How to organize a perfect first meeting

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By Andrew Sobel and Olivier Jacob

Every long-term, trusting relationship with client partners began with an initial meeting. The genesis is almost always a brief conversation that, frankly, could have gone either way. Why does one initial meeting generate millions of dollars in revenue over many years, while another ends with a "goodbye, let's keep in touch"? Some of it is out of your control - some customers simply don't have a pressing need that you can address. But a lot is in your hands. Your willingness to prepare for the meeting, your ability to build rapport and trust, and your ability to solve a potential problem you can commit to will strongly influence the outcome.

In this article, I describe the absolute best practices for handling that first meeting. The basic framework works whether it's a brand new prospect or a new executive contact at an existing client. No two meetings are the same, so take this as a template that you will adapt for each client.

First, keep in mind four key principles for running good first meetings:

1. Always show rather than tell.

When you SHOW, you give examples, illustrate with stories and share best practices. When you TELL, you describe how many offices you have, affirm how well you listen to customers, and tell the story.

2. Arouse their curiosity.

That's the secret to getting a second meeting. What can make them curious? How do you get them to lean over their desk and say, "I'd like to know more about this..." or "I'd like to meet your colleague..."

3. Prepare well, but don't try to impress them directly with your preparation and assume that you understand their real problems.

Learn what their issues are, but don't go in and say, "Let's talk about those three goals I already know..." Do it indirectly by asking questions about the implications of their implemented strategy.

4. Be a peer and ask for a commitment to already take a small step forward.

Remember: your customers need you as much as you need them. You must present yourself as an equal, a peer. And, you must not unilaterally accept responsibility for all the next steps - you must also get a commitment from the customer. Otherwise, they won't fully participate in the sales process.

Here's a template for running the perfect first meetings, broken down into pre-meeting, meeting and post-meeting strategies!

  • Discuss the agenda ahead of time with the executive you are meeting with and determine if there is a particular topic or interest they would like to address.
  • Check to see who will be there. You don't want to be caught off guard when you walk into a room with eight people sitting around a table, when you were only expecting one!
  • Clarify the specific roles of your colleagues and whether others are accompanying you. Do not bring more people than the client brings.
  • Select 2-3 customer examples that you think will resonate with the prospect. Narrow them down to 50 words and memorize them. If you don't memorize them, you'll end up taking way too long to describe them.
  • Select a brief "point of view" (50-100 words, no more) that you can use as a conversation starter, perhaps an observation about how your other clients are reacting to a new regulatory environment, or some new competitive strategies you've been pursuing.
  • Research the executives you meet and their companies.
  • Bring 4-5 thoughtful, even provocative questions to ask.


Objective 1: Establish a relationship

  • Use small, relevant and meaningful conversations to break the ice. Make them authentic, not superficial, concocted to elicit a good attraction from you. Perhaps you have a mutual acquaintance who once worked at the same company as the prospect.
  • Reset the agenda, which should be some variation of the following: Get to know each other, understand their key priority agenda, share some examples of recent, relevant work you've done with similar clients (illustrating what you do and how you work with clients), and then decide if there's a topic to explore together and around which you should plan a next step.

Objective 2: Build credibility

  • Use one or two brief client examples (50 words), saying something like this, "I think the best way to tell you about my company is to describe some recent assignments we just completed..."
  • Share a perspective on the industry, competitors or markets.
  • Ask thoughtful questions that implicitly demonstrate your knowledge of their issues ("I'm curious, how does your new international strategy impact your approach to risk management..."; "I'm curious, at the recent investor conference, your CEO presented a fairly aggressive organic growth program... how will that impact your acquisition and talent management needs...".
  • Hold a conversation, don't give a presentation or go through PowerPoint slides.

Objective 3: Discover their needs and problems

  • You need to find out if the client has a problem or opportunity that is important and urgent enough to turn to an outside service provider for help.
  • Learn about the impact of current trends and events.
  • Highlight the problems your other customers are facing.
  • Ask "smart" questions about their known public strategy (be prepared, but don't assume you know the issues facing that individual executive!).
  • Ask about their top priorities, but please don't ask "What keeps you up at night?" That's a cliché that salespeople have been using for 25 years!
  • Determine the benefit of solving the problem and the urgency.
  • Find out who "owns" the problem and who the economic buyer would be (you may not talk to the economic buyer, and sooner or later you will have to meet with that person if you are successful).
  • Learn about the key organizational components that would be involved in a potential solution, or that must be aligned before the client can move forward.

Objective 4: Take the next step

  • Arouse the customer's curiosity so that they want to know more. If you do not arouse their curiosity, they will not be motivated to meet again.
  • Summarize the conversation and suggest a next step; or, ask the client-if you are feeling confident-"Based on our discussion, what do you think would be a useful next step to further develop this aspect?"
  • Also get a commitment of action from the client. Don't volunteer to do everything yourself. For a next step to make sense, the other party must be committed.


Then debrief with your team. What did you learn? What are the next steps? What could you have done differently, either in terms of preparing for the meeting or in conducting the conversation?

Remember those traps from the first meeting:

  • oversell
  • Bring lots of paper.
  • Talking too much about you and your company.
  • Telling rather than "showing" using examples and stories.
  • Diving into "methodologies" too early.

About the authors

Andrew Sobel is the leading authority on the strategies and skills needed to develop clients for life. He is the world's most published author on the subject, having written eight best-selling books on customer relationships, including the international bestsellers Customers for Life and Power Matters. More than 100 leading companies, such as PwC, Citibank, UBS, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cognizant, Deloitte and many others have used his book Clients for Life to develop trusted advisor skills and increase revenues for their clients.

Olivier Jacob has decades of expertise as a coach, trainer, and conference facilitator on the topics of management and sales. Author of the book "Make your business grow" and passionate about personal effectiveness, strategy, sales, commitment and new technologies, he created Inéa Conseil in 2008 to help companies sell more and better, and managers better mobilize their employees.

You are an expert operating in professional services and you do not feel comfortable prospecting for new clients.

In this book, with a preface by Bertrand Dumazy, CEO of the Edenred group, you will find numerous illustrations and practical information sheets drawn from the concrete experience of specialists who have successfully developed their prospect portfolio.

You will also learn how to make yourself happy by developing new contacts at all levels in organizations.

How to target key contacts in your prospects? How to approach them? Through which channel? How do you stand out? What creative solutions should you use? How to interest your interlocutors in your subjects ? Which marketing to set up on the web ?

Here you will find answers to all these key questions to develop your business or practice as well as methodological elements for immediate implementation.

Price kindle format: 9,99€
Price paperback: 19,50

Number of pages: 188
Author: Olivier Jacob
Preface: Bertrand Dumazy