How to Prepare For and Run a First Meeting

breaking the ice at first new business meeting

breaking the ice at first new business meeting

If you’re a sales person or have had sales training then new business meetings probably don’t phase you, but if you’re new to sales then first meetings can be scary.

Confidence is one of the biggest factors in how you will perform in a new business meeting. Walk in believing in what you are saying and why you’re there then you will go after the outcome you want – another meeting, or the chance to do a proposal. Go in hesitant and not knowing why you’re there and you won’t come across so well and will be less likely to get anything from the meeting.

People describe confidence in different ways: a state of mind in which you have faith in what you’re doing; belief in the certainty of the outcome; self-assurance and faith in your own ability. It can be described in many ways, but one thing is sure – you can’t just have confidence. It needs to be founded on something of substance; something tangible. To get yourself to feel confident, you need to know where to find it.

Here’s the Scenario

It’s a cold meeting. You know that it’s a good brand but the person you’re meeting doesn’t know very much about your agency, so you need to impress from the outset.  We all know first impressions count but there’s a difference between knowing that and making sure you don’t cock up your meeting in the first 5 minutes! These are some basic dos and don’ts for making sure that your new business meetings run smoothly and for making sure you don’t put buyers off before you’ve even started.

Get the Basics Right 

First, let’s get all the basics out of the way. Get a haircut. Shave. Polish your shoes. Clean your teeth. Press your shirt. All that stuff goes without saying but if you are in any doubt. It does matter and if you don’t get this stuff right you’re in the wrong job. It’s a good idea to keep a biz dev ‘kit’ in your drawer, with toothbrush, mouthwash, deodorant, your favourite hair product. Check the venue and make sure you know how to get there and turn up on time, calm and ready for the meeting, and make sure you bring everything you need – pen, pad, business cards if you use them.

Get your Style Right

Pitch your dress and style right. A good rule of thumb is to dress one level up from your prospective client. Too smart or too scruffy and the mismatch will put them off. Check their LinkedIn page and read between the lines of the company website to work out the dress code. If in doubt, ask ‘what’s the dress code’ – either directly or someone else who works there.

Be Hospitable 

If they come to you, treat them like you would a guest in your home. Take their coat, show them into the meeting room, give them time to get settled, offer a drink. If you go to them, accept the same in return.

Be Positive

The ‘believe in your product’ mantra is there for a reason: Even seasoned veterans find it difficult to sell products they don’t believe in. You know in your heart if you have something to say. If you don’t then either the service is wrong, or you are selling it to the wrong people. The right service for the right prospect is a fundamental without which your new business campaign cannot work.

So, find and keep reminding yourself what is great about your agency and what you have to offer.

Expect something good to come out of every meeting. How can you expect a successful outcome if you walk in unsure of whether it’s worth it? So, don’t. Expect a good outcome – you’ll be interested in what the client has to say, and it’ll be far more likely to go somewhere, and the client will pick up on it and respond positively too.

Break the Ice 

Meetings are like any other social interaction so get everybody relaxed and at ease and ready to talk. If this is the first time you have met the person, then it could a little awkward. Therefore, the onus is on you to make sure that doesn’t happen. In the first 5 minutes, you need to get them to like you, demonstrate professionalism and trustworthiness and start to build rapport. Have something ready to talk about, such as a funny or interesting story from the news that day, or ask them how business is, or how events in their market or the world in general are impacting on them. Keep it positive and light-hearted.

Body Language

Your body language is important too. We all know how important it is in communicating, so stand up straight, look the prospect in the eye (but don’t stare them out). Shake hands firmly, be purposeful.

Plan the Content and Take Control 

When it comes to running the meeting, have a plan and take control. Know what you want to cover, and what you want the running order to be and then set the scene and the agenda check that the other person is happy with it. Check how much time they’ve got and adapt the agenda if necessary. Don’t play it by ear.

Know what the client wants you to discuss. Find out what the client is interested in – call them before the meeting and ask them about their challenges, their priorities and their goals. What do they want and what do they expect from you when you meet?

Removing uncertainty allows you to focus your energy and your time in one direction and it gives you the information you need to prepare.

Have a Game Plan

I know I bang on about this but it’s a fundamental. Novak Djokovic wouldn’t dream of walking onto a tennis court without a game plan. To outperform intense competition, you need to be on your game all the time because tiny margins matter. So, don’t ever wing a meeting.

Run through the meeting in your mind. Be prepared to take control from the off and take back control if it runs away from you. Know what you want to ask and the outcome you’d like. Rehearse how you will close it and what next steps you will ask for.

Furthermore, know what to expect. If you expect something, then it can’t catch you off guard.

If two of you are going, discuss and agree roles and who will do what.

Do Your Homework

Preparation wise, know the history as there is nothing worse for the client than having to explain things that they’ve already explained know about the company. Read their website and the latest news on them. (‘I didn’t know you merged, when did that happen?’ doesn’t look good). Furthermore, make sure you know why you’re there. If they only have a small budget initially and you appear disappointed, you may harm your chances of winning a client that might grow to be lucrative. And finally, know who will be there, what their role is and why they’re in the meeting. This means that you can answer the needs of everybody in the meeting.

If you’re well prepared and well drilled, you will perform better. Furthermore, you will know you are well prepared and you’ll have faith in yourself.

Do your research into the person you are going to see and their company. Look at their market, products, brands, their customers, and their company performance. Read recent news that affects their industry and any other relevant background, and you’ll know that you will not be shown up for lack of knowledge.

Be Yourself

Once you get in there, be yourself. If you’ve done your prep then you’ve done everything you can. And don’t forget to check how you’re going to use the technology you take with you!

Prepare Meeting Notes

A big part of our job here is to provide notes for every meeting that our clients attend.  If we have sourced a new business opportunity through our various outbound channels, then it is an imperative that the client goes to meet the prospect armed with as much information as possible.

So What Should Be In These Notes?

The facts of course – name, address, telephone number and email address are a given.  So is the background information on the company and the contact (we tend to do a full round up of the company history along with the full CV of the contact, in case there are any connections between client and prospect).  Furthermore, so are all the details of every contact we have had with the prospect up until we have set the meeting date and time – any email responses, what we talked about, what they talked about.

Also write your own thoughts at the end of the notes on how you think the meeting will go and what you thought on what has already been said.  Talk through the notes with someone else at length, to make sure every aspect is picked up: how to approach the meeting and how the prospect may behave. The part concerning what the meeting is about (they may be about to send out a brief for a new website, for instance, but want to meet the agency first) is another factual part of the notes.

At Icebreaker, we have all worked in-house in business development for many years and have therefore attended many of these meetings ourselves.  What I always found was that instinct and the feeling before the meeting would help me to close the business in the end.  In fact, sometimes in the first 3 seconds of a telephone conversation it is possible to measure the success of it.  The same goes for meetings.

There is a lot of judgement in here and I find that a lot of the time I am using “thin-slicing” (see Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink) to identify challenges and understand what the prospect needs.   Then it is a case of extrapolating what has been identified and making sense of the “unsaid” things. It sounds complicated and a bit loose, but all our clients win work through us utilising psychology and not just writing the facts we have in front of us. Give it a try yourself.

Winning a Client Takes a Lot of Time and Effort

95% of the time anyway.

The path from first meeting to client won is a long one, and a crucial stage in the process is the first meeting.  Your game plan should be appropriate to the stage in the buying process that the buyer is at.

When the prospect has already decided what they want then the game plan is usually clear.  Buyers at this stage will often have a very clear idea of the criteria directing their decision making. They will often have a budget in mind, and they will look for you to demonstrate that you meet their buying criteria.  Your job in the first meeting is to make sure you fully understand the thinking behind why they met you. Then work out what their buying criteria are, and make sure you tick their boxes.

It’s trickier when your first meeting with the prospect is earlier in their buying process

But conversely, getting in at this stage means you are not a “challenger” agency. Instead, if you impress you could end up writing the brief with them. A lot of agencies don’t understand that this is the best time to meet with prospects. If you are last in the door, when a brief is on the table, then the prospect has already lined up the list of his or her preferred suppliers. They already all have the brief.

At this stage, the prospect may have a problem, or a general interest in you or a service, but no clear idea of what they want to buy.  They probably don’t have a budget in mind. It could be all too easy for the meeting just to turn into a chat that ends with promises to keep in touch that don’t come to anything.

However, there’s no reason why you can’t convert 30% to 50% of these to a return meeting to propose for actual work.

The Game Plan
  • Don’t present! If you must, make it 6-8 slides maximum and limit it to 10 minutes.  Your role is to find out about them, not to bore them with things about you and your agency.
  • Spend 60 – 70% of the meeting asking about their broader business, their future plans and the problems they face. Your role is that of an expert consultant. Sharing your knowledge. Ask questions to be able to talk through their aims and challenges. You will start to build a partnership and establish trust.
  • If there are areas you can help them with, offer to put something together that will provide them with value. And that you will come back and present – gain their commitment to meeting you again. Also, don’t give too much away for free!
  • We know there’s more to it than that, but the key point here is that ‘solution’ meetings and ‘problem’ meetings should be handled differently. ‘Problem’ meetings are not ‘bad’ meetings – they just need to be handled right.

We hope this helps with first meetings in any new business situation. It’s a lot to take in, but if you follow our tips then you’ll be sure to be a success.

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