Treat the first meeting like a first date!

Let me start by saying that none of my friends ever took dating advice from me! So while I certainly can’t be considered a modern oracle on the art of dating, by going back in the depths of my mind I can just about remember some of the golden rules. And the funny thing is, many of these rules apply to that all-important first meeting with a prospective client which is central to one of the most common challenges that financial brokers ask me for help with; turning more prospects into clients.

So going back 20 years to when this innocent twenty something year old was doing his best to even get a first date, what were the important things to remember and how are they relevant to the first meeting of a financial broker with his / her client today?

Be Prepared

Starting with the old Scouting rule, this was always very important. Having a plan and trying to stick to it. Thinking ahead and trying to work out what were the most important buttons to press to ensure that the date went well and would potentially turn into something more…

Equally with the first meeting with a prospective client, you need to have a plan. This will normally be an agenda or a finely tuned process that you use at these meetings. And in relation to the buttons that you press, you’ve got to recognise the main challenges that you face in this first meeting. The potential client is internally asking the questions;

  • Is this broker the right person for me?
  • Do I trust him/her?
  • Is he/she going to add value to me, and address what I think my issues are?
  • Do I think he/she is being open with me, do I understand what I’m getting into here?
  • What does this office say about the broker?

They are not thinking about products – so nor should you at this stage. You’ve got to mentally tick off the above listed questions to ease your client into a relationship with you. So don’t start with a barrage or personal questions (the factfind) – this never worked on a first date either…

Be interested

I found out to my cost (more than) once that a sure-fire way of destroying any potential interest that my date had in me was to spend the first hour wittering nervously on and on about myself. Instead there was more to be gained from letting her do the talking, and as a result learning about her values, her interests and her expectations.

Back to the business meeting the same is true. You don’t really know at this stage (you might think you do) why the potential client is in front of you. So now is the time for gentle but strong open-ended questioning. You want to find out what the client wants, what their values are and their expectations of a business relationship with you. Indeed this helps you decide whether they are potentially a client for you. Letting people talk about themselves will help to put them at their ease, once you don’t probe too deeply at this stage.

Win some trust

Back on the dating scene, this started by putting the lucky lady at ease in my company and convincing her that I wasn’t an axe murderer, or that I was going to leave her with the bill at the end of the night – I had to win some trust.

So in the business meeting the same applies. You need to convince the client firstly that you can be trusted, that you are in the business of making them money and not losing them money, that you are indeed someone that they would like to work with and have a follow-up meeting.

To me, a short visual presentation of how you advise clients is at the core of this. Demonstrating a robust advice process builds trust, gives an understanding of what you do and how you do it, and helps the client recognise why you are the right person to manage their affairs. And still products don’t come into it yet – that’s because the client just expects you to be fully knowledgeable in that area and product knowledge will rarely be a means of differentiating yourself from your peers.

If you want to use any support material to strengthen your case, show some real testimonials and case studies of innovative advice solutions you used in the past.

Remember, your aim at this stage is to build rapport with the client, rather than problem solving. You are trying to demonstrate your capability as an adviser and your suitability as the right broker for the client.

Then demonstrate that you are the only person in town for them

On the date, the wine was now hopefully starting to flow.  Then it was time to show that I was actually quite a likeable and interesting guy, before eventually convincing her that I was definitely worth seeing again! This usually entailed being willing to discuss & confront some tricky issues… Openness in this regard always helped.

This comes through in the first meeting with a client. Once that initial trust is won, don’t lose it by skirting around some big issues. For example if the client raises this the question of how you are paid. Be crystal clear and open, discussing with clients at this first meeting the value that you will be bringing and how your remuneration will be based on this.

Get the location right

The choice of restaurant was always crucial. However if my house was going to feature at all at this early stage, it was very important that it was at least clean!

The same applies to your office as this will help form that first impression. Will the client think that this is a really professional outfit that they’ll happily trust their affairs to, or does it all look a bit all over the place? They will perceive the environment as a reflection of how you manage your clients’ affairs.

What about afterwards?

So the first date has all gone swimmingly. Now it’s important that you get the follow-up right. Not too pushy but at the same time you want to move things along a notch. Well the same applies to your business meeting. Hopefully you’ve got off on the right foot so now it’s time to follow through with the professional approach you outlined at the first meeting.

Trust me, I failed more than once at the dating game! However I hope that some of my lessons bitterly learned will help you in your first meeting with your clients.

If you’ve any thoughts on what’s important at the first client meeting (I’m not looking for dating tips!), please leave your comments below.