In any conversation there are four phases we need to navigate.

This post is the first in a series of posts that shows you how to navigate any conversation.

First – let’s talk about how to make a great first impression. 

In the opening phase, there are three things we want to accomplish, namely:

  1. Arouse interest
  2. Gain sympathy
  3. Set expectations and agree on goal of the meeting

Let’s look at each element in turn.

The very first thing we want to in any conversation with a customer is to arouse interest.

This means that we need to be able to bring something to the table that is interesting seen from the client’s perspective. 

In reality this can be any number of things, but it requires us to sit down and understand what it is the customer is interested in – what matters to them and their business.

As an added twist, what we need to be very aware of here, is that the easiest way to arouse interest is to be interested. This means that we help ourselves by opening the conversation with a brief remark followed by an open question.

At the risk of coming across as too full of myself, allow me to give you to give you a recent example that worked well, and that you might find valuable;

In the process of selling a six-figure workshop to major client in the advisory business one of the things I opened with in the first meeting was: “We know that a lot of our clients are having trouble differentiating themselves because their markets are becoming increasingly competitive and their offerings are getting more and more commoditized – how do you see that in your business?” 

There are a number of things that I want you to notice here.

First and foremost, the statement that I lead with is universally true across almost all markets, and so there is nothing inherently brilliant or insightful about making that statement. What’s interesting however, is how the client sees that unfolding in their own business, which is information that only they can provide.

Second of all, it gives the client an opportunity to tell me about their issues, struggles and considerations, which in turn gives me plenty of ammunition for the next three phases.

Last but not least, it arouses interest and lets me gain sympathy because I show that I’m interested in what they have to say.

The client’s response gave me all kinds of valuable information, just from this single question, but we’ll get back to that later.

The next element on our list is Gain sympathy. 

What’s important here is that we show that we can be trusted – i.e. that the client has an unwavering ability that I have their best interests at heart. 

Naturally that can only be accomplished by displaying natural curiosity and interest in what’s on the client’s mind. As much as possible we want to put ourselves in the client’s shoes here and understand what’s important to them.

It doesn’t have to take long, but can be accomplished by one or two follow-up questions based on what the client responds to your first question.

In the example above, the client told me that they were indeed finding it hard, and that they increasingly had to compete on price, which was taxing their business and in turn making it difficult to grow organically – which was their ambition.

In response, I leaned forward to show that I was interested and asked “What kind of impact does it have on your business that you are unable to grow organically?”

The client thought for a moment and responded with “Well, if we aren’t able to crack that issue, we might not be here in the long term.” 

Talk about a compelling reason for change. 

Anyway, now that the conversation felt sufficiently open, I felt it was a good time to set expectations and agree on the goal of the meeting. 

So I said: “Mr. Customer, the reason we’re here today is to explore weather or not it makes sense for you and I to do business together. If we agree towards the end of the meeting that it does make sense then I suggest we meet again to explore what a solution might look together. This meeting however is all about exploring your needs and your situation to see if there is value in working together – does that sound like a plan?

There are a number of things I want you to notice here.

The first thing is that the position I take is as a potential partner – not as a service provider. They understand that the approach we’re going to take together is a collaborative one, that is all about them.

Second of all, I’m not going to do business with them at any cost – only if it makes sense. In doing so, I state that my time is valuable, and that I won’t waste their time either.

At this point we’re about five minutes into the first meeting, and so far, the situation is lining up pretty well.

The client agreed to my proposed agenda and goal for the meeting, and we moved swiftly ahead to the Discovery phase. 

Which is the topic of the next post.

Stay tuned. 


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