Winning work through effective client meetings

Meetings are the bane of most people’s working lives. Yet if you can learn the skills required to hold effective client meetings, you can boost your ability to win new work.

To be effective in meetings, you first need get inside the potential client’s head. What preconceptions might they have about you? They may, for example, be feeling sceptical because people are always making big promises to them but not delivering. They may even feel slightly threatened by you if, perhaps, they are responsible for the success of a project on which you may be working.

Demonstrating a high degree of preparation in terms of client knowledge will make an immediate positive impact. Getting hold of relevant information is easy, given that every business these days has a website. And while reading the company’s annual report may not be much fun, it can provide valuable insights into the corporate culture.

Don’t ask tedious questions or talk too much about yourself. You want to get the client talking about themselves and their issues – their problems, plans and priorities. Try to suggest potential solutions or insights they may not have considered before. If the contact leaves the meeting thinking they heard something interesting or learnt something new, you’ve won.

Be aware that certain behaviours generally considered inappropriate in a social context can be acceptable in professional meetings. For example, name-dropping is usually seen as poor behaviour socially but deliberate use of client names can be highly effective when trying to impress business contacts. That doesn’t mean you spout a list of people you have worked for, or breach client confidentiality. But you can quite naturally in a meeting say such things as, “That reminds me of a similar situation that arose when we were working for British Airways” or “When we were advising Tesco we found there were several different options available”. By demonstrating your credentials in this way you subtly get the message across that you have a quality service to offer.

Remember also that there is a difference between expertise (knowledge) and experience (track record). To impress a potential client you need to reveal both. However, real enthusiasm can compensate quite significantly for any weaknesses in expertise or track record that you may have. If you are excited about the possibility of working with a client on a particular project, don’t be afraid to show it. Being too cool can make other people think you aren’t interested in them, or in what they are trying to achieve. It’s important to show your personality and be yourself, though try to adapt your style to suit the client.

Your aim is to develop rapport during the meeting. This isn’t just about getting on as individuals. In fact, potential clients don’t need to like you, but they must respect you and feel confident they would be happy to work with you.

In practice, people are often pretty good at building rapport, but fall down in closing the deal. If you don’t ask, you don’t get – or very rarely. And you may need to ask several times, but it’s generally worth a try.

Arranging and preparing for a meeting can take a lot of time and effort. You then do your best at the meeting. But what if no deal is closed there and then? Most people let the trail go cold if they don’t have success immediately, or at least soon after the meeting date. However, experience shows that it may take another two or three follow-up calls, or even another meeting or two to get the result you are seeking. Persistence does pay.

It even pays to follow up leads you think have gone cold. When advising managers on how to win new work, I always suggest revisiting potential client targets that initially led to nothing before starting from scratch with new leads. Think about all the meetings you have had with new contacts in the last six months where you were hoping to win business but for some reason did not do so. Get in touch with those contacts again and see if you can’t warm them up. Maybe their situation has changed. Maybe they just needed an extra push from you. By following up past meetings you’re likely to get a positive outcome more quickly than if you start again with a new list of cold contact names. Holding effective client meetings is a skill that everyone can learn. It starts with preparation, and ends with professional follow-up – and ideally in winning new work.

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