A client meeting doesn’t start when you walk in the door and say good morning to your client. Rather, it begins a day earlier, as you mentally prepare and reflect on how to make that meeting a success for both of you.
Too often we are preoccupied with ourselves: with a key message we’re trying to deliver, a point of view we want to convince our client of, or an agenda that we’re determined to get through at any cost. Instead, we need to refocus on the person we are meeting with. And, we need to start preparing the day before—not in the taxi on the way to the meeting, which is all too common.
Here are 14 questions to help you get ready:
1. Have you spent as much time thinking about what your client is going to say as you have thinking about what you are going to say? Have you considered the different ways your client may react to your message?
2. Have you put yourself in your client’s shoes? What business or personal pressures is he/she feeling right now? How is his/her relationship with superiors, colleagues, and subordinates?
3. Have you made a list of what you don’t know about this client but would like to know? If it’s a first meeting, have you found out everything you can about the individuals you’ll be meeting with? Can you use this meeting as an occasion to become more knowledgeable about your client?
4. Are you structuring the meeting to create a real dialogue with your client? This could mean having no written materials whatsoever—or, if you do, making sure you engage your client as you walk through the presentation, testing for understanding, agreement/disagreement, and related issues.
5. For this client, what are the rational, political, and emotional implications of the issue at hand?
6. Your meeting has two objectives: to make progress against your client’s business issue or need, and to develop/improve the relationship. How will you further both agendas?
7. Are you focused on activities and inputs—on reports, hours billed, analytical formulas, deliverables, and so on–or are you constantly keeping the client’s desired outcomes and the value he/she seeks at the forefront of your discussions?
8. Do you fully understand the perspectives of the various constituencies that surround your client? (e.g., senior management, subordinates, customers, capital markets, as well as different functions and organizational units?)
9. In your meeting, can you exhibit gravitas and confidence—or are you feeling needy for a sale and do you risk conveying that emotion to your client?
10. Have you prepared three strong, thoughtful, open-ended questions that are not clichés or questions the client has been asked over and over again by others?
11. If you are going to meet your client with other team members, have you:
- Established clear roles for everyone during the meeting?
- Identified a colleague who will focus singularly on observing the meeting’s interactions and taking detailed notes?
- Thought through whether the mix of individuals you are bringing to the meeting makes sense and will provide a diversity of styles and approaches?
12. Are you keeping in mind the rapport-building behaviors that will help the other person feel comfortable with you—e.g., finding commonalities and similarities, being interested in the other person, showing enthusiasm for your subject, leveraging positive associations, and so on?
13. Do you have an agenda and game plan for the meeting, and have you discussed this with your client ahead of time? Are you prepared to calmly abandon this agenda if your client wants to take the meeting in a different direction?
14. Whether this is the 10th or 100th meeting with this client, are you prepared to treat him/her like a brand new client? Are you bringing the same freshness, enthusiasm, and new ideas that you brought to the first or second meeting, when you were wooing this client?
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