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How to get a first meeting

Let’s face facts, sometimes you just need work now.

So if you’re struggling to get out from behind your desk and meet potential clients, here’s my guide to doing it the right way.

1. Be direct

I’m all for certain forms of marketing that burn slowly and build deep engagement, such as building your personal brand, spreading your influence through thought leadership and forging ongoing relationships. After all, mastering these will ultimately make your sales process much more efficient and mean you start converting way more prospects.

But if you want work immediately you’re going to have to be a whole lot more direct.

So here’s a novel idea… if you really want work from someone, tell them.

After all, how will anyone know that you’re interested in working for them if you don’t let them know?

You’re probably thinking: ‘that’s easier said and done’. But I don’t think it necessarily should be. Especially if you...

2. Look for a trigger

If you want to start a conversation that will lead somewhere, remember this: clients only buy from professional services providers when there’s a trigger to do so.

So the first thing you need to do is to find someone with a trigger to engage your services.

To help with this, look back at your clients over the past 12 months and figure out what their triggers were. Why did they engage you? And, more importantly, what information or insights did working for them give you that you can share with potential clients.

For instance, did the regulations change? Was there an ownership change or succession issues? Or perhaps there were new competitors in a market. Whatever the triggers were, use them to prioritise your action.  

Here’s one example of a trigger in action:  I asked the project manager of a large listed property group why he chose a particular law firm to act for him on a significant dispute. He said that was easy.

He’d received an update from a lawyer he’d never met, working with a law firm he had never heard of. But the content was bang on the money and the timing was spot on.  And because he was facing an almost identical issue, he picked up the phone and called that lawyer instead of his incumbent.

3. Ask what’s in it for them?

Clients generally aren’t looking for reciprocal love (at least not at first). They’re more interested in what you can give to them.

So before you ‘reach out’ to anyone, make sure you know what benefit they’ll get from giving up their time to listen to you.  

Put yourself in their shoes, practice imagining what the other side is thinking, and tailor an approach that suits that person.

The good thing about taking this direct approach is that it will force you to think long about your proposition. And if you’re having trouble articulating any benefit it tells you it’s time to hit pause on direct calls while you go back to the board and thrash out your pitch.   

4. Visualise your perfect match

Next, ask yourself – what attracts you to working for a particular client?  

Perhaps it’s their size or business structure. Perhaps it’s their culture or corporate governance. Perhaps it’s the industry they operate in or the constraints or regulations they need to work with. Perhaps it’s even because of the other professional suppliers they use?  

Whatever it is that makes your perfect match, make sure you let any potential client know exactly why they need you.

And make sure you put this into your first email to them.

Now, instead of saying “I’m a Partner in the Corporate Advisory practice of ABC firm and we work on blah, blah and blah (list areas)”, you can personalise your introduction to:

“I enjoy working with start-up businesses in the retail sector. I’ve helped brands such as (name two) get a foothold in their market, access available grants, and position their brand for growth. And I’d like to meet with you.”  

And make sure you tell them that you only need 30 minutes of their precious time.

5. Once they’ve agree to meet

First meetings can be awkward, especially if you’re not a natural conversationalist. So a lot of my clients use a ‘first client meeting plan’ to help them prepare before they go into a new meeting and to make sure they get what they want out of the meeting.

You don't need to labour on these for hours but you will need a few solid tactics to build rapport, ask some good questions, use active listening skills, and position yourself for follow up. (If you’d like an example of a meeting plan just email me).

But be prepared to share an idea, solve a problem and give information (including the way you charge).

6. Follow through

Finish your meeting by agreeing on how you’ll follow up and then ask permission to stay in touch.  

Don't offer to write a proposal or capability statement (you’ve moved past that now). Instead, ask them what they’d like from you. Perhaps they’d like to be included in your next update on an area you’ve just discussed or the profile of the team you work with or an example of your fees structure. Or maybe you can demonstrate your business savvy by connecting them with someone else in your network who would good for their business.

Whatever it is, make sure it’s something that actually will benefit them.

And that also gives you the perfect opportunity to keep in touch.

The proof of the pudding...

If you’re still hesitant about taking this approach, consider this:

I recently attended a panel session of General Counsel, in which every GC  said they’d meet an ‘unknown’ firm if they were familiar with their issues or had relevant expertise in their sector.  

Most said they’d prefer an email at first outlining the practice and how they could help with a particular issue.

Every single GC in the panel said they’d accept a coffee meeting if the firm gave them an idea on how to solve a business problem. And most said they’d also talk professionals who had an innovative approach to fees if they also demonstrated relevant expertise.

So if you wondering how to be direct without feeling like a white shoe salesman then put together something interesting that shows exactly how you’ve helped a client in a similar situation.

Want more?

If you’d like more information on practical ways to win more work and build a successful practice, I’m hosting a Practice Reboot seminar with renowned legal industry expert Joel Barolsky. The seminar will be full of useful information and advice you can start implementing straight away.

We’ll be in Melbourne on 15 March and Sydney on 16 March. Places are limited, so book now.