You never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Heard that one before?
Never is it more important to remember this saying than when you’re going to meet a business client for the first time. And even though what you do is always important when you’re looking to create a good first impression – smile, give a firm handshake, look the client in the eye, etc. – it’s also what you don’t do that could determine the outcome of this very important meeting.
When we meet someone for the first time, particularly if we are a little nervous, our mouths tend to engage before our brain is in gear. If this happens you could end up saying something without really thinking it through.
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Unfortunately we can’t hit the “delete” button on first impressions and you could inadvertently ruin what should have been the start of a professional working relationship.
Give yourself a little breathing and thinking space before you go into the meeting. The last thing you want is to feel rushed with your thoughts all over the place. Think before you start a conversation and remember the following topics and behaviours should always be avoided.
1. No personal comments
Avoid comments on their personal appearance. You are aiming to build up a professional relationship, so even if you do happen to know them reasonably well, it’s always best to avoid personal comments altogether.
In fact, it’s probably best if you stick to comments that are more work-related, such as “well done on the new website, it looks really professional” or “I read the paper that you produced on such and such a topic, it certainly struck a chord”.
2. Keep the negativity at bay
It really does not paint a good picture if you start out by immediately talking down the competition, industry peers, or previous clients, for example. Leave this sort of commentary out of a business meeting … even if you are meeting the client in a social situation, and even if you believe your statements to be true.
3. Stay away from religion and politics
Even if it is around election time, this is a business meeting, so whatever and however strongly you feel about certain parties, candidates or issues, don’t do your campaigning in the business setting. You are aiming to stay away from areas that could potentially be judged to be too personal, polarizing, or altogether too emotionally charged.
If your client brings up the topic then steer the conversation to the agenda at hand. You can acknowledge their statement or refer to the latest political headline or current climate, but get on with the process of managing the business meeting.
4. Don’t offload your personal highs and lows
It is not appropriate to share personal details regarding your health or other problems. The client does not need to know that you have your phone on in case the divorce lawyer calls, or that you are waiting to see if the sale of your house has gone through. You have to build up trust in your abilities with your customer, and talking about your health problems or fiscal deficits is not going to engender that trust.
5. Steer clear of me, myself and I
Do not dominate the conversation with examples of everything that you have done and achieved. While they might be true, this is not the way to impress new clients.
Avoid the “me” syndrome and instead turn the conversation around to ask about the client and what their needs and requirements are. This will help you to establish how you and your company can meet those needs.
6. Never articulate your presumptions
If they sound like Brad Pitt or Angeline Jolie on the phone, but look completely different in real life, do not tell them this. They may look completely different on LinkedIn (due to an outdated profile) or not live up to their online bio or blog, but resist the urge to comment. Doing it reinforces your disappointment that they don’t live up to your expectations.
7. Do not flirt or be too friendly
You are there in a business capacity and this initial meeting is all about gathering information and building a relationship of trust. You are not there to hook up with them or to find a new friend, so keep everything purely professional because, believe me, if you overstep the boundaries, word will almost certainly get around.
8. Avoid being confrontational
You may know full well that they are missing the business opportunity of a lifetime if they don’t go in with your company, but arguing the point is not going to help.
The client may also throw out a line or two that is controversial, but they could be doing this to test you or it may be the way they deal with first time encounters. Either way, acknowledge that they have the right to their opinion (unless it is unlawful) and move on.
9. Don’t turn up late
Even if you have researched the route and the best place to park, and given yourself enough time to get there, you cannot plan for every eventuality. If this is the case and you are going to run late, then ring and explain; chances are they will have heard about the bad accident if there is one.
Whatever you do, don’t turn up late and explain it was because you didn’t set your alarm or the dog needed its early morning walk, as this simply will not do.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Peter Ling is the director of Abacus.co, a point of sales software system and app that will transform the way you run your business. With 25 years of experience in the hospitality industry and a Masters degree in Business Systems, he is uniquely positioned to understand the needs of small business owners and how technology can meet those requirements. And as someone who meets new people almost daily, he’s certainly learned the dos and don’ts when it comes to meeting clients. His favourite part of it all? Seeing the look on his satisfied customers’ faces when he’s been able to help them resolve their problems!
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