Hooray your marketing efforts have paid off! You have a meeting scheduled with someone who has expressed interest in doing work with you. In this article, I want to share you with practical tips on how to leverage this meeting towards establishing your credibility with your future client while positioning yourself to maximize your contribution AND compensation.
This meeting is far more than a discovery or contracting meeting. It is an opportunity to literally change your client's life. Through the questions you ask and how you help your client go beneath their wants to their greatest needs, you are providing dramatic value. Because your client has a thousand things in their thoughts, their minds, their heart, and what you're going to do is help them get clear; get clear on the issues that are bothering them that they intuitively, instinctively, absolutely want to take action on.
I call this meeting Directional Agreement because this is where you and your future client's get on the same page with regards to the business challenges at hand and the value or outcome your client hopes to gain by virtue of working with you.
The 7 steps to this meeting are this:
The contracting process both starts and ends with your ability to establish trust. At the end of the day, the main thing that you sell to your client is not your methodologies or even your expertise. It is your strategic partnership.
There are several things you can do to establish rapport, trust and credibility. You can…
You do need to understand the issues or challenges that are creating enough discomfort in your client to motivate them to reach out for help. This is their felt need.
To accomplish this step, directly invite the client to express their views of the challenges they are facing. Open ended questions such as: “I understand that there are some challenges in your area. Tell me more about it.” Or “What’s working or not?” This is really all that is needed to get the conversation going.
Your goal is to get enough information in order to be able to explain the situation at hand from your client’s point of view. At this stage, there is no judgment, no side taking and no assessment or solution. Your job is to merely be able to describe what is bothering your client from their point of view.
Extending understanding is like when you giving a receipt. Being heard and understood is a universal and deeply felt human desire. When you are able to do this well, your client will start to see you as a good listener and feel that you are on their side.
The key skill that you are bringing to bear in this moment is framing and empathy. Framing is when you are able to sort and organize the variety of data points that the client has shared into logical categories. Empathy is not about agreeing but demonstration of understanding of what a client might feel with regards to what they are faced with.
This is one of the hardest things for all consultants and internal business partners to master. It's how do you transition the conversation from talking about methodology to business performance gaps. Your ability to reframe the issues as business performance gaps is the number one thing that you need to do in order to start positioning your work against the strategic consulting work versus the one off tactical solution. So you need to be able transition the conversation such as, "I understand want a customer service training. But let's talk about customer service. What's going on in the business? How are the customers behaving? What's your satisfaction level?" And you start talking about the business issues.
Steps 4 and 5 go hand in hand. Once you have clarity on the parameters of business performance gaps you also want to know how big the gap is and what the measures that would be used to evaluate if gaps have been bridged. For example, it is one thing to know your client has a customer service gap. It is quite another when you have the clarity that they want to increase their customer satisfaction scores from a 5-6 to a 9 plus rating.
Once you know the size of the gap, you are then positioned to probe for better understanding of the expected return on investment for bridging the performance gaps. Any time an organization embarks on a continuous improvement initiative, there are costs involved and it is your job to help them quantify and qualify the benefits in three primary categories – cost containment, revenue and other intangible benefits. The questions you might ask include:
Bridging the performance gaps is the client’s responsibility. If the problem is solved for or avoided, they are the ones accountable for those results. In step 6 it is your job to uncover why they want to bring in a consultant vs. doing the work on their own. There are many reasons that a client may seek the help of a consultant. They may be looking for an independent perspective. They also may not have the expertise in house. Or they may simply not have enough manpower to address the challenges. Or a combination of all the above. When you uncover why they are bringing you in, you can then identify the return that they expect to get by virtue of your partnership. If they do not have the expertise in house – they more than likely are looking for a smarter approach to the work that avoids false starts and wasted efforts. If they lack manpower in house – they are looking to you to expand their capacity. The more you understand the role they want you to play, the better you will be able to:
You will know you have directional agreement when you and your client are on the same page with regards to the business performance gaps, the return on investment for closing the business performance gaps, the reasons for partnering with you and the expected return on investment.
To test for consensus, you simply summarize verbally or in writing what you heard and what was discussed.
So those are the what’s and the how’s of how you get that initial conversation going, and literally this is the most significant conversation you will ever have with a client that's going to position you to deliver maximum results and create a powerful client relationship.
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