Two different meeting structures
- You contact a current, or previous, client with something you wanted to talk to them about.
- A current, or previous, client contacts you up with something they wanted to talk about.
0. Before the meeting
Start by doing your homework and researching the people you are meeting and their organisation.
The organisation’s website and LinkedIn are ideal sources for this information.
Then use these 5 questions to develop your plan.
- What do you know already about the client’s, or prospect’s, situation and Unconsidered Needs?
- What do you want to happen as a result of the meeting?
- What’s the best agenda for achieving this result?
- What position do you want to take? Do you want the client to see you as a leader, business developer, order taker, what else?
- How will you handle things like confidentiality, note taking, potential interruptions, etc?
1. Set expectations
2. Gaining Interest
With existing clients you should already have credibility.
Having framed the conversation with a point-of-view you’re turning it into being about their business and their issues.
What if they don’t bite? Well it may be the you’ve picked something that isn’t a high agenda item for them. For this reason it’s useful to have a couple more points-of-view up your sleeve.
2.2 For when the client requested a meeting.
Again you already have credibility so get straight into the clients agenda. You want to find out why they’ve invited you to meet with them. You’ll already have some idea about this from the request, but shape that by asking insightful questions that clarify the issue for them.
Remember the client requested this meeting because they will already know you deliver value. Demonstrate this by using your rapport and listening skills. Don’t jump into pitch or solution mode.
You want the client to feel heard. Once you’ve listened and shown your understanding it’s time to offer some insights. Get permission to do that by asking something like:
“How useful would it be for you to hear about some cases where similar problems to the ones you’re describing were tackled successfully?”
The bridge between your point-of-view and understanding the clients issue is dialogue.
You’ll probably spend a third of your meeting time in this space, establishing that there is some kind of fit. Meaning the client is starting to opening up about an important (expensive) and urgent issue they have.
4. Position expertise and Project Conversation pivot
This is where you continue to ask insightful questions. You want to open the client up further about the issue they are facing. At this stage you want to understand:
- The outcome the client wants in the business area they’ve been taking about.
- The gap between where they are today and this outcome.
- And the capabilities they think they’ll need to bridge that gap.
This discussion will take another third of your meeting time.Your aim during this time is to demonstrate your consulting skills by helping the client get much clearer about the importance and urgency of resolving their issue. The client will see this as adding value.
The Project Conversation Pivot
Finally you want to pivot into a project conversation.
You do this by seeking permission for further engagement. There are two questions I like to use for this.
“How open are you to taking this discussion further, where we talk about your business, and explore whether I can help you achieve your goals?”
“A lot the things you’ve mentioned are just the kind of challenges clients bring us in for.
If at some point you’d be interested in discussing how we might work together, I’d love to have the conversation. How open are you to that?”
5. Confirm next steps
At this point you will know if a project conversation is on the cards.
Don’t take this for granted though. Close the meeting with an affirmative agreement about what’s going to happen next. It is my experience that without this things tend to drift.
There are two ways to confirm next steps.
Many consultants like to summarise the conversations and suggest what comes next. While I admire that leadership there is sometimes a problem with client commitment. People say yes to whatever is put forward because they have their next meeting to get to!
The other option is to ask the client what they think a good next step would be. The problem with this approach is that often clients are clueless about how to work with consultants to make a project happen. Often they’ll ask for a proposal, or similar document. They you’re stuck with that.
Instead my preferred option is a hybrid of these.
What we want next is for the client to agree to another next meeting where we can use an Impact Assessment to understand the project.
So, I’ll explain what an Impact Assessment is, how much time it takes, and what to expect as a result (a proposal). Then I’ll ask the client, from their perspective if they have the time and resources available for that as a next step.
If they agree I will ask them to set a date for it. Then after the meeting confirm all of this in an email.
Andrew Sobel’s article: Four Winning Strategies for Four Different Sales Meetings
David A Fields’ book: The Irresistible Consultant’s Guide to Winning Clients