I have delivered keynote talks to professional audiences at numerous conferences and events over the years. They are mostly centred around how coaching skills can help improve client interaction, rapport, service and convert more clients. One of the frequent questions I am asked is how to prepare well for a meeting with a new potential business client.

My slightly controversial answer is – “Don’t prepare … much!”

Don’t prepare yourself, so you can show that you understand their business – this is folly!

My experience is that professional advisers and experts sometimes prepare with the wrong mindset and then in the meeting they ‘misuse’ what they learned in their research about the person or the business.

Sometimes advisers put in an awful lot of time into researching the company. It might be to show their worth by being really knowledgeable about the business and maybe even that they already have solutions to offer the client. Avoid this temptation to put ‘all your ducks in a row’.

I suggest instead that you think of the business owner or manager you are meeting as an expert in their own business and industry. They don’t want to hear what they already know. What they are looking for is your expertise and how it might be useful to them.

It is very tempting if you have done a lot of research to want to share what you have learned, to show how much effort you have put into this, but don’t start to give suggestions or advice to the business owner or manager at the first meeting – a little knowledge can be dangerous.

So, catch yourself, if you start staying “Why don’t you …” Having someone else second guessing you is really, really annoying – particularly if they have already thought about this, so they now need to defend themselves.

I meet professionals who tell me that they get hold of company accounts for several years, which they dissect and do detailed financial analysis on. They look at annual company reports, investor reports, check Companies House records, company websites to understand values, products/services, key staff etc.

This is very time consuming and the reality is that you will still not have all of the facts. These reports will not tell the whole story and certainly not if there are problems. Save yourself time, and resist the urge to dig deep.

An example I sometimes share is a situation where a Financial Planner got hold of the company accounts for a potential new client, the business owner of a printing business. He noticed a very healthy cash balance in the accounts downloaded from Companies House. The cash had accumulated to well over £1million over the last few years. The Financial Planner became quite excited and in the first meeting pointed out how he would be able to help the business owner invest this cash. However, the business owner quickly corrected him, explaining that the company accounts were several months old and that the cash had now been spent on a planned replacement of two ageing printing presses – leaving the Financial Planner a little deflated.

A much better approach is to arrive with an open mind and confidence in the skills and expertise that you bring to the table. Then listen and ask great questions which show that you are really interested in understanding them, their business and their challenges.

Prepare yourself – but just a little!

This doesn’t however mean that you shouldn’t prepare at all – but prepare instead with a mindset of wanting to start a relationship.

When I go to meet a new business coaching, training or consultancy client I limit my research to a quick online review:

  • To show that I am interested and prepared for the meeting
  • Get a sense of size and stage of the business
  • Gain a high level view of the market they are in and their products / services
  • Appreciate how they present themselves outwardly
  • See the background of the person / people I’m meeting
  • Pick-up on any recent news stories about the company

I could research financial performance of the business, but if it is required then it is much easier to ask, so I understand how they think and feel that the business doing.

Questions to build relationships

Depending on the area that I’m supposed to help them in I will prepare a few questions to explore various perspectives and to get a conversation going.

What I focus on is to listen and ask questions so I begin to really understand the person and their business.

This approach means I don’t feel a need to show that I understand their business already. On the contrary I can show that I’m primarily interested in learning about them and their business challenges and opportunities. I’m focusing on the person in front of me, understanding how the challenges affect them, what their goals are, what is important to them and how they think.

I’m aiming not only to understand them, but for the client to feel understood. By asking questions I am giving my client the opportunity to talk and reflect, and it may even help them gain some clarity on where they are and what they might be looking to achieve. This is time and space that they will value. With this insight and rapport building, I’m in a much better position to suggest how I can help them achieve what they are looking for (if I actually can of course).

Save your time

So, save some preparation time by focusing the first conversation with a new client on understanding them and making them feel understood.

How do you prepare? Please share your thoughts on preparing for meetings with prospective new clients.