There’s a lot at stake in that first client meeting.
It can determine whether or not you and that client do business together.
As an independent professional, you need to show you’re capable, responsible and easy to work with.
So, how do you make sure you leave a positive impression?
In this article, author and entrepreneur, Anne Beall shares her top tips for identifying nonverbal cues and managing your body language when meeting a client for the first time.
Anne offers advice on how to:
- Make first contact
- Secure a meeting
- Demonstrate interest
- Practice active listening
- Focus on voice – yours and theirs
- Sit comfortably together
- Follow up after your meeting
Contacting someone for the first time
When contacting someone you’ve never met before, you have to answer their “what’s in it for me?” as early as possible.
But it’s important not to make it sound like a sales pitch.
You see, nearly everyone is put off by being sold to.
Instead, frame your offering around a problem that the person you’re contacting might need to solve.
For example, with sales calls, it’s a good idea to say something along the lines of “I'm going to share something that I think would be useful to your business. And I’d be happy to come by your office and share the information with you in person if you have time.”
Offering to share something that could benefit them in person is often more effective than trying to ask for a meeting, as the latter suggests you want to pitch.
Arranging a meeting
Picture the scene. You’re home from an exhausting-but-productive networking event.
You unpack a pile of fresh business cards, free merch, and open your browser to a stream of LinkedIn connection requests.
No time like the present to follow up with the new contacts you made, right?
Well, not always.
One of the pitfalls many people face is not planning a compelling follow-up message after meeting someone for the first time – this is arguably the most critical communication you’ll share.
Ultimately, what you write in that message will determine whether or not the person who receives it wants to meet you again.
Ask yourself—what do you hope to get out of following up?
- A face-to-face client meeting
- More information about the person’s needs
- An introduction to a decision-maker in their company
Next, provide the person you’re writing to with some information that could help them in their work or business.
The problem with an email or LinkedIn message is that they’re the least emotionally expressive ways to start a conversation.
And it's very easy for people to stereotype and dismiss you when they’re skim-reading your message.
So, it’s essential to show upfront that you can provide the person with something they may find useful. You can even offer to go over it in more detail in person if they’re interested.
This approach is an effective way to get in front of people and connect.
Show interest in the other person
The seemingly innocuous chitchat you make with someone outside of the business conversation has a significant effect on how they will feel about you afterward.
Sharing an experience, even if it’s as simple as attending the same school or working for companies in the same sector, can provide common ground to put both of you at ease.
For example, if you’ve already connected on LinkedIn, you could try “I see we attended the same college, how did you enjoy your time there?”
Because the person has made that information public on their profile, it won’t feel like you’re prying and shows you’ve taken the time to find out a little bit about them.
But if you don’t have any other information to go off, it could even be as simple as a throwaway question about their drive over or how their week is going so far.
Embrace small talk
There’s a massive value in connecting emotionally. After all, conversation is the lifeblood of communication. And diving into business straight away can come across as pushy and impersonal to many people. And in some cultures, it’s considered just plain rude.
Taking time to build rapport in the first moments of a meeting can pay big dividends later. If the person you’re speaking to seems shy, you could suggest each of you offer a brief introduction to who you are and what you do. This shouldn’t be a pitch. The idea is to break the ice.
Invite the other person to tell you about their business. It’s beneficial to let the other person describe their business first for two reasons.
- It shows you're engaged and interested
- It allows you to identify their pain points and adapt to their needs
Practice active listening
When you practice active listening, you fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what’s being said. This is the opposite of passive listening, where you just hear what’s being said while waiting to speak.
- Face the other person and maintain regular eye contact.
- Don’t plan what to say next; this makes it hard to concentrate on what the other person is saying.
- Nod your head, smile and respond with “yes” and “uh-huh,” to show that you’re listening and encourage the speaker to continue.
- Don’t fidget; look at your watch or play with your hair or fingernails.
- Asks questions relating to what the other person is telling you. Show the person you are actively taking in what is being said.
- Don’t interrupt. Wait until the person you’re speaking to breaks their stream of thought before asking them a question.
Focus on voice – yours and theirs
Your voice reveals a lot about how you’re feeling. And it can tell you a lot about the emotions of the person you’re speaking to.
We’re pretty good at telling whether someone is happy, sad, angry or worried by their voice.
Understanding stress or discomfort is particularly useful to follow. If the voice goes up in pitch or the person pauses a lot, it might suggest certain aspects of their business are difficult to talk about or are causing them stress.
Knowing how to listen out for a client’s pain points in their business offers an opportunity to tailor your services as a remedy to their issues.
Are you sitting comfortably?
Relative orientation is the degree to which people face one another when talking. It generally indicates the extent to which someone is interested in and focused on the other person. Proximity is the measure of closeness between two people.
For example, sitting opposite is called parallel orientation. People tend to sit opposite each other when they’re talking. But, it can also be a common orientation during nerve-wracking situations like job interviews, first-time client meetings or between two unfamiliar people at different job levels in an organization.
And it’s worth noting that we tend to sit nearer people we like and are interested in listening to. Subconsciously, most people understand this. So where you sit speaks volumes about the person you’re meeting.
As people become less interested in and less focused on another person, they tend to angle their bodies away. An effective way to decode orientation is to observe where a person's feet are placed. Often people will point their feet in the direction they truly want to go.
Define next steps
Assuming your client meeting has gone well, you want to set expectations about how to proceed.
Let the client know when and how you’ll contact them next, and the information you plan to share. In doing so, you’re letting them know what they can expect from you and that you respect their time.
When sharing your contact details, practice good business card etiquette. For example, always ask someone if you can give them your card first.
And don’t jump the gun. In most Western cultures, it’s customary to wait till you’re finishing up the conversation before asking to share your card.
Follow up after your client meeting
It goes without saying that you should always follow up within the timeframe you agreed to at the end of your meeting.
And if you promised to share some additional information, now’s a great time to send that along.
Then mention something along the lines of “By the way, I've got some availability in the next two months, let me know if you need any support.”
However, if you don’t hear back, it’s safe to say the person is too busy right now.
You can always get back in touch in two to three months with some information they may find useful and a renewed invitation to talk about how you could potentially help them solve the problem they were facing the last time you spoke.
Just remembering that issue will show consideration.
Bonus tip: practice reading nonverbal communication the fun way
A great way to improve reading nonverbal communication is to watch movies you haven’t seen before with the sound turned off or muted. Because we rely so heavily on listening to the words, this approach forces you to observe the nonverbal behavior.
Try to work out how people think and feel about each other and what type of relationship they’re having. Then go back and watch the portion that you observed with the volume turned up.
See how much you were able to deduce just by observing their nonverbal behavior. By practicing regularly, you’ll get better and better at reading people.
About the author
Anne E. Beall is the founder and CEO of Beall Research, Inc., a strategic market research firm in Chicago. She writes about gender, nonverbal communication, market research, how animals and people help one another, and most recently, about the hidden messages in fairy tales. Anne received her MS, MPhil, and Ph.D. degrees in social psychology from Yale University.
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