Good Salesmanship: How to Make an Impression at a First Meeting


When it comes to pitching your agency to a prospective client, first impressions are everything.The first meeting, and this may seem like a crude comparison, is very much like a first date. You need to present yourself well, show interest and ask the right questions. Just like nobody finds ego attractive on a first date, many sales pitchers fall at the first hurdle by focusing too much on themselves instead of their client. It may seem counter intuitive to not ‘sell yourself’ in a meeting with a prospective client, but it works. You’re far more likely to secure some business if your client is confident that you know your stuff and have done your homework around their business and what they’re trying to achieve.

Part of that process is not talking, but asking questions and listening.

Okay, so you’ve got your strategy down. You’re going to enter the meeting and ask lots of questions about your client and their ambitions. Learn what makes them tick and their customers click, and then suggest some potential solutions before going away to draw up a detailed proposal. But where do you start? What questions do you ask?

First, it’s important to understand the jigsaw puzzle that is the buyer’s world. In essence, that’s what your prospective client is likely facing, and anything that can help them close the gap and get closer to their audience is going to be a win. The first meeting is your best (and possibly only) chance to figure this out and having a proper structure with targeted questions in place will help steer the conversation in a way that’s beneficial to both parties. Your client won’t have it all figured out and their thinking won’t be perfectly joined up – after all, that’s why they’re meeting you. So lead the conversation by all means, but don’t dominate it.

Here’s an example of a good way to structure that very first meeting:

First, seek to understand the business as a whole

This is a great first step as it opens the door to everything else. Don’t get into specifics here, but make sure everyone is on the same wavelength when it comes to broad stroke ideas. These top level details might seem obvious but emphasise how important it is to get them right and get everyone at the meeting engaged.

  • Ask them to sum up their business, who they are and who they’re selling to in one sentence. Get the elevator pitch.
  • What are their current capabilities and what are their obstacles to progression?
  • Ask about their market. Who are they selling to? What does an average customer look like?
  • The inner workings and processes of their business are important, as are their values. What defines success to them?
Next, ask about the individual(s) you’re meeting with

The organisation as a whole is your ‘client’, but the people you work with will make or break the relationship. Personal drivers also play a huge role in key decisions and may help you figure out the best way to approach something. Touch on the following:

  • What exactly is their job? What are they responsible for?
  • Are there existing KPIs in the business and how do they measure success?
  • Ask what drives them. What are they passionate about? Where do they want to be in the next 5 years career wise?
  • Get a handle on their knowledge of what you’re discussing. They could be a novice in this area which is why they’re looking to hire you. They could also be experts with little time on their hands.
  • Ask about their opinions on various topics and how they feel about the state of their industry.
Learn the processes (or lack thereof)

If you’re going to be working with this company a lot, it’s important to understand how they operate on a day to day level. Some important points to raise might be:

  • Who are the key stakeholders in the business? Who needs to give sign off?
  • How many people will be involved in the decision making process, and how is it handled?
  • More importantly, what are the blockers to progress (if any)?
Then it’s time to focus on the future

You’re now at a stage where you’ve got a good handle on where the company is and how it works. You’ve probably discussed ambitions and goals on a more general level, but now it’s time to get detailed and steer their thoughts into the future.

  • Where does the business want to go?
  • More crucially, where does it need to go in order to compete?
  • Ask about the industry in general and any competitors they’re looking at. If they’re not looking at competitors, why not?
  • What are the things that could go wrong? This may seem downbeat but it’s important to work out what’s at stake.
Finally, ask the big question: Why?

By this stage you know where they are and where they want to be as a business, but why? Why are they were they are and why do they want to change? What’s motivating them? This could be anything from pure profit growth and appeasing investors to the personal objectives of the people involved in running the company. This will colour everything that follows so be sure to ask.

To the best salespeople, many of these questions are second nature. You should always be clear why you’re asking them and ask unashamedly. If you feel a little silly asking an obvious question like, “What does your business do?”, simply preface it with an explanation as to why the question is important and how everybody needs to be on the same page.

To master the above, one of the best things that any agency can do is run weekly or monthly sales sessions. We do this once per week for 20 minutes and focus on individual sales skills to keep everybody sharp and at the top of their game. These sessions are short so they’re easy to digest, interactive so that everyone has to engage, and we like to change the dates and times of them in order to keep everyone on their toes.

To give you an idea of how this works, here’s a brief summary of a session we’ve had recently:

How do I make an impact when I introduce myself?

Whether you’re making a cold call or walking up to someone at an event, the principle is the same. You need to make an impression quickly and get their attention.

So how do you do it?

What to say

First impressions are created in the first 10 seconds of meeting someone, so in that time you need to grab their attention. Of course, you can start by introducing yourself, who you are and what your company does, but everyone does that. What matters is what comes next. You need to give them a reason to talk to you. Instead of talking about what you do, talk about what they do and how you can help.

Be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking this stuff is interesting though. The real interest will come from offering opinions or revelations you’ve had. Discuss things you’ve learned or recent changes in the industry. These are the things that will stand out and make your conversation a memorable one.

How to say it

You should believe in what you’re saying. If you don’t, you shouldn’t be saying it. This will come across in the way you talk and engage with the person you’re meeting so pick your topics carefully. Be animated and talk with emphasis, but don’t overdo it. Remember to talk clearly and concisely and with good cadence and rhythm.

How to act

This is important – be yourself. Be friendly, professional and engaging, but above all be yourself. If you’re a talking head, people will know and you’ll come across like wallpaper. The you from the pub but in professional mode is far more engaging and interesting, and people will want to hear what you have to say.

Don’t be afraid to talk about yourself a little bit either. ‘We’re a design agency’ isn’t as interesting as ‘I’ve been a designer for 20 years and I love sites like yours, especially how you used parallax design in a new way’. Finally, keep it short. If it’s not interesting people will get bored after 10 seconds. If it is interesting, don’t take more than 30 seconds before you ask about them.

When you’ve got an important first meeting coming up and are nervous about pitching your agency and what you can offer, just take the above information and put it into action. Just remember that when meeting a new client, they’re more keen for you to learn about them than they are to learn about you. There are hundreds of agencies, and the thing that will set you apart is your ability to understand and engage with them and the obstacles they’re facing.  Show a desire to learn about them and understand them, and they’ll be motivated to look into your services and how you could help them.

One Comment on “Good Salesmanship: How to Make an Impression at a First Meeting”

  1. Wear good shoes (NOT POINTED) and please, invest is a good watch. These are the things that indicate success (a Times article said that a watch is the car you can wear on your wrist and I agree) and MATTER!

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