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Consulting Questions: How to Start a Client Meeting

By Michael Zipursky

How do you start your meeting with a prospective client?

Do you tell them about your company?

By listening and asking the right questions upfront you can position yourself to win more business.

Do you mention how great your track-record is?

Do you talk about your experience and expertise?

If you said yes to any one of these you’re making a big mistake.

Most consultants lean towards talking about themselves at the beginning of a meeting.

It’s not always their fault.

Often you’ll find the prospective client saying something like, “So, tell me about yourself?”

If you want to make the most of each meeting and move that prospective client increasingly closer to become an actual paying client, you must resist the urge to talk about yourself first.

Here’s why…

The meeting isn’t about you. It’s about the buyer, their company, their challenges and goals.

And if you’re talking about yourself before understanding their situation you’re missing a great opportunity.

You’ll learn all kinds of valuable information when you stop talking and start listening.

By asking your buyer the right questions at the start of the meeting, you can then provide them with more relevant information that matches what they are looking for.

Let me offer you an example…

Example A: You’re a retail consultant. You go into a meeting and the buyer says “Tell me about yourself and your company?” You tell him all about your experience launching new products and running promotions. After you’ve been talking for a while the buyer steps in and says, “That’s very interesting and I can see how we might be able to benefit from that in the future. But right now we’re dealing with other issues around employee morale.”

Example B: You go into the meeting with your buyer. You make a bit of quick rapport building conversation. You then thank the buyer for meeting with you today and ask him to tell you “about the biggest initiatives the company is undertaking this year?” The buyer tells you all about the troubles they are having with employee morale and how that’s a top priority. When he asks for more information about what you do, you’re now able to position your response around your experience with helping companies boost employee morale.

Avoid the urge to start talking about yourself until you know what your buyer really cares about. It will serve you incredibly well.

This may sound like a subtle shift and it is. Yet it’s an extremely powerful one.

By listening and asking the right questions upfront you can position yourself to win more business.

In fact, that’s exactly what one of my coaching clients, Anton Mitchell did.

“I took what Michael taught me and made some changes to my approach compared to what we were doing before. That process was very helpful. So much so, that we used it to win new projects with 3 clients that will be worth an extra $1M for our company.”

– Anton Mitchell, PMP, President
Quviant Management Group

Anton already ran a successful consulting firm. We worked on slight shifts in his approach when speaking with buyers and the results were evident right away.

Avoid the urge to start talking about yourself until you know what your buyer really cares about. It will serve you incredibly well.

If you’d like to learn more about this strategy, how to have an effective sales conversation and consistently attract your ideal clients take a look at my Marketing for Consultants Coaching Program.

18 thoughts on “Consulting Questions: How to Start a Client Meeting

  1. Very good advice. It can be hard to retreat to safe ground of yakking about yourself. If I get asked to quickly, I usually keep my comments social until I get the chance to get them talking about their business first – as you say the way you position yourself once you get the insights is crucial for what comes next. Probably a blog series in this topic 🙂 Peter Block covers this in his book ‘Flawless Consulting’ – worth a look for deeper coverage.

  2. P.Vidyut Chandra says:

    I know first meeting with prospective client is only to know and develop good rapport , during this never ever bring money or quote into the consideration. The advice provided in this article is too real , as most of consultants try to talk more about them self and listen less. They feel that boosting their back ground will improve image in client thinking, but the client is already made off their mind in negative and not chance for second prospective or closing meeting future time …

    • Once again, digging a little deeper unearths gold.
      Thanks Michael.

      • vinodh says:

        Just an emphasis on real. nothing more as in derogatory sense as you might think .


        • Vinodh – I didn’t think it was derogatory, it simply wasn’t clear 🙂

  3. Marcelo Figueroa says:

    Michael. Thanks for your post, very helpful. However, how to steer the conversation back to the customer’s needs once the question has been asked, it would be consider rude not to answer or answer back with a question.

    • Marcelo – depends what the question is. Clients appreciate when you keep the conversation focused. Be polite about it and you shouldn’t face any resistance.

  4. Ben K. says:

    Good approach Michael. But there are times when a potential client wasn’t aware that they have a problem or an opportunity that they overlook. So when we ask them to open up they give you a blank stare like “we have no problem…why are you asking?” How do you address this situation?

    • Ben – I focus on clients that want to overcome a challenge they are having or are going after a desired result. They may not know exactly what the core problem is, however, by asking the right questions you can help them to uncover that.

  5. Dave Smith says:

    Great advice Michael. It’s hard not to answer the buyer (or prospect) when they ask a direct question on the front end. I’m learning how to shift the conversation to not only focus more on the buyer but also on their goals and what they want to achieve, then only respond initially with small statements about outcomes, without saying too much. That can be difficult until you get the hang of it, which is the point in my career I’m at.

  6. Deo Malulu, Biz Consult Group says:

    Excellent advice Michael. Off the topic, what is your advice for a consultant who is just starting, but wants to focus more on developing products that can be packaged, marketed and sold, instead of just offering services? any ideas for consulting products?

    • Deo – it can work very well and the offer will depend on your market, the need and your skills/resources.

  7. Akinsola Johnson, MBA FIMarEST says:

    This advice is very amazing. I’ve always used it. Any consulting job isn’t about me. It’s about my client. Thanks for sharing this knowledge always.

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