeting–or first dance–presents potential pitfalls and opportunities. Your new partner may take a wrong turn, tread on your toes, or not know the steps at all. However, some due diligence on your part can avoid damage and establish a basis for common understanding.
Learning to Dance
YFS Magazine offers helpful hints on preparing for introductory meetings that will impress potential clients: 1) knowing what the meeting is supposed to accomplish and how it should progress; 2) managing expectations; and, 3) convincing the potential client that you’re the best option. These dance steps require discipline and intestinal fortitude. You must not only be able to transition smoothly and with purpose from chitchat to business talk, you must also have the courage to express your expectations. Whether we admit it or not, we have expectations of our clients, even as they have expectations of us.
Posting on LinkedIn, Dar’shun Kendrick advises that 90 percent of bringing on a new client depends upon advance preparation. She builds on the YFS list: 1) record the appointment in more than one place so you don’t miss it; 2) research the prospective client to learn as much about their business as you can prior to the meeting; 3) prepare materials to be used during the meeting, which may include notepads, presentations, coffee, and so forth; 4) show up early to demonstrate consideration for the potential client’s time; and, 5) follow up, which reminds the client who you are and demonstrates that you at least have polite manners.
The American Bar Association echoes several of the aforementioned tips, and adds several more: 1) dress and act professionally; 2) hold the meeting someplace other than your office to minimize distractions; 3) start the meeting on time, which also shows that you value people’s time; and, 4) trust your intuition, because if your gut says this isn’t a good partnership, then it’s probably right.
Pitfalls that dissuade potential partners from doing business with you include too heavy a focus on personal talk. Don’t rant about breaking up with your significant other or your dog running away. Although these issues are important to you, a potential client doesn’t care. Don’t denigrate your competition; that just shows a poor attitude and bad manners. Remember, a gentleman (or lady) never insults anyone unintentionally. Don’t ask irrelevant questions. You may feel the urge to show off your creativity or industry knowledge, but irrelevant questions or questions intended to showcase a potential client’s ignorance do little more than annoy the person expected to answer them.
The first dance or first meeting is an interview. As much as you’re evaluating a potential new partner, they’re doing the same to you, too. If the chemistry’s good and the rhythm matches, then you can waltz into a mutually beneficial relationship. If not, then you’re better off parting ways without animosity.
Find that Rhythm
Unlike a minuet versus a reel versus a waltz versus a tango versus a–you get the idea– preparing for a meeting generally involves common sense and thoughtful application of good manners. When both parties conduct themselves accordingly, the decision to go forward–or not–can be made quickly and efficiently and will bode well for a smooth client onboarding experience.