It’s a make or break meeting with a key customer - and you could blow it in a moment by being over-familiar, argumentative or unintentionally rude. Follow our light-hearted tips to avoid committing one of the cardinal sins of client meetings
1. “Rough night last night?”
Slapping your client on the back and proclaiming loudly to any woman in earshot that they should “watch out for this one” is no guarantee of future business. “Pardon my French" won’t excuse your profanity, and “Rough night last night?” is a question laced with risk. Cosy informality is always risky, and even more so when dealing with a new contact.
Lesson: Get to know who you’re dealing with before you start telling anecdotes that have the potential to offend.
2. “You couldn’t do us a coffee, could you mate?”
There he sits, some guy quietly making the odd note. But you’re talking to the organ grinder, not this monkey - right? Just your luck when the spotty, dishevelled kid with the iffy hairstyle turns out to be the new superstar marketing guru or the proprietor’s son. And you’ve just completely blanked him.
Lesson: Engage with everyone in the room. They wouldn't be there if they didn't have a role to play.
3. “The t-shirt, my lord? Why, it’s from their Anarchy in the UK tour.”
Wearing a t-shirt with a slogan to a crucial finance meeting with a client is still frowned upon. However, these days you may also need to consider the impact of wearing a suit when your client is used to less formal dress. Is “corporate clone” the impression you want to give off? Could a suit be a psychological barrier to good communication?
Lesson: Formal or informal, researching your client’s office culture can help you avoid unnecessary discomfort.
4. "How could we help you? Well, how do you think we could help?”
Answering questions with questions might prise some valuable information out of your client, but the tactic should be used sparingly. Possible response: “How could you help? Wait, it’s just come to me! We'll take ten thousand widgets, please.” Probable response: “If we need to work it out ourselves, we probably don't need you, do we?”
Lesson: Well, what do you think the lesson is?
5. “Those guys - what a bunch of losers!”
Don’t roll your eyes, grin conspiratorially and refer to your client’s competition as "rip-off merchants" or worse. “Me and you, we're on the same page, right?” Well, not necessarily, and if word gets out that you're badmouthing everyone else to secure this one client, you’re risking your reputation.
Lesson: Your client’s competitors aren’t mutual enemies, they’re just new clients you’ve yet to meet.
6. “Can I put this meeting on hold? I must re-tweet this message.”
These days, switching your mobile off is critical. The merest acknowledgement of emails, texts, tweets or messages of any kind is a major faux pas. What’s your client supposed to think if you're constantly looking down at your phone?
Lesson: Focus on this client, not the next. If you’re contacting people in meetings, you’re probably setting up a meeting to replace the meetings at which your now former clients have caught you setting up meetings.
7. “Oops, sorry about that - I think there’s a crumb on your lapel.”
Smelling of breakfast, lunch or last night's dinner is bad, and any whiff of alcohol is worse. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets, behind your head or anywhere on the client. Don’t yawn, and keep your feet away from the desk. Finally, accept the offer of a tea or coffee - but not biscuits. You’ll almost certainly end up speaking with your mouth full while spraying crumbs all over your desk/clothes/client.
Lesson: Body language can involve smell and touch as well as sight.
8. “You’re ****, and you know you are.”
You’ve identified your client’s football team. Fine, if this leads to a quick diversion on ticket prices and those halcyon days on the terraces - but arguing that last night’s ref was a clown for giving your client’s side a dodgy penalty, or that their striker clearly dived, is unlikely to grease the wheels of commerce.
Lesson: Sporting allegiances are personal. Don’t get pigeonholed as a fan of the opposition; your client may do future business with a member of his or her own tribe.