Sales tips, leadership communication skills insight and more from Steve Giglio, sales training professional for more than 25 years.

You’ve Transformed! Nobody cares…yet.

In my last two posts, we looked at how transforming the “way things always get done” can have a meaningful impact on your life and career success. And in my work with business development executives and teams, I see that transformation take place. It’s incredible how fired up people become, ready to take on challenges with new ways of thinking and problem-solving. They are excited to change their behavior and establish stronger relationships with their clients and employees.

The problem? Nobody cares. No matter how you’ve transformed, people are going to treat you like the “old you.” They will relate to you the same way, expect things from you the same way, and respect you the same as they did before.

So, why bother with the transformation in the first place? Because it’s how you’ve decided you want to be! But it will take some work in order for others to get on board.

Understanding Some Common Truths

Now that you’re all excited about changing the world, it’s time to factor in some truths as you engage the world around you:

* No one else will be fired up
* They didn’t go through the goal setting process you did
* They haven’t transformed their thinking or behavior
* It’ll take longer than you think for them to come around
* It will be more challenging
* You’ll get distracted with other fires to put out
* It will not be perfect
* It will never be over

These truths are hard to accept. Many times, I will see clients buckle from any or all of them, reverting to their old way of doing things…and of course, getting the same old results. However, understanding these truths aids us in our crusade. They bring objectivity to transformation. Believe it or not, they’re actually very important to experience. Here’s why.

The more irritating they are, the clearer your line of sight is to remain undaunted and unencumbered by them. It’s great you now see these barriers for what they are; just barriers that are surmountable. The opportunity you’ve committed to requires you to change your understanding of these barriers. It comes down to how you hold barriers. You either hold them as impenetrable or as a reminder of your new commitment to grow/prosper because YOU declared it.

Survival vs Commitment Modes

Barriers win when we go into our “survival-mode.” As noted above, this is when we abandon our new way of being in favor of that which is comfortable. In other words, you’ve survived this long doing things that way, maybe the known is better than the unknown. But does that feel right? Probably not. Why? Because deep down, you know this will only get you so far, get you only the results you’ve gotten in the past.

Barriers disintegrate when we go into our “commitment-mode.” This is when we stay true to our transformed values, objectives and goals, no matter what. Honoring our commitment to transform means sticking with it and keeping it moving forward. The barriers are there and your challenge is to figure how to move around them. My mother-in-law has a great expression, “Never add drama to drama.” Hold the barrier at face value, nothing more. Then check-in with yourself by asking how you’d feel by being unreasonable about the barrier and refusing to let it stop you. Each time I do this, I sleep better at night.

Remember that life is a series of experiences where you either go into survival-mode or commitment-mode. However, the more you can do the latter, the less the former will seem as comfortable. When you get to that point, you’ve transformed and are ready to take new challenges head-on!

Good success in your 2020 crusade, it’s worth it!

I’ve Been Listening All Wrong

In all of my coaching, I consistently advise clients to listen first, sell second. But it turns out…I’ve been listening all wrong.

More to the point…I realized I needed to listen as though I’m wrong. What that means is that I don’t have all the answers and the ones I do have could be wrong. I need to wait to get all the information before forming my response. Wow…when that hit me, I realized how much more connected I could become to my clients. What a way to start off the new year!

Giving is Receiving

Have you ever noticed that when you’re speaking with someone, the person starts to talk before you have finished your thought? Or they will say, inadvertently, “Oh, I knew that.” Generally, people do this to demonstrate their participation in the conversation. They also may do this defensively. In either case, it is passive listening in the sense that they really aren’t hearing what you’re saying…they are just waiting for their turn.

To counter this, I’ve decided that I will give my ear (and time) to their fully expressed thoughts. I am committed to listening as completely as I can with the hope that they, in turn, will listen to me. Each day I’ve done this in 2020, I’ve gotten better at understanding a person’s sentiment behind what they’re saying. I get more in tune with them. I illustrate my patience and ability to honor their thought. I’ve also discovered I’m better able to uncover their personal plight or challenge. The mere acts of giving my full attention has allowed me to receive more information, more insight, and more details from which I can create a recommendation.

Slowing the Framing of Responses

Like you I’m sure, it is impossible for me not to frame my rejoinder thought/comment to someone who’s speaking. It’s involuntary. The big difference with my new “always wrong” approach is that I am slowing down the response-framing by over-listening. Essentially, I am listening with no hidden agenda. And the result? I’m amazed at how forthcoming people are. I’ve gotten far deeper into their core issues…and have gotten there faster since we aren’t debating my quickly-formed opinions. My response are more information leading to a better, two-way conversation.

Putting This Transformation into Practice

Many years ago, a great client offered me a large position within his organization. At that time, I was in the planning of going out on my own, so as much as I was honored by his offer, I knew I was destined to run my own business. During our interaction though, he asked me something I’ve never forgotten. He asked, “I’ve seen you train over two hundred of my team this past year and I’m curious, do you do anything wrong?” At that moment I became a deer-in-the-headlights. I didn’t have a clue how to answer him, essentially, I froze.

Noting this, he came back with saying, “You’re delivering the exact training I want, but are you approachable once the program is over?” And that trigged a revelation.

What I had been somewhat blind to is that my training had a bias. I had time for the participants that “got” what I was teaching, but not for others who needed more time/context to get it. The training messages were about me, NOT about what I was offering for people to assimilate and adapt their own lives and careers.

I changed my teaching style from his feedback. I’ve made it my focus to make time for everyone in any training. This change in my behavior inspired a desire to learn more about myself, my humanity and drove a deep desire to help people. That’s why this year I’ve chosen to listen as though I’m wrong, to allow people to fully express their ideas, issues, or frustrations. The value of listening as though you are wrong is to put yourself in a secondary position/mute your desire to fix, allowing the other person to fully express their thoughts, with NO AGENDA to correct them, only to contribute to, hear and acknowledge them, when you have understood their plight.

I feel like a better person from this, excited to see how 2020 unfolds with a new perspective.

Can you listen like you’re wrong? Need some help? Let’s connect and work on it together. 


Is It Time to Evolve?

Change is not Compromise

My invitation to all of you in this New Year is to embrace the fact that behavioral change is NOT compromise; it is transformation. You change to make a larger difference with yourself, your team and your clients. You change to keep pace with a world that is moving at breakneck speed. It’s the courage to evolve. To question who you are now, to become either a better person or a person in harmony with now, not what used-to-be. This is not easy stuff. I realize as I work on myself with my coach to be the best I can be, my commitment is to partner with you to become the executive you wish to be, now.

The philosopher, Jose Ortega y Gasset once said, “Life is fired at us at point-blank range, with no time to think.” This is the part that interests me. These “no time to think” moments offer the opportunity of transformation. To action a new set of behaviors. To experiment and trust you’ll exist/thrive in a new way. Essentially, a new YOU, because it serves YOU now. Knowing/accepting your old-self just doesn’t serve you anymore.

When Is It Time to Change?

The new year gives many people a touchpoint from which they start looking at how to advance their careers and lives. When do you know it’s time to change? One way to know is if you find yourself thinking any (or all!) of these things:

* I want/need to be a better leader
* I’m unsure how to manage up
* I’m wary about how to comport myself with my new team
* I’m not driving the revenue for myself and my firm that I’m capable of
* I’m not seen as the change-maker I used to be
* I know how to transform our business but I’m fearful to start
* I can do more
* I have a voice that makes a difference, but nobody’s listening

To paraphrase Karlfried Graf von Durckheim, “Only to the extent that man exposes himself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible arise within him. In this lies the dignity of daring.” Once you commit yourself to growth, life moves with you. You become Odysseus in Homer’s Odyssey WITH a defined time and place to sail/evolve to. And if you are a client making this commitment, your journey becomes my journey. Your journey is my inspiration and dedication.

It will be an honor to work with you. Let’s let the adventure begin!

What is a Healthy Debate?

One often hears the term “healthy debate” as a reference to two or more sides getting together to hash out an issue that could escalate into argumentative discourse if not dealt with upfront. Some might believe that a debate in business cannot be healthy at all since it pits people against each other. They’d rather have a “discussion.” Let’s take a look at why debating can be good for your business…if handled properly.

Debate in Business

First, let’s clarify that debating in business is different than the debates we’re seeing now with our presidential race. The focus in the latter is winning at all costs. It really is about surviving as the candidate of choice.

The great John Wooden once said:

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

Debate vs Discussion

Debating is not the same as having a discussion. A discussion is when people get together with a common issue that needs addressing and all parties have an open conversation about solving that issue. While some may come to the table with ideas on the subject, everyone is there to arrive at a decision based on the input from all.

In a debate, while the issue at hand may be the same, how it is worked out is different. There are “sides,” individuals or groups who have already determined what they believe to be the best course of action. They arrive to debate their points and convince others of their merits. Sounds like the basis of an argument, right? It should not be. What it really means is that people have put some significant thought into the subject already and have come to the table backed with their research, knowledge and experience to voice their input. I like that! And so should you. It signifies that people have cared enough about the subject to put some strong thinking into it and are prepared to communicate their position strongly.

Tips for a Healthy Debate

However, as their leader, you need to set the playing field of a debate so that it doesn’t escalate to all out war. Below I list 5 tips for debating that should be shared with your team the next time you see teams digging in for a fight:

#1 Have an Agenda

Make sure you have scoped out where the debate should start and where it should end. What is the end result needed from the debate? Usually, it is a decision on how to proceed. Too often teams that debate go off on excessive tangents that cloud their larger issue. Stay vigilant to the larger issue, keep track of time. Make sure a decision is reached at the end.

#2 Ask Questions to Forward the Debate

Rather than shutting an idea down too soon in order to be right, ask questions of the team. This will foster advanced discussions of the point at hand. Asking smart questions credentials you as a forward thinker and establishes you as someone who desires a clear outcome.

#3 Offer Ideas/Recommendations, Don’t Insist on Them

Too often executives insist on their ideas being accepted. Be open to hearing what the other side is saying. Yes, offer your recommendation so that it can be discussed. But then see how it sits with the others and whether it opens up new ideas. Discussion drives acceptance. Colleagues need to vet an idea in order to wrap their arms around it and accept it.

#4 Summarize, Summarize, Summarize!

The more you summarize a point the more you move the debate forward while acknowledging your teammate. Make sure they know you understood their recommendation, even if you are not convinced it is the right way to go.

#5 Present the Next Step in the Process

Never let the debate get away from you. Rather, present the next step that the team needs to take based on your recommendation. They need to “see your math,” meaning that they need to know how you came to your recommendation and why you are suggesting the next step. Even if your idea of the next step is inaccurate, by presenting it the entire team will create the correct one.

Go ahead…debate! But make sure, in the end, both sides feel like they were heard and understood. And, that a strong decision was the result, even if both sides had to give in a little. That’s a healthy debate!

Have you ever lost control of a debate? How did you get it back? Share your experience with a comment. Thanks! -sg

How to Overcome Virtual Environment Challenges

In my last post, I wrote about the communication vacuum created by virtual environments. It featured a client who was making recommendations that didn’t land because he got no prior input from his company’s leadership, most of whom were not located in his office or region. He had not worked to close the distance gap through communication. That’s what we will look at in this post.

Virtual Environments Challenge Our Relevance

Have you ever completed a virtual call/meeting and asked yourself:
“Did we accomplish anything?”
“Was I heard?”
“What will people do next with this issue?”

Communicating in a virtual environment challenges our relevance! All of us want to contribute, all of us want to be affirmed. But doing so solely by electronic means (email, text, calls, etc.), limits how you can directly communicate with your teams and leadership. However, many people see the solution here as more video calls or more frequent trips to the corporate office so that you can stay “top of mind.” While that can help, I believe people should focus less on the methods in which they are communicating and paying far more attention to HOW they are communicating. Are you having meaningful conversations or just surface-level, tactical ones? The former establishes you as a trusted advisor and leader; the latter creates the chance that you will be commoditized…just one of the pack with little relevance.

Research the Key Issues

One assumption my client from my last post made was that he already understood the key issues facing the leadership team. At one point, he may have. But let me ask you…have your priorities and goals ever changed? Of course they have. So, it is imperative that you find out the current “keep me up at night” issues your audience is facing. Do they have new challenges? If they have the same challenges they’ve had before, why is that? What makes them persist? Probing about key issues will be paramount to your being able to make a solid recommendation. And please…do NOT have this conversation via email or text. At a bare minimum, have a phone call. Video chat would be next and then, best of all, a face-to-face. Via the last two, you will be able to assess facial and body language, which will help you really get to the root of the issues.

Empathize but Don’t Agree

Maintaining trust in a virtual environment is difficult, to say the least. If you aren’t having meaningful conversations with your team and leadership, your status will start to erode. Remaining in communication is very important but the communication you have also has to have substance. If you’ve established trust, the person you speak with will reveal deeper issues that will seem very real. You can empathize with the person and acknowledge that they believe these issues to be critical. However, your job is to help them, so it does not help if you accept a “there’s nothing we can do” attitude. There likely is something to be done and you will work to discover what it is. It’s important that you remain calm and confident. Do not lose your cool or your patience. Reach to realize your listener’s struggle but don’t get caught up in the downward spiral. Stay separated enough that you can bring a new perspective.

Communicate with Questions

Virtual environments create communication time gaps. What I mean is that many times, you might realize that you haven’t communicated with a team member or supervisor in many days. And while you may not have a critical issue to discuss, reaching out and asking them a question about the challenges you already know about (see above!), is a good way to open up a communication line. It’s the best way I know to cheat on the test, meaning it gets underneath the core issue driving the person’s behavior with your sincere curiosity. And do it often. It will further establish the trust they have in you, your leadership, and your desire to partner to solve the issues.


In both one’s business and personal life, knowing that someone is thinking about you and is concerned about your issues goes a long way to maintaining a healthy relationship. Check-in with your team often but remember to also do the same with your boss. People want to know that you have their backs. Doing so in a virtual environment is actually far EASIER than before when we didn’t have all the technology to do so. Firing off a quick email or text to ask about how they are progressing with known issues just lets them know you haven’t let the issue go since your last conversation. It is top of mind for you, too, and you are still working on solutions. Your staff will appreciate that you are “going the extra mile” with them while leadership will see you as someone not just concerned about his/her own silo…rather, as a team player willing to help wherever needed. And don’t we ALL want people like that on our team?

Virtual environments do present a lot of challenges, but most of them can be overcome with communication. As we’ve discussed here, though, it’s not just the method and frequency that matters (though they DO matter). It is the substance that matters most. Make sure you are having meaningful conversations with your team and leadership. If you struggle with how to do this, give me a call (ok…you can email if you must!).


Virtual Environments Create a Communication Vacuum

I worked with a client recently who frequently presented his ideas enthusiastically and comprehensively to the C-Suite of his corporation. However, they never took his counsel. He began noticing a pattern of being rebuffed and couldn’t figure out why.

We began forensically discovering that every idea he had was his and his alone. He hadn’t gotten input from anyone. One reason was that the executives were spread throughout the world, creating a virtual environment that made it difficult to connect with them. In a sense, he was creating recommendations in a vacuum.

Don’t get sucked into that trap.

Virtual Communication Challenges

The virtual business world that many of us operate in can create communication challenges. But if your job is to make recommendations that impact your company’s leaders, it’s imperative that you bridge the virtual gap and connect with those who can add real-world insight to your ideas. Otherwise, you are providing counsel in a vacuum and, like my client, that counsel is unlikely to have the intended impact you desire.

Connect with Audience Pain Points

With my client, his recommendations didn’t land because he hadn’t surveyed the executives’ needs and pain points. It was far too much “here’s what I think,” versus setting up his ideas with “here’s what I know.” The former is a vacuum-created opinion, which clearly was not what the executives wanted from him. The latter is fact-based and can open discussions on the real-world situations the company is facing. But, as I always tell my client, you have to LISTEN first, recommend second.

So, we began an experiment where he created active connections with each regional leader with whom he was to collaborate. Through this process, he discovered that many of his recommendations were not accretive enough for the strategic plan of each respective country leader. We therefore concluded that he needed to adapt his methodology to include an increased level of listening/probing to realize the strategic plans of his internal clients WELL before he initiated his ideas.

Listen Without Bias

It was important that he abandon any pre-conceived agenda when having these initial discussions. Otherwise, he would be simply trying to pigeon-hole the situation into his pre-made recommendation…another recipe for failure. This “listening without bias” is critical so that you can really hear what the other person is saying and create probing questions that get to deeper issues.

Over time, we changed his behavior which solved two critical needs. First, he stopped the usurping behavior that was diminishing his reputation, and second, he established a side-by side relationship with each country head who began to seek-out his commercial judgment and collaborative approach. Essentially, he broke down the virtual barriers and created real connections. This new collaborative environment has resulted in reciprocal trust.  With deeper understanding and knowledge, he now knows he can make a difference because his recommendations are based on reality, not just him making it up and hoping he’s right. Strategy backed by information, intelligence and understanding!


Risk Giving Your Opinion

Imagine you are the quarterback of a football team. You drive the team to the goal line…just one yard separates you from a touchdown. But instead of directing the next play, you walk off the field, leaving your team stunned and unsure how to proceed.

That’s what a client of mine has been doing her whole career.  She is smart, does very good work, and people genuinely like her. She leads her team well, until she has to risk providing her opinion to a client. Then, she clams up.

What she doesn’t realize is that her opinions are the difference she brings to the game. Her team and clients want her to take a strong stance in offering her insights.

Your Opinion Is the Difference

Back to our football analogy. Two quarterbacks are playing in the same game. They have the same number of completions for the exact same amount of yardage. But QB1 has three touchdowns while QB2 none. Who is the more valued player? Of course, the one that scored.

Your team is looking to you to get them across the goal line. They want to hear your opinions and have them based on the experience you’ve amassed over your time as a professional. It is your opinion that is the difference you bring to the game. It is yours. You own it. But you have to communicate it.

Take the Risk of Taking a Stand

My client is known for providing her input by saying, “It seems like the problem is…” I imagine her clients have no idea what to do with that. They don’t want to know what something “seems like,” they want to know how it is. A problem presented in such a soft manner only leads to a client next questioning whatever solution is offered. Can you imagine our quarterback saying, “Well, it seems like they are covering our receivers so, perhaps we should run the ball?” Who would have confidence in that strategy?

Clients want you to take risks and offer your opinion. Tell them what the problem is, according to your view of it, and offer a strong solution. They may not agree with you, but far more times than not they will appreciate the chance you took. You took a stand on their behalf and now, you look like you are fully a part of the team and not just watching from the sidelines.

Be Relational and Create Urgency

I often speak about communicating relationally. This means listening first, speaking second. It also means delivering your input based on your audience’s world view, not yours. You have to understand where they are coming from, get in there (I call it “staying in the pain”), and deliver your opinion in a way in which they can relate.

Doing this will help you create urgency. When you pinpoint specific issues they are facing based on the probing you’ve done to get to their pain points, you can then deliver solutions that are on point and are needed now! If you’ve done your homework, listened, probed, and then delivered tailored solutions, you won’t have to ask if they are ready to move forward…they will ask you when you can start!

I worked with this client over several weeks and the results were tremendous. She changed her relationships, creating ones in which her team and her clients realized her value and the difference she was making. So, the next time you are driving your team to the goal, consider that they are all looking for you to get them across it. What will you do to get them there?

How do you deliver your opinions? Are they scoring plays or incompletions? Let me know. – SG


Enjoy People

Many years ago a client of mine offered me a position at his company. During his invitation, he asked, “Are you as approachable from 5pm to 9am as you are from 9am to 5pm?” I remember freezing at his question. I had no idea how to answer him (though I was pretty sure my answer would be “No!”). He explained that the leader he needed was someone who was approachable 24/7. Wow…I wasn’t sure what that even meant.

All the Time?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. My wife and I were entertaining thirty of her clients over a weeklong cruise. While it was not “my” event, it was clear that I was there as part of her team. Honestly, I found it challenging during certain points of the day to remain social. Hey, I’m human. Sometimes, I just want to be alone and read! I can’t be expected to be “on” all the time, right?


Yes…It Matters

After the second reminder/nudge from my wife, I realized the importance of being present with people socially beyond the time I’d normally devote to it. Everyone (including me) wants and needs the affirmation of being connected and considered vital.

I’ve thought a lot about this experience since and concluded that in business, it’s important to establish and nurture relationships even when you don’t want to! Essentially, relationship building is about risking yourself and your image. And it’s worth it. Making this effort honors the person with whom you are connecting. The more you develop the relationship, the more you will be recognized as someone who cares, someone who listens, someone who is genuinely interested. You are far more likely to generate a mutually positive relationship that way. This is one of the secrets to living a healthy life. It is also the pathway to creating a successful/fulfilling business life.

Be in Action

So, what did I do with this newfound commitment to relationship building? I emailed a potential client last week that I’d been angsting over for too long, recommending that we meet. She declined for now but was excited that I’d reached out. You know what? I felt great after receiving her response. Why? Well sure…because it’s now off my plate and I’ve advertised my services to her. But more importantly, I invested some time building our relationship, letting her know that I was thinking about her and her business concerns. The result is that I’m closer to a new client from this action.

So, next time you are avoiding calling a client, not sending an introductory email, or being anti-social at a networking event, do the opposite and remember that you are always “on.” And that’s not a bad thing. Not at all.

Find Your Gift

What is your gift? I bet that’s a question you haven’t asked yourself in a while…or at all. You should have an answer. Most people don’t.

That is not to say that people don’t have a gift. They do; they just haven’t defined it. In business development and sales, I always say that people buy people first, products/services second. That means they are buying your gift…that quality, personality trait, and/or experience that sets you apart from the next person coming through the door.

Let’s take a look at what I mean.

What do I stand for?

Getting to the core of who you are, why you do what you, why you do it for the company you’re doing it for, and why all of that is a benefit for your clients is paramount. That core is what you stand for and defines how you communicate what you do. What are you most proud to announce to the world? Make a list but focus on the “why” rather than the “what.” For example, “I sell widgets.” That’s the what. “I help companies provide better service.” That’s the why. It’s your personal brand promise. Once you know that promise, making it known to your clients will be one key way to set yourself apart from others who have not likely defined it for themselves.

What Makes Me Unique?

Depending on what your company does or sells, there may be dozens if not hundreds of competing companies that will make similar claims about what they offer. So much gets commoditized these days, it’s why a lot of times (too many, in my opinion) decisions are made on price. Therefore, the person presenting the offer becomes much more important. That’s you. But what makes you different than the next person through your client’s door? Why would someone buy you first, then your product or service? If you don’t know, neither will they.

For example, I have a client in the hotel architecture industry. Her “gift” is a deep understanding and knowledge of back-of-the-house operations. What makes her unique is that she creates designs that respect those operations, allowing them to work seamlessly with the front-of-the-house, leading to a more compatible relationship between the two. Her competitors focus on the “sizzle” of the front of the house, virtually ignoring the core operations. We worked to get her to bring her gift to light quickly and often with new clients, giving her an advantage as clients acknowledge her uniqueness.

Why Can’t I Be Imitated?

What makes me un-imitatable? That’s your secret sauce. If there is something about your background, your approach to the business, your work style, your commitment to clients, that makes you who you are, that’s what you need to bring to the forefront with clients. If you worked with me or read past blog posts, you know I speak a lot about a company’s Value Proposition. So, for individuals, it’s important to know what your Personal Value Proposition (PVP) is. Again, it’s the “why” of what you do and that which gets you up in the morning, ready to tackle the day’s challenges. Clients should be able to sense that you fully understand your PVP and that you will use it to provide a higher level of service to them compared to the competitors right outside their door!

Finding your gift can be difficult. It takes some serious effort and perspective. But once you arrive at what it is…that “a-ha!” moment so many speak of, you will find that it will better define your uniqueness and lead to strong client relationships.

First Impression: Don’t Blow It

We all know the saying, “You only get one chance to make a first impression.” A client of mine experienced that first hand when he was recently promoted. One of his first assignments was to meet an industry “mover and shaker.” This meeting could really open doors…and markets…for him if he handled it well. And if he didn’t? Maybe the worst thing could happen….nothing.

Needless to say, he was a little nervous, as all eyes of the C-Suite were on him. He couldn’t blow it. Here are the steps we took together to make sure that didn’t happen.

Prepare Questions Ahead of Time

Many people claim they are “great on their feet” and thrive with a “by the seat of their pants” engagement style. That’s too risky for me and my clients. I want them going into a meeting knowing what they want to learn and asking the right questions to help them make strong recommendations.

I’ve written a lot about creating probing questions ahead of any meeting. This step gets overlooked or bypassed so often it’s shocking! It is why this is where we started when prepping for my client’s meeting. He did his research, learning what he could from the company’s online presence including social media, news reports and the company web site. From there, we gleaned what the company’s unique challenges were. We crafted questions based on that understanding, which is a leap ahead of the “great on their feet” people who will have to ask more basic questions just to get up to speed. Creating these probing questions also allowed my client to start formulating recommendations ahead of time…but not being locked into them in case the answers revealed different opportunities.

Align Critical Capabilities

Back to those “on their feet” people…too often, because they haven’t prepared well, they will present recommendations that include every capability, product, or service their company offers. That approach lacks any tailoring, understanding of key needs, or any perspective that will grab attention. One size does not fit all. My client and I did the opposite, we reviewed all that his company offered and winnowed their capabilities down to those that would directly address the needs that were likely to be most top of my mind for his contact. If you are thinking “but you won’t really know if you’re right until the meeting,” you are correct. But in my experience, people appreciate it when you make a reasoned, intelligent, and strategic recommendation based on doing your homework. If you don’t nail it the first time, that’s OK. You’ve still demonstrated a willingness to take a chance, to make a tailored recommendation, and to become a trusted adviser.

Listen to Earn Their Respect

Throughout each of these steps, it is important to listen. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to listen. Those who are “just winging it” will listen for opportunities for them to speak and sell their service. Imagine if you went to the doctor complaining of chest pain and he immediately recommended heart surgery! You would want him to ask a few more questions and run a few tests before jumping to that, wouldn’t you?

I stressed with my client a different tact. I told him it would be important that he listen with compassion so that he could “stay in the pain” with his contact. He wasn’t looking for opportunities to sell…he was looking for opportunities to learn. Using the probing questions we prepared combined with a compassionate listening attitude, he could go deeper and get his contact to open up more about the challenges he was facing. The more he learned, the more he could make recommendations that would really land, and his contact could see how his challenges would be diminished. In addition, when people feel like they are being heard, there is a higher level of respect they give to the listener and thus, they are more open to hearing recommendations. That’s a win-win!

After planning these steps, my client went into the meeting with far greater confidence than he would have otherwise. The meeting was successful, and he established a solid foundation from which to build this client relationship.

These three steps take time, effort, and practice. But if you keep them in mind as you prepare to make a first impression, you will greatly improve your odds of success and lower the chances of blowing it!