Small business owners know client visits can be the beginning of rewarding and long-lasting relationships with other pillars of the community. A little less frequently, they can be a recipe for disaster. There's a lot of middle ground between these extremes, but what's certain is that pulling off a successful client visit requires some thoughtfulness and advance planning.
If you're new to exciting opportunities like these, and even if you're not, here are a few suggestions to make sure your next face-to-face meeting goes swimmingly.
Do Your Homework
You owe it to yourself and your client to learn as much as you can about their company structure, their business model, their talent and the value they bring to their industry. The goal is not to memorize and regurgitate facts about their quarterly revenue or their hiring statistics. These things are valuable to know, but the goal goes deeper than just trying to impress them with an assortment of facts they already know.
Taking a look through your client's webpages, blogs, social media, LinkedIn profiles and any recent press releases can tip you off about what they value. Have they engaged in any interesting acquisitions lately? Do they participate in the community and strive to give back? You can find a surprising amount of common and fertile ground here, ripe for enjoyable and productive conversations.
This process also teaches you about what the client actually does on a day-to-day basis. If they're meeting with you, it's because they believe you can add value to their organization. The less they have to explain about how their industry functions, the more convinced they'll be that you're ready to hit the ground running.
In some instances, like when you're meeting with representatives of a foreign company, performing due diligence can also tip you off about any potential and avoidable cultural faux pas.
Come Prepared With an Agenda (but Be Flexible)
There are two parts to this step: coming up with an agenda and then floating a draft of this agenda to your client before your meeting. Usually, a week's worth of lead time is plenty.
There's something to be said for free-spirited, free-wheeling meetings. A lot of our most creative thinking happens during unstructured time, but if this is the first time you're inviting a client into your midst, you'll both likely benefit from a slightly more solid game plan.
Here's what to know about preparing an agenda for your client meeting:
- Give clients one week of lead time to review the agenda. You both have certain expectations for how things will play out and which topics may be prioritized over others. If either of you comes up with changes to the schedule, it's best to know about them in advance.
- Create a tentative time schedule for each point you want to cover. You can add these to the agenda in parenthesis to indicate that nothing's set in stone, but you're mindful of how long different tasks might take. Your client may arrive with different priorities, which is something else worth knowing in advance.
- Distribute the agenda to everybody who will be in attendance. Furthermore, rather than leaving things open-ended, request that they send back any proposed changes or feedback within two or three days.
It's more than possible that you and your client will diverge from this agenda, no matter how well you plan in advance. If things take a more organic turn, this is a great sign that you're, as the saying goes, "hitting it off." But beginning with at least a semi-solid idea of what to expect diffuses a lot of potential apprehension on both sides.
Set the Scene
So far, we've gone over some of the digital footwork that requires your attention before the client ever gets to your office, facility or campus. But what about the literal footwork? What about the appearance, cleanliness and general condition of your work environment? Does it scream "curb appeal"? Is it in good repair and eminently welcoming?
Here are some matters you'll want to pay some attention to well in advance of your client arriving on the scene:
- Post signage. You can start by making sure there's an appropriate amount of signage directing your visiting clients to where they need to be. Not every parking lot is self-explanatory, so hang a sign or update your marquee if you have to.
- Be welcoming. Fly a cluster of balloons where the approach to your building meets the road, if you're feeling bold.
- Remember small details. Consider investing in some live plants to bring things up another notch.
- Reserve parking. Save a spot or two close to the building. You don't want your meeting to begin with your client looping around and around the block looking for a place to leave their car.
There's a good chance your employees are accustomed to having clients on the premises, but an email reminder a few days out to straighten desks and common areas won't go amiss. Your client will probably appreciate and respect a workplace that looks "lived in." But a bit of attention to the cleanliness and organization of your company's buildings, as well as to any outstanding maintenance issues, is vital for creating an immediate positive impact.
Recommend a Quality Place to Stay (or Know How to Find One)
Depending on how far your client traveled to visit with you, or what else they've got planned while they're in the area, they may need some recommendations on a great place to stay. Coming up with a list of appealing candidates in advance might seem like a small enough matter, but it's another way to demonstrate your taste, your foresight, your attention to detail and your knowledge of the area.
It's also possible you could help your client out of a tricky spot if something about their trip hasn't gone quite to plan, and they need an affordable and convenient place to crash that actually has vacancies. If you don't have a list of lodging options you can personally vouch for, knowing where to point them — such as an online portal specific to the area — so they can find last-minute lodgings on their own is a thoughtful touch they'll appreciate.
Remember the All-Important First Impression
Do you have somebody stationed near the entrance to your workplace who will know immediately that your client has arrived? Are they prepared to provide a welcoming smile and handshake, offer refreshments and see the client to the meeting space? A client who's made to mill around in a waiting area before somebody so much as makes eye contact is a client who's just been served a lackluster first impression of your company.
You'll have plenty of time beforehand to task specific employees with meet-and-greet duty and to brief the rest of your workforce to give the very best impression they can. With just a little bit of advanced mindfulness, you can put your best foot forward and ensure your client comes away impressed with you and excited about your future together.
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