With a couple of client wins under the belt, Caversham Marketing has now had one or two ‘first’ client meetings.

I have heard them called ‘Chemistry Meetings’, Scoping Sessions’, ‘Briefings’, ‘Brand Assimilation’ or simply ‘a chat over coffee’. Either way they are pretty important and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Having been given an opportunity to impress, you now have to front up and demonstrate that a prospect has made the right choice. You are the consultant for them.

It got me thinking that meeting a new client for the first time is a bit like a first date. You put on a clean shirt, perhaps take a little longer in the mirror; make sure you put on your ‘good shoes’. Your heart pounds, there are butterflies in your stomach, and a whole host of ‘what ifs’ present themselves as you play out the meeting in your head. What if you say something wrong? What if they don’t like you? What if you (or they) don’t measure up as well as the LinkedIn profile?

Luckily, I don’t intend on marrying any of my clients (no offence), but, as toilet window escapes aren’t an option if you want to secure a retained client- and I do want to see them again- it’s important to make a positive impression.

So what is the appropriate ‘first date’ etiquette between consultant and client?

Sure, like any millennial on the dating scene, I have done the groundwork; I have looked at recent campaigns, checked out their digital footprint, investigated some competitors, established mutual ground and – in my mind at least- I can already see us being very happy together. But unlike the guy that talks mortgage, marriage and kids before the first bottle of wine is empty, I don’t want to get in too far, too quick. I can’t afford to over promise and what if my ideas don’t match theirs, or they aren’t looking for the same kind of long-term relationship I am. Hell, what if we aren’t even exclusive!?

Plus, having worked with some very well respected agency moguls, I understand the lesson all marketers should remember about selling time. We should give ours the utmost respect, as this is our trading stock. Like your mother always told you…don’t give it all away for free first time.

So, what is the best approach to ensure new shiny client is as impressed with you as they were at the networking event. How to show them that you have done some homework and you are very keen, without looking desperate. In short how much should you put out first time?

Although I have not been on the dating scene for some time, there are some things I have learnt about first meetings. Here’s my top five:

Maintain control of the place and time of the first meeting.

  • You want to offer the best first impression of yourself. Like first dates, first meetings are never a time to go rogue. You should be familiar with the venue, be confident that it is the appropriate environment for you and your client to bond. You should know where the facilities are, how the Wi-Fi works, what parking is like and how much time you need between other commitments. Don’t be late.

Be prepared

  • Like any date or perhaps more relevant a job interview, the better prepped you are the more in control you will be. You don’t want to be caught off-guard, over promise or miss a key opportunity. There are tools you can use to quickly appraise a web site. You can search and follow social media accounts and even look into their financials, but please, no stalking.

Set the tone

  • One particularly successful client told me that the key to any successful negotiation (and relationship), is that both sides have to feel they are getting something out of it. If one party feels wronged at the start or feels the other side are getting away with too much, it won’t last. But, be clear on where the ground rules are what a day rate constitutes and be transparent with timelines, expectations and next steps.

No time wasters please

  • Try and ensure all parties are clear about what is expected of from the meeting in advance. I spent years coaching my teams to ensure that their time wasn’t going to be better spent not attending a meeting. No one likes a meeting to discuss having a meeting. Have a clear agenda and stick to it. Send out notes beforehand if necessary and don’t be afraid to rein someone in if they go off topic. Remember it is your valuable time being wasted too.

Listen

  • You have made the cut, you’re in the seat, so relax and don’t over-sell your skills. Some of the best communicators (and indeed sales people), have a common trait in that they listen to the client, understand their needs and respond accordingly. Active listening is important, but if a client is telling you- ever so subtly – that they don’t like a particular idea or concept, listen, take it on board…and move on, quickly.

After any first date, if you are keen, you want what everyone wants – a second date. So prepare to take something away that helps the relationship to progress a little further. At the end of the meeting, you should have a clear understanding of what the next steps are – and who is responsible for what and by when. In your preparation, and with your clear objective setting, you may already have an idea of what may be next, but don’t jump the gun.

Hopefully, these ideas will help take the anxiety out of the first date but if not, make sure you have a suitable exit plan or a wingman ready to pull you out!