The best opportunity to make a positive first impression with a client is during a discovery meeting. This is a meeting to discuss and uncover client problems and then position yourself as a valuable expert, skilled with solving these problems. When I first took on clients, I really had no idea how to prepare or lead these initial meetings and I often bumbled my way through the process. Thankfully my clients were patient and often helpful.
Over time, I've learned the initial meeting with a client sets the tone and establishes the value of the offering. This is a key part of establishing a relationship, so it’s important to invest time and effort into preparing and leading these meetings. Below, I've made an outline of five steps to help you prepare.
Prepare Valuable Questions
This should be the most obvious step when approaching a meeting, but in the beginning of running my business, I did very little preparation. As a rookie, I assumed a discovery meeting was just a way to discover more about the client. So why would I need to prepare for discovering something? Shouldn't the universe unfold and the stars align once we meet? Huge mistake. Walking into meetings unprepared killed my confidence and made me look like a schmuck. Don’t be a schmuck.
Before every initial client meeting spend a few hours researching the client, their brand, product and competitors. Simple google searches, reviewing LinkedIn profiles and any info that they have initially provided is a great place to start. I use this information to craft a list of value-discovering questions. These, in turn, uncover real problems my client is facing and positions me as a focused problem solver. Your client will be impressed by your detailed knowledge and thoughtful questions. When developing these questions, I always try to get inside their head and imagine what their struggles might be. Here are a couple examples of questions I've found helpful in the past:
What goals do you expect to accomplish with this project?
Who are your competitors and how are you different?
What is the single most challenging problem your business is facing now?
What concerns do you have about the project?
Notice how all the questions are focused on drawing out interesting responses, the one thing I've learned is to avoid simple “yes” and “no” questions. And if I do ask this type of question, I make sure to follow up with “why?”
This is so simple. Show up prepared and on time and you've won 80% of the battle. Be sure to get that meeting in your calendar the very second the time is agreed upon. One habit I have developed is to touch base with the client 24 hours in advance to confirm the time and place. The one time I failed to practice this habit was when I had mistakenly marked down 1pm for the meeting rather than 10am which was the correct time and I missed the meeting completely. Had I confirmed the meeting a day before, I would have caught the mistake.
Also, if you are conducting a skype meeting, it’s always worth checking your technology and internet connection well before the meeting begins. Give yourself some time to troubleshoot potential technological difficulties.
Once I’ve prepared all my value positioning questions and I’ve arrived promptly to the meeting, it’s time to take a deep breath and remember the most important tactic of any meeting: Shut up and listen! Listening is the skill that will make you stand out to the client and potentially make you a superstar.
For example: when a client vents about how they have spent half their day dealing with repetitive questions and tasks while explaining sales pitches to their sales team, that’s when it’s time to listen and take note. From my perspective, I hear the client saying she needs more time to complete other work. My offering, then, should be to reduce repetitive tasks with a video that explains her product and sales story. What are these frustrating repetitive tasks? I want more details.
I would then ask what the client would do with their time if they didn't have to spend so much of it on this repetitive task? What happens if nothing is done to relieve them of this problem. The answers to all these questions could help the client see value in my offering, and would be an indication of the final goal of the project. Hearing these responses help me formulate a solution that is tailored to the client - and it all begins with how I LISTEN.
A successful meeting ends with review of what has been talked about and an outline of the steps that will follow. The client needs to know what to expect from you and also what is expected of them. Before you wrap up the meeting, make sure you ask the important question: “Is there anything else?” Ensure all their concerns are addressed.
Once you shake hands and say your farewells, you are not done. It’s important to review all the main points of your meeting once you’re back in your office. The sooner the better because if you wait too long you might forget the context of some of your notes or miss out on some new ideas that pop up.
Finally, Be sure to send out an email to your client with the subject line: Discovery Meeting Notes - (date of meeting). In this email, send a list of bullet points of all the main topics that you discussed, including any action items and concrete deadlines. Don’t forget to re-iterate the next steps before signing off. This email should be sent off no later than 24 hours after the initial meeting.
Busy clients will appreciate your attention to detail and your ability to effectively lead a meeting. They are hiring you for your expertise and they will expect you to take initiative and lead the project. But they also want to feel like their concerns are being met - that they are being heard.
The discovery meeting is the best opportunity to establish your position as the leader for this project, show your confidence in being able to meet their needs, and set their minds at ease.