As an independent management consultant, you’ll need to get used to spending plenty of time in meetings. This may be something you’ve become used to as part of your current or previous job, but your role in meetings will probably be very different as an independent consultant.
The meetings you attend and lead will probably be quite different too, like the initial client meeting for example, which sets the scene for how (and if) you will go about solving the client’s problem.
The Importance of Initial Client Meetings
I’ll use some future posts to share tips and guidance for conducting various types of meetings, but first things first.
The initial client meeting is critical to the success of your business, so it makes sense to prioritise the things you need to know to make a great first impression.
In fact, when you attend the initial meeting, it’s more correct to say you’re facing a prospect since this is where the client will likely make her decision whether to engage you or not. In this post, therefore, you’ll find some do’s and don’ts to ensure you get the outcome you want.
The Wrong Way to Open An Initial Client Meeting
The biggest mistake you can make at an initial client meeting is also the easiest ones to make, since the prospective client might well open by asking you to tell her about yourself and your business. It will seem only natural to indulge the request, but … the meeting is not about you; it’s about the client and the problem which requires solving.
You need to spend time listening and understanding the client’s requirements, not talking about yourself. So try to take the lead early in the initial client meeting and ask questions that will get the client talking.
A good question to ask might be “what are your company’s most important initiatives right now?”
The whole idea is to get the client talking, so you can start to listen, learn and formulate a response illustrating how you can solve her most pressing challenge. That’s the time to talk about yourself—when you can articulate your understanding of the client’s issues and why you are the best person to help resolve them.
Keep the Right Questions Coming
Once you’re sure you understand the problem the client is trying to solve, it’s important to continue asking questions during the initial client meeting. Not only will this demonstrate your professionalism—and it will only do that if you ask the right questions—it will also enable you to gather the all-important facts you need to start working on a project plan.
The important thing here is to be led by what the client has already told you and to avoid asking the following questions:
- Tell me a little about your business (you should already have researched the client’s business)
- Tell me about your target market (you need to drill down for more specific information on the customers your client’s business serves)
- What is your project budget? (it’s better to ask the client to place a value on the solution than to ask how much she has to spend)
The problem with each of the questions above is not related to what you are asking, but how.
There are ways and means to ask questions which make a better impact and provide you with more useful information than these examples. I’ll expand on these information-gathering techniques in my next post on the topic of client meetings.
The most effective strategy for an initial client meeting is to listen while the client talks and then to show that you’ve heard the client and can describe exactly why yours is the best consulting service to help with her specific project.
Finally—remember that you will not always turn out to be the best fit. If so, it’s OK to be honest and turn a project down, rather than take on something which might ultimately undermine your consulting credibility.
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