4 decades of mistakes I’ve made talking with clients

This week makes my 45th year in business. I started my career as a graduate trainee with International Computers Limited (ICL) and could never have predicted I’d end up here.

The week also marks the end of my 2nd month living in Ireland.

I’ve had a few people put these two events together. Then ask me if I’m retiring this year. The fact is I’m enjoying sales mentoring far too much to think about retiring.

Why would I?

Although I will be spending more time in the mountains and on the lake, both of which are right on my doorstep.

That’s my personal update as an appetiser, now for the main dish. This is a longer than normal memo, but without a mini-mission, which will save some time.

Looking back, those four and a half decades have had a lot of variety. Starting in customer support, then systems analysis, sales executive, leader, consultant and group facilitator, then sales mentor.

The one thing that’s remained constant throughout … clients. Working with people, often in challenging situations, in all their glory.

So, I wanted to share 10 mistakes I’ve made talking with clients.

Drains up time. No theory here. Perhaps you’ll benefit from my errors.

All these are from F2F client meetings … that went horribly wrong.

Mistake #1: Passive Listening

We all know good communicators use active listening.

But I’ve been guilty of just going through the motions, not really engaging. This led to missed opportunities to delve into the client’s real issues. Now, I know the power of active questioning and genuine interest in responses.

Mistake #2: Self-referenced responses

Good consulting focuses on the client, not us.

I admit, there were times I made it all about me. My experiences, my views, overshadowing the client’s needs. I’ve learned to shift the focus, empathising with their situation, ensuring the client feels heard and understood.

[Note: This is still my biggest weakness. I’m working on it!]

Mistake #3: Ranting and Rambling

Clarity and conciseness is key in client communication.

I’ve been there, lost in the complexities of a topic. That’s left my key messages unclear and diluted. Focusing on outcomes and adopting structured methods like The Pyramid Principle has been a game changer for me.

Mistake #4: Subtle Negative Signals

Non-verbal cues are as important as words.

I didn’t realize how my body language could betray my nervousness in the boardroom. By becoming more aware of my non-verbal signals, I’ve learned to appear more confident and in control. That’s helping me lead conversations more effectively.

Mistake #5: Bringing Generic Content to the Table

Stand out with unique insights.

I’ve made the mistake of rehashing the same old content in different meetings. Learning to tailor my insights to each client’s specific situation has been a crucial improvement. Now I make sure each conversation is valuable and relevant to them.

Mistake #6: Pushing Solutions

Understand the issue before offering to solve it.

I’ve had my moments of jumping the gun. It’s a fatal to offer solutions before really grasping the problem. It taught me that understanding the client’s needs through careful listening is crucial before even thinking about solutions.

[Tip: Follow the clients agenda, drive the conversation process.]

Mistake #7: Not Following Up

Closing conversation loops outside meetings is vital.

I used to think a good meeting was the end of it. That’s wrong! I learned that follow-up is vital to ensure clarity and show the client they’re valued. It’s about making the interaction complete.

[Tip: I now use an AI (Otter) to record and transcribe all my virtual meetings. Afterwards I ask the AI questions about the meeting. It’s great for reviewing my performance and finding insights, as well was compiling meeting notes.]

Mistake #8: Asking too many questions

Balance inquiry with sharing.

I remember times when I bombarded clients with questions, making the conversation feel like an interrogation. I’ve learned to balance this with sharing insights. That creates a more conversational and less intimidating experience.

[Note: I realised this when I was on the receiving end of a conversation with a Consultancy Growth guru. Awful experience and transformed my way of interviewing clients.]

Mistake #9: Not Spotting What’s Really Going On

Get out of your head, be responsive to feedback.

Missing non-verbal cues used to be a frequent error on my part. It’s crucial to be observant and responsive to these cues to avoid miscommunication. It’s also an opportunity to ensure clients’ feels understood and respected at a deeper level.

Mistake #10: Not Flexing to Communication Styles

Flexibility is key in building rapport.

I’ve learned the hard way that my go-to communication style doesn’t always match the client’s wavelength. Adapting to each client’s unique communication preferences is a valuable skill. You end up with a smoother dialogue, and a deeper relationship.

[Tip: If you feel rapport is missing with a client it’s almost certainly down to this.]

Learn from my journey

That’s it. Now you have a chance to avoid these mistakes to build stronger, more productive relationships with your clients.

And if you found this useful please let me know.