The first client meeting for an interim executive is the best place to take the first steps in creating a fruitful working relationship. Listen to their needs. Hear their concerns. Begin building trust from the start. With this in mind, SMW Partners eases you into the process.
A First Client Meeting Sells the Interim Executive’s Skill Set
Many people find selling goods or services much easier than selling themselves. According to human nature, many aren’t comfortable in salesmanship mode at all.
One common myth in business is that success is proportional to how well a person sells him- or herself. This is especially true when the relationship involves ongoing person-to-person contact with clients and referral partners. Step back and consider the power of taking yourself out of the equation and using the company name instead of your own. A person named Scott M. Waters might become SMW Interim Executive Services, for example. Or, make it less personal at the start. Try talking about yourself the way you would a friend or a company. How might you talk about the relatable experiences, activities, actions, and outcomes of SMW Interim Executive Services rather than those of Scott M. Waters?
Create Your Interim Executive Narrative
An effective way of engaging a prospect is by telling a relevant story. Try to work this seamlessly into your first client meeting agenda. Think of a successful experience you have had. Explain all of the facets of that experience that also illustrate the competencies and skills that will allow you to excel as an interim executive. Explain the context–what was happening at that time? Describe your team and the results you achieved. Be sure to highlight your team’s winning formula, since often new settings will not yield the same results. It will be a new team in a new context with new challenges. If you are able to emphasize your team mindset, it allows you to avoid appearing to take all the credit. This type of ego-driven formula is rarely a way to win over a new acquaintance or client.
Interim Executive Success: Developing Partnerships
The sales process can be daunting. It does not come naturally to most to maintain high spirits in a working situation that requires so much work for rewards that often seem few and far between. Below are some guidelines for developing your own style and process when setting up your first client meeting agenda.
First, shift your expectations a bit. Think of it less as sales and more as building relationships. A top CEO who hires an interim executive relies on the belief and trust that an incoming manager will be able to back up CV details with performance. Establishing credibility and reliability from the beginning is key to developing a strong working relationship.
Your First Interim Executive Meeting Is a Listening Session, Not an Interview
The first meeting should allow you to read a new client. You can do this by asking questions that show the client how much you value the relationship on a human level. It is easy to shift away from the real issue at hand, so listen carefully for the meaning as well as the content of their answers. Listen for the concerns behind the statements. Answer their questions directly and continue keying in on concerns, as well as how your relationship can be mutually beneficial. When appropriate, tell a relevant story about a past experience that illustrates your problem-solving and teamwork capabilities. Practice these techniques and watch how effectively you begin to make stronger connections and bridge gaps.
As an Interim Executive, Focus on Quality, Not Quantity
It is important to remember that not all leads, not all companies will be right for you. Every company and situation is unique. As much as a company will research you before your first meeting, you should be doing the same due diligence in understanding them. This allows you to set up your first client meeting agenda so that the opening talks take on less of an interview tone and more of an opportunity development focus. The first meeting should be about determining the quality of the lead, rather than simply accumulating yet another prospect.
The Interim Executive Does Due Diligence
When you do due diligence, you are mining for information. Social media, websites, blogs, and Google searches are all helpful in developing a fuller picture of prospective clients. You may discover information that allows you to get into deeper territory in your first meetings, thereby strengthening the connection immediately.
You may also find red flags that will allow you to assess the risk factors of working with certain parties. Imagine the following scenario. As a potential interim manager or consultant, your search leads you to a forum in which employees tend to vent negatively about management in the company you are researching. The company is not aware that such issues exist internally. You now have information that will allow you to assess the prospect of working there. It will allow you to have a clearer outline of your expectations as you enter talks. In any case, due diligence will allow you to frame your priorities as you set your own first client meeting agenda.
The Interim Executive’s First Client Meeting Agenda
Your initial research should focus on details you can find out about the company, the executives, and your first contact person. You should also have a strong grasp of the company’s goals and the industry. If your own network includes anyone in that industry, place a call and find out more about it. After doing your due diligence, setting a clear first client meeting agenda allows you to show your ability to prepare. It allows you confirm information rather than learn it. It is also one effective way of making a strong first impression.
Below is a list of items for your first client meeting agenda:
- Determine if you are the right fit for the client.
- Determine if this is the type of relationship you seek.
- Understand a client’s needs, goals for future accomplishments, and results they expect.
- Obtain as much detail as possible for your Proposal/Statement of Work, deliverables, and timelines.
The fourth goal may take multiple meetings when the client is unaccustomed to these types of conversations or when this is a major move for the company. You may also need to ask follow-up questions if responses are not concrete or clear. Sometimes you may receive contrasting information and will need clarification from multiple parties with whom you have met.
Keep It Focused, Build Trust
Often, the first meeting will be with someone who isn’t qualified to provide you with the information you need. In this case, set your first client meeting agenda so that the conversation is a discovery and planning session for your goals. Your goal isn’t to sell your resume or engage in a Q&A.
To accomplish the four goals above, this first meet should be an active discussion with the potential client doing most of the talking. Listen closely. Share your story where appropriate. Find commonalities between the client’s needs and what you’ve done and can do. Stay attuned to ways of keeping the discussion relevant.
When the client asks questions, avoid getting off topic. Answer the client’s questions instead of forcing issues that may not fit at the moment, though they may become relevant in other ways. An active discussion focused on understanding and planning shows the client a better sense of your abilities. Also, this builds the trust both sides need as they move forward.
In your opening meeting, stay focused on the client’s needs. Begin the problem solving mindset immediately. CEOs appreciate it greatly when executives have done their research beforehand and are able to combine a real interest in the job with a proactive voice for solutions. This turns the tables on the traditional interview situation. Let the CEO talk about the company while you guide the discussion to ideas for forward momentum.
Track the number of initial meetings the company requires. Depending on the company’s size and need, you might schedule separate meetings with many stakeholders. This could be due to busy schedules, or it may be the company’s standard process. Ask yourself whether the first client meeting agenda is focused on scope and information, or whether you have crossed into actually beginning the engagement.