The common notions around what it takes to “make a good impression” tend to circle around outward appearances and gestures: wear a neat outfit, hold a confident posture and make eye contact. But we are of the opinion that there are deeper and more meaningful ways to make a good impression. And if you nail them, maybe you can even get away with forgetting to comb your hair (maybe!).
Clients — both potential leads and existing clients — want to know
1) that you care,
2) that you’re detail-oriented,
3) that you’re reliable.
It’s actually quite easy to demonstrate all of these things in a concrete way, and that’s how you make a great impression, get returning business, and land big deals. Here’s how you do it:
Win the race before you hit the track
No one should feel pressured into always being at the top of their game. But while we can often show our vulnerable, sleepy selves to our colleagues, in front of clients we all want to put our best foot forward.
Fortunately, there’s a way to appear 100% even on the days it seems the world is collapsing above your head. Behold: the magic of an agenda. Putting together a carefully thought-out agenda prior to the meeting will pay off in so many ways:
- The agenda establishes a clear structure for you to lean on at all times. There’s no such thing as fumbling, simply move through the agenda points.
- Sharing the agenda with the client beforehand (if relevant/appropriate) not only shows the great amount of care you’re putting into the meeting, but also lets the client add extra talking points, which in return allows you to be ready with answers.
- Some of our users even use the agenda as a meeting facilitation tool. They cast it to the screen and take notes in real-time. This minimizes note-taking and confusion on all sides and lets you focus on what’s most important.
A good rule of thumb for impressing clients: put as much effort in the preparation for a meeting as you would in summarizing it afterwards in your thank you email or follow-up proposal. For extra help, try our meeting agenda template:
Show, don’t tell
Being reliable means simply that you will do what you said you would do. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to stand by the promises you made at your client meeting. But what were the promises?
Noting discussion points and highlights is fine, but the crucial focus of your note-taking should be tasks and responsibilities. Not having clear notes about these is tempting fate: never underestimate the thieves of short-term memory and project fatigue. Be particular about writing down what was agreed, who is responsible for what, and — critically — follow up! For long-term clients, checking in on a regular basis with these details can mean the difference between winning new contracts and losing them.
But it shouldn’t take you too much time to do this. The key is to make it simple for yourself, and by making it simple, you can also make it consistent. Cloud-based software like RunYourMeeting can help you get this process on near auto-pilot. Making your commitments so robust and transparent will show your client the level of your ambition.
Know where they’re coming from
Client meetings can sometimes be awkward — this simply comes with the territory of interacting with someone we don’t know well. The potential for weird pauses and miscomprehension escalates dramatically when the client is from another country.
But it doesn’t have to be like this, you don’t have to walk into a meeting blind. It’s actually within your capacity to predict how another party will think, act and behave in a meeting.
In 1996, Richard D. Lewis wrote a book on managing across cultures, called “When Cultures Collide”. Recently, Business Insider published a series of diagrams from the book that visualize negotiation patterns in different cultures. These diagrams give a stunning insight into how conversation develops and decisions are reached in any given cultural context. (See your country? Let us know in the comments if it’s accurate!)
Americans prefer straightforwardness — is the deal a go or no-go? The Brits would rather have a good deal of pleasant chat, not offend anyone, and leave the decision to the next meeting. And so on and so forth.
These might well be generalizations, but there’s certainly no harm in being prepared for minimal small talk in your meetings with German clients, knowing that Chinese business partners will most likely make decisions behind closed doors afterwards, and that the Finns would love for the meeting to end as soon as possible ;)
Having a look at these charts is a good place to start, and there’s always more reading you can do if you’re looking to make a truly great impression. Do a Google search of “________[insert country] business etiquette.” Learn in advance how they handle business card exchanges, see what the handshake situation is, memorize their words for “hello” and “good” (this will take you far), and try to get a general sense of what’s valued and what’s frowned upon. Being culturally astute will go a long way in making sure you’re perceived as an astute business person as well.
Client meetings can certainly be nerve-wrecking, but setting up a clear structure for the meeting, keeping yourself accountable for the things promised and knowing where your client is coming from (quite literally) constitute the three simple, yet effective steps for strengthening those relationships and making great lasting impressions.