making a first impression

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!