Just as you would with a potential employer, focus on making a good first impression on new clients.
One of the most important skills you need to keep sharp when running a business is the ability to make a solid first impression in an interview. Yes, you read that correctly. You may be the boss, but that doesn’t mean your days of interviewing are over.
In a client-based industry, your growth is dependent on your ability to market yourself to new customers. In my 20 years running Associated Graphics, I’ve seen that the skills needed to land a job are the same as those required to pitch a new client. And the process begins before you’ve even picked up the phone.
Do your homework.
This may seem obvious, but learn all you can about the client (or employer) before you even reach out. You’d be amazed how many potential employees have walked into Associated Graphics for an interview and have had no idea what our company is all about or the spectrum of work that we do. You wouldn’t hire someone who demonstrates a lack of preparedness. Business owners should apply that same mindset when approaching new clients.
We do a lot of research and prep work before pitching a client. That means more than just scrolling through their website, though that is a good place to start. Use your network of contacts to learn all that you can. We talk to other vendors and business owners who have done business with that company to get a better idea of the culture and how they operate.
A key strategy is to identify that company’s pain points. Anticipate an area where they are struggling or could use a boost. Draft ideas for how you can provide a solution to their problem.
Have face-to-face meetings whenever possible.
Given the choice between a phone call and an in-person meeting, take the in-person meeting every time. This is especially important for entrepreneurs just starting out. As a new company, you don’t have a well-known reputation yet. Why should someone hire you for a project or a longer-term contract when you haven’t had multiple years of experience to demonstrate your capabilities?
Face-to-face time with potential clients is the answer. You have to get in front of people to start building that reputation. If you’re passionate about what you do, clients are more likely to see that passion and commitment when you’re sitting in front of them. You just can’t express that same excitement over the phone. When I first started out, every deal we signed included a handshake across a desk.
It’s also much easier to connect on a personal level in this situation. Once people are relaxed, you can have an open, honest conversation. That helps to build trust and increases the odds that the client will hire you.
Put culture before price.
I do not suggest leading with pricing. Price is important, but it shouldn’t be the deciding factor. If a relationship is completely price-driven, someone is getting the short end of the stick, whether it’s the customer or you. You wouldn’t walk into a job interview and immediately ask about the salary; the employer first wants to know how you can benefit the business. You should approach clients with the same mindset.
If a client is going to hire your company for a service, they need to feel like they are signing on with a solid partner. Our game plan when meeting with new customers includes an explanation of who we are as a team, our company culture and our ability to solve problems.
A long-term business contract is based on reliability and trust. Once you’ve explained your culture and processes, it’s up to the client to decide whether it’ll be a good fit.
To make a good first impression, you should be listening closely to the customer’s needs and offering solutions. That will make the client feel more at ease than if you lead the negotiation talking about money.
This article first published on Inc.com on March 21, 2019.