Making The Most of Client Meetings

Like a good business letter or report, a client sales meeting has three basic parts: introduction, body, and closing. In addition, it provides an opportunity for questions and answers.

It's important to recognize that prospective and current clients usually want to address current and future issues, not the past ones. Be cautious about expressing opinions about current problems unless you know the politics of the organization and the individuals in the meeting well. The best approach is simply to demonstrate an understanding of the client's plans and goals, both current and future, and then focus on how your firm's services or personnel can help to achieve those goals.

Set a Strategy

Defining a meeting theme or strategy can seem a little simplistic to professionals used to dealing with complex technical issues, yet a theme serves an important role in the proposal process. It gives everyone on the presentation team a focus on the message you want to drive home. If you all deliver the same message, you can be sure the prospect will get the point.

Typically your strategy or theme will be the key thought you want to convey about how you will help this prospect better than any other firm. Depending on the circumstances of the client, themes can be things like: quality work, confidence, fast service, continuity of service team, experienced staff performing the work, or active role of the partners in the engagement. Your strategy usually focuses on the immediate need or work you are proposing to perform, however, if you are bold and have some insight into the organization, you can reach beyond the immediate work to show how your services will help address a broader organizational need.

The important thing for the meeting, as the old saying goes, is to plan your work and work your plan. Spend some time identifying your theme or key strategy, communicate it to everyone on the team, and then build your opening, body and closing around driving home that message.

Your strategy can also be to define the information you need to obtain from this meeting. Decide what you need to know, plan the questions you will ask and what steps you want to take next, so you can convey those to the prospect during the meeting.

Ask and Listen

Many professionals go into a meeting feeling like they need to do all the talking. They want to describe the firm, their services, their experience, their understanding of the industry or the issues. In many cases, however, the team is there because the prospect already assumes that you have a certain level of expertise in the issues they face. The most important thing your team can do is to ask open-ended questions (questions that require more than a yes or no answer) and then listen and make notes.

Let me repeat that once again in another way. If your side is doing most of the talking, you are missing your opportunity. Clients have a need, and they are eager to talk about that need and get help solving their problem. Ask questions. Show interest. Listen. Listen and make notes. When you make notes it shows that what the person is saying is important to you. Tell them enough to let them know you understand the issues, but keep them talking about details. The more details you know, the more specifically you can target your services, and the better your chances are to win the engagement.

Even in a proposal presentation it is still appropriate to ask questions. The people you are presenting to have information and opinions, and are just waiting to be drawn into the conversation. A wise proposal team will not dominate the allotted time with a one-sided presentation. The faster you can get the prospect involved in a dialogue with you, the more successful the meeting is likely to be. Ask questions. Verify during your presentation that you are on track with the issues that matter to them. Give them a chance to guide you where they want to go. You will ensure your success if you do.

Prepare For The Meeting

Get the presenting team together before the meeting. If it's to be a formal proposal presentation, it's very important to take time to rehearse. For smaller opportunities where experienced partners are making the presentation, one meeting or conference call and a quick talk through of who's going to say what (around your theme!) is probably adequate. If it's a major opportunity, or if you are taking a key associate who has little experience in important client presentations, block some time to actually meet face to face and run through the presentation as a group at least twice.

Plan together as a group the information you need to obtain or agree on your theme and then decide who will deliver each of your key messages. Be sure to make note of any tough questions they might ask and rehearse the answers so you will sound confident and relaxed. For example, if your firm has recently has a lot of public visibility for litigation against the firm, you should have someone on the presentation team be prepared to field that question when it comes. Rehearse a positive response that gives your firm's point of view and reassures that the notoriety will have no bearing on your ability to serve this prospective client well.

Wrapping Up

Most presentations are scheduled for about one hour. If multiple firms are presenting back to back and you are at the end of that list, you should shorten your presentation considerably to the minimum you need to say and get right on to asking them what they want to know. They've heard it all already from other firms.

Rarely should your rehearsed presentation go longer than 30 minutes. The goal is to focus on the theme/messages you want to convey, get them across as succinctly as possible, and get the prospect participating in the discussion. When you are nearing the end of your scheduled time period, acknowledge that you are aware of the time and start to wrap up. In some cases, the prospect may wish to continue beyond the allotted time. Follow their lead. When the moment does come to wrap up, however, never end on a weak ``Well, I guess that's it. Thanks for your time." Take a moment to refocus the group on your summary. Repeat your summary remarks or at least give a closing that wraps everything up nicely and drives home your key message one last time.

By, Kaye Vivian, http://www.cloud9.net

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