When you enter a buyer’s office for the first time, here are some useful behaviors to discipline yourself to follow. They’ll help you understand the person, the environment, and your own actions, as well as calm you down if needed.
1. Look around.
What is the office like? Large or small? Is there comfortable seating or merely a desk and chairs? Are there mementoes, photos, and awards, or is the place institutional and sterile? Is it neat or does it look like the aftermath of a shipwreck? This will tell you a lot about the person with whom you’re meeting (assuming it’s the buyer’s personal office!).
2. Shake hands firmly and smile.
Press the hand you’re offered with equal pressure back, whether male or female. Smile when you repeat the other person’s name and your own. If the other person says, “I’m Jane Anderson,” it’s fine to say, “Nice to meet you, Jane.” But if she says, “I’m Dr. Anderson,” then your reply is, “Nice to meet you, Dr. Anderson.” If she says, “Dr. Joan Anderson,” reply with “Dr. Anderson” and see if she says, “Please call me Joan” or not. I always ask people to call me “Alan.”
3. Be seated quickly.
Don’t unpack as if you’re checking into a Ritz-Carlton. You should have left any coats, baggage, computer cases, and mining equipment with the secretary or the receptionist (or in your car or limo). Sit where indicated by your host, take out something with which to take notes, and start listening carefully. (Note: Don’t accept the offer of refreshments, unless you’ve just arrived from the Gobi Desert. Trying to balance coffee, or figure out where to place a tea bag, or wait for the assistant’s interruption, and so forth, just get in the way. You don’t go to a coffee shop to build business, and you don’t go to a business meeting for coffee.)
4. Follow the buyer’s lead.
There’s a huge difference among, “How can I help you today?” and “What can you do for me?” and “Tell me something about yourself and how you’ve come to me.” Answer what you’re asked, but briefly. Tell the buyer what the buyer needs to know, not everything that you know (“I was born in Madagascar….”) You’ve now been able to observe the office, your seating arrangements, body language, and opening conversation, all in about 60 seconds.
5. Take the initiative.
Once pleasantries are briefly exchanged (which could be 30 seconds or five minutes), say something like this: “Both of us appreciate the need to make the best use of our time, so why don’t we set a brief agenda? I have three items I’d like to discuss, and I’d like to hear what your expectations are, and then we can utilize our time accordingly. I think you said we have 45 minutes, is that still the case?” This exchange immediately establishes you as a peer and allows you to actually lead the discussion and avoid becoming a performing seal. Make sure you know what your minimum and maximum objectives are (min/max) for that meeting.
6. Take notes.
Don’t trust your memory, but be judicious. I’ve seen people write everything down as if they’re auditioning for a court reporter’s position. Just note the salient points for your purposes of exploring a potential partnership. I find this easiest to do with a pen and paper, not electronic pecking. Ask for clarification when needed, and paraphrase and summarize regularly.
7. Watch for changes in behavior or language.
The buyer is going to do one of only three things: Stay the same as when you arrived; become less cordial and communicative; become more cordial and communicative. You want the last. Make mid-course corrections by observing what, if any, changes are transpiring. “You seem more enthusiastic about this last point. Should I infer this is your top priority?”
8. Create definitive next steps.
Building trusting relationships takes time. But the time can be shortened if there are clear and agreed upon actions and dates. Never accept “Let me get back to you,” or “Call me in a couple of weeks,” or “I’ll need to get some more information for our next conversation.” Make definite times and dates while you’re sitting there.
Never overstay your time unless explicitly invited to do so and it’s necessary for your purposes. It’s always fine to leave early once the mission (min/max) has been accomplished.
© Alan Weiss 2011. All rights reserved.