Client relationships can make or break a business—and a career. If you work with clients already, you know that establishing mutual respect and a good working relationship should be your number one priority. And if you are just starting out with clients, you’ll learn this very quickly.
The first meeting with a new client? Well, that’s the first thing that can make or break the relationship.
Whether you’ve just been assigned to an existing project or you’re getting down to business with a newly closed client, it’s important to impress from day one. After years in the PR world, here are five things I always keep in mind.
1. Do Your Research Beforehand
Just like you would go into an interview with a solid understanding of the company, you should go into your first client meeting with at least some baseline knowledge about your client and his or her business. Obviously you can’t know everything—and the client should understand that you are just jumping in—but the more you’re able to showcase your knowledge of the industry and business, the better.
Start by knowing how to pronounce the company and client names, and even top competitors just in case. Have an understanding of your client’s stance in the industry and any successes and struggles the company has faced. You can often find this out by doing some research online ahead of time. Google your client contact, the company, and the industry—and be sure to check out the news section for any trends. Articles can reveal so much about a company, including its stance in an industry.
If this client has worked with others in your company before (or has worked with other people in your network), learn what you can from them. Is there anything especially unique about this client? Does he or she have any likes or dislikes that your colleagues have picked up on? Any tips for working better together? These nuances don’t have to be obvious; they can also be the smallest, most ridiculous things. For example, one of my clients doesn’t like contractions (or should I say, does not like contractions). It’s a tiny pet peeve, but knowing this helps me avoid annoying someone right away.
Finally, it’s worth doing a little research to learn seemingly unimportant details about the person you’ll be meeting with. Did you go to the same university? Have similar hobbies? It may not be related to your work together at all, but weaving these tidbits into the initial conversation can build a great rapport.
2. Be Upfront About Your Experience and Capabilities
A client’s main concerns will be your skills and knowledge—are you the right one to help with this work? Most likely, you will be presented with an opportunity to introduce yourself and give a little background, and this is a chance to address these experiences up front. Remember: You were chosen to work with this client for a reason, so don’t be afraid to show off what you’ve got.
Not sure what to say during your intro? After stating your name, this template is a good place to start:
Great to meet you! For your background, I’ve worked in [role] for more than [number] years and have worked with around [number] companies. I’m excited to be working in the [industry type] industry again—I actually worked with a [example of company] at a previous agency.
This doesn’t need to be longer than a couple sentences—you don’t want to seem like you’re trying too hard—and be sure to round it out with a reason why you’re excited to be working with together.
3. Listen and Adapt
Once you’ve had a chance to introduce yourself, sit back and listen. Even in the first conversation, you should be picking up on what matters most to the client and what he or she wants your role to be. Should your meetings be focused on work and the task at hand or more about getting to know one another? Should you be asking questions to prompt more conversation or reigning in a conversation that loses focus? Should you interject recommendations throughout the meeting or listen entirely before coming back with your thoughts?
Be prepared to adapt no matter what the case is. Mirroring your client’s sentiment and body language will help with your first impression, while noting and adapting to these will help in all of your future interactions.
4. Ask Questions and Take Notes
Everyone loves to feel like an expert and be sought out for expertise. Based on your prior research, ask relevant questions about the client and his or her business. This relationship is new, and now is the best time to gather as much information as possible. Your questions shouldn’t be so basic that a little research would have already addressed them (e.g., “What is your company’s main service?”) and should focus more on overarching trends, like the direction of the business or industry. Try questions like: What are your company’s biggest challenges? What trends are seeing in this industry? And, of course, make sure you’re taking thorough notes.
Also, if your client is looking for a more personal relationship, feel free to also ask questions about family life or outside interests. Once again, take notes. Knowing about a client’s upcoming holiday plans, family, or even preference between tea and coffee could be of use in the future.
5. Follow Up Quickly
A quick email after your introduction will provide the client with your contact information, give you the opportunity to reinforce your eagerness to be working together, and allow you to reiterate any action items that came out of your meeting. This can be a very brief note.
Thank you for the warm welcome earlier this week!
I’m excited to be working with you and the [Company Name] team. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. You can find my contact information below.
You will be hearing from me shortly to set up our first status meeting.
If possible, now is a good time to make your role clear to the client. If you’re the point person from now on, mention that in your email so that there is no confusion moving forward.
With a great first impression, your relationship with the client will be off to a running start. You can look forward to establishing a good working relationship and diving into the good stuff—the work.