How to Have a Great First Meeting

By Heather Baldwin

If the old saying about a first impression being a lasting impression is true then the most important meeting with prospects is the first one. What you do and say in that initial meeting either leaves prospects envisioning themselves doing business with you and interested in meeting with you again or you with more prospects who won’t return your calls. As another old saying goes, you only get one chance to make a first impression. No pressure right? That’s right, as long as you follow these eight tips from Robert Bly, an independent copywriter, consultant (www.bly.com) and author of Magnetic Selling (AMACOM, 2006).

1. Silence is golden. Nervousness or excitement can make any sales rep babble. Instead, sit back, ask one or two short questions, look friendly and expectant and let prospects tell you all about their problems. When you want to speak, force yourself to speak slowly and briefly.

2. Behave as if you already have the job. Sidestep the whole audition mode by leaving your sample case and PowerPoint presentation in the car. Bring only a pen and pad of paper. Start with questions about what prospects need; go home with an assignment.

3. Once you’ve heard their needs, you’ll know what to tell them about yourself. Mention only the bits that will identify you as the person they want. Find low-key ways to work them into the discussion. “Don’t include your whole work history; use only the things that relate to prospects’ business or problems,” cautions Bly.

4. Don’t show and tell unless you’re asked. In other words, don’t show your samples, resumes, job photos or brochures unless prospects ask for them. Remember, you want to be out of the job-applicant mode and in the consultant-on-the-job mode as fast as possible.

5. Project success. Prospects only want to associate with success so make sure you come across as a success. Don’t tell your sad stories; stress only the positive.

6. Don’t drop names. Name dropping tends to turn off or bore prospects. Besides, you run the risk of dropping the name of someone they despise. You also risk making prospects fear that you will betray their confidence if they hire you. So instead of stating that you recently did a big job for Pepsi Cola,, say:, I recently helped one of my large customers deal with a problem similar to yours, suggests Bly. The fact that you’re discreet when discussing other customers’ problems will impress prospects.

7. Develop ways to end the meeting profitably. In other words, ask for the order, schedule a follow-on meeting or propose definite next steps. If it’s a meeting for a major project, try mentioning a smaller part of the project and ask to do it independently. Say to the prospect: Why not let me do that for you right now? Then you’ll have that taken care of and you can see firsthand how I work.

8. Don’t hang around. You’re an enthusiastic, friendly consultant who’d love to do business with the prospect. Because you’re so capable you’re also busy, so don’t hang around. Hanging around gives the impression that your time, which you’re tying to sell to the prospect for a hefty price, is not valuable.