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Your agency’s first meeting with a prospect

Get them to open up by not overwhelming them and listening instead

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We all know that feeling of a first meeting with a prospective client. There’s excitement in the air. We’re convinced we can help them before we even know what the exact challenge or opportunity may be. We can practically smell the check.

It is important to resist those feelings. In this episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast, Chip and Gini discuss how to approach that first conversation and how to use it to your advantage.

The topic was inspired by an article written by Lee McKnight, Jr. of RSW/US where he talked about an agency principal who preferred to do first meetings face-to-face (or via video in today’s world). While Chip and Gini agree that those formats help nurture the relationship more, it turns out that the agency principal wanted this approach because he would bring as many as five people to that first conversation.

During this episode, you will learn why that’s a bad idea that will likely lead to less revenue (rather than more) and what you should do instead.

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Transcript

The following is a computer-generated transcript. Please listen to the audio to confirm accuracy.

Chip Griffin  

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the Agency Leadership Podcast. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  

and we’re here to talk to you about the first time we met, you know, yes, anything. I have to have some kind of.

Gini Dietrich  

So maybe From now on, what we’ll do is, when we when we work on our topics, we will also work on the segues

Chip Griffin  

fine you know what, how about From now on, we’re just gonna have you do the opens. I’m not I’m just gonna I’m No, I don’t

Gini Dietrich  

want that kind of pressure. All right, I’ll stop making fun of you. I’m not gonna be in front of you. I’m good. You’re good. That was an amazing, excellent transition. Thank you.

Chip Griffin  

That’s what it so in all seriousness, we are going to talk about first meetings with prospects. And this is a topic idea that I got from LinkedIn because Lee McKnight, Jr, of our SW us and agency sales outsourcing firm wrote an article on Had a post where he talked about an agency principle that he had been speaking with recently and talked about how this agency owner handles first meetings. And this agency owner prefers to meet in person or by zoom video or something like that for first meeting fun, okay, I, I’m with you on that I, anytime you can make a more human connection with someone, that’s great. But the reason why this individual didn’t really like phone calls, was because he takes what’s called a team approach to prospecting. And he would have as many as five of his employees on that initial prospect call. And so I think that’s worth discussing. And, you know, broader question is how do you handle first meetings with a prospect?

Gini Dietrich  

So, I mean, I read the article as well. And I think a couple of things. I think that what the agency owner is saying is they like for their team to be involved so they hear from the horse’s mouth, you know, everything that So there’s no middleman conversation. Personally, I think a phone call would work better for that because you can then have people on the line and just listen but not participate. But I 100% agree that you should not you shouldn’t trust five people out to a new business meeting if it’s face to face or on zoom. Ever, because for the first initial meeting, because it’s so overwhelming, I mean, imagine if you had a meeting with your accountant and you know, you were looking for new accounting firms and they trotted out five people or attorneys and they trotted out five people to the first initial meeting, you would just be like, what the heck just happened?

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, no, it to me, it’s there any number of reasons why this is a bad idea. You’ve overwhelmed the prospect. So you know, that tends to cause people to shut down. Anytime that you’ve got an individual in a meeting and it’s one against many. That’s just that’s not generally a good dynamic. So if they’re not bringing multiple people, you generally should Because it just creates, yeah, I mean, in any meeting, that’s just kind of a weird setup unless both sides have agreed that that’s how it’s going to be sure, when you’ve got that kind of imbalance.

Gini Dietrich  

If they have five people, then you can have five people.

Chip Griffin  

Right? And I mean, if you have three, one can have five, and that’s fine. But but one versus many is just, it’s not generally speaking, a great dynamic to have unless there’s really defined purpose. So, you know, sometimes when, in the past when I’ve been dealing with like a web hosting company about some enterprise solutions, you know, they may have a sales rep and a technical person, okay, that’s, that’s fine, because right there, they’re fulfilling very different roles. But the To me, the other problem with this is that it’s a waste of resources, because that first call, you’re just as much qualifying the client as they are trying to learn about you. And so if you’ve taken five or six people, and and you put all of you on this first call, and you don’t have at that point, you don’t have enough information to know if you’re even possible. Possibly a good fit, you’re just wasting your team’s time that they could be spending on something else. So, you know, I get the instinct of wanting to have your team involved. And I think they should absolutely be involved in the business development process. You don’t want to have, you know, one person selling and then coming back after the contract is signed and say, okay, Jenny, now here are the things you have to do. Right, right. That’s right. All right. That’s what I do. But that first meeting, it’s really just the beginning of the relationship, and you’re both learning about each other.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, and I totally agree. I mean, when you get to the pitch process, where you’re saying, Okay, this is how I think we can work together and this is what it looks like then absolutely bring your team along, and they shouldn’t be involved in those those kinds of conversations. At that point, there’s probably on the prospect side there’s probably gonna be more people involved as well. But yeah, the the that first initial meeting and 100% agree that it’s really about finding out if you’re a good fit, what their goals are, what they’re trying to achieve. If they’re qualified, if you should be working with them and you know you, I call it finding the red flags, but you’re qualifying them as as much as they are you and 100% it’s it’s a, it’s a waste of time and resources, if you don’t know yet if they’re going if it’s something you’re going to pursue.

Chip Griffin  

So when you’re having a first call with a prospect, you’re what are the things that you’re looking for? You mentioned red flags, but you know, what, how long do they typically last? What’s your approach to those calls? And, you know, what are you trying to accomplish out of that first one?

Gini Dietrich  

I mean, we it is to figure out if they if they would be a good fit for us. A lot of times I have conversations, I just had a conversation this morning, in fact, with somebody who is in desperate need of crisis help, and I, you know, I’m certainly happy to have the conversation but from especially for that service, it has to be pretty, it has to fit a pretty specific niche for us to be able to say yes or no, and if not, then I can Get enough information to refer them to somebody else. So that’s always my goal is to figure out Are there any red flags? And, you know, through this whole pandemic and social injustice and everything that’s been going on and in 2020 I’ve been joking that one of the questions I should ask is, are you a racist? Which you can’t really ask, but you I mean, I guess you could, but you’re not gonna get

Chip Griffin  

most Yeah, I was gonna say most most people are not gonna say, Yep, I’m erasing. Yep,

Gini Dietrich  

totally great. Yeah. But there are questions that I do ask to figure out where that person’s ethical lines are and what their values are and whether or not they align with ours.

Chip Griffin  

So that first call How long does it typically last? Are you do 10 hour? Yeah, okay.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, no, I try to do those on zoom so that you can I mean, it doesn’t replace face to face for sure. But it does give you a an extra. You know, because because then you can read body language and see you know, how People react to the questions you’re asking, versus just hearing it.

Chip Griffin  

Right? You can tell if they’re not paying attention or

I’m sorry to say something.

Gini Dietrich  

Yeah, getting out to go and look out the window. Let’s let that happen once I was like, okay,

Chip Griffin  

that’s that is that is unique and different all I have had a lot of those strange experiences. You know, I think that there is, you know, we moved and I don’t wanna take this off topic, cuz we already talked about it, but I think we’ve moved from the early stages of the quarantine period where people were very forgiving and so you know, people you know, kind of like, okay, stuff happens to now people like, I can do whatever I want. So I’m just gonna get up and wander off in the middle. No, I mean, yeah, we’re driving but you still got to stay focused. I mean,

Gini Dietrich  

a great example of that is and not to take us too far off, but I’ll just give this a friend of mine said that they were doing their they had their first first day of their national sales conference, and they were doing it virtually and one of the account executives was pooping on video.

Chip Griffin  

On mute or…

Gini Dietrich  

No. In the end, there’s screen grabs. Of course, of course.

Chip Griffin  

Well wait, that’s that’s the error that we’re had. Wow.

Gini Dietrich  

Yes. Yeah, this is where we are.

Chip Griffin  

That’s something you shouldn’t do on a prospect call. And if the prospect does that, wherever that’s, that’s, that’s a red flag. Well, guess what I was trying to bring it back on it coming back to the actual topic, Jenny,

Gini Dietrich  

do Don’t ever do that on video period. That’s definitely not doing a prospect college sound

Chip Griffin  

advice. But if that’s something that you’ve just learned by listening to this podcast, you probably shouldn’t be listening to this podcast. Anywho Alright, let’s get back somewhat close to the rails at least and not lay down across them. You know, but but i think you know, being able to do that initial conversation by video is actually a Great asset and it does, it does help you to to generate some additional rapport. And frankly, you know, even in the at such point as we’re allowed to go out freely again, which is a nice dream. Someday I would like

Gini Dietrich  

to Russia has a vaccine. Russia has an accident,

Chip Griffin  

right? Yes Russia has. Okay. Well, along with lots of our ballots, but anyway, that’s a whole nother topic.

Gini Dietrich  

totally different. We don’t talk about politics. No, no, no,

Chip Griffin  

no. So, but but even then I still think it’s valuable to have that first conversation, not necessarily as an in person. I think a lot of folks, you know, for sure, charge right into the idea of, you know, let’s get into in person. And so that brings me to one of the other things with first meetings, sometimes you’re approached as an agency and someone says, Can you come in and present about your capabilities? And so if you get that phone call from someone that you don’t already know, how do you generally have handle that. Are you? are you pushing for a phone call first? Or do you? You know, schedule that presentation? Or, you know, what’s, what’s your approach when you get that question?

Gini Dietrich  

Listen, I’m gonna be perfectly honest. I’m an introvert. So if I don’t have to meet you in person, I’m not going to do it. And I’m not also going to waste my time with in person meetings or sharing my capabilities. unless I’ve already qualified you. So I will always push back and say, we’d love to do that. Absolutely. But first, let’s have a conversation to see, you know, what your goals are, what you’re trying to achieve, and if we’re a good fit.

Chip Griffin  

That is sound advice. And I think I don’t think you should ever go into any kind of a presentation situation without having some sort of conversation with the prospect in advance. It’s just you need to know what they’re expecting who they’re expecting, you know, you need to have some more information to work on. And this is particularly when I’ve been involved with projects with larger agencies. It seems to me larger agencies are just like Make sure will show up, which to me is great. raizy I think part of that is because they have resources and they feel like we’re the Big Kahuna. So, you know, we’re going to ace this. But the problem is, I’ve seen far too many of those meetings where someone comes in and based off of, you know, two or three minutes of information or an email, you know, they come in, and we know, we’ve got these ideas, we’ve got this plan we’ve got, you know, we, we know, we know where we’re going. And that first conversation with a prospect needs to be mostly about listening. You need to get them talking. Absolutely. Even even if you’re asked to do a capabilities presentation, or you’re asked about capabilities on a phone call with that, and you need to turn that around and get them what they need.

Gini Dietrich  

Yes, yes. Because I mean, I

Chip Griffin  

don’t be the same as theirs. So if

Gini Dietrich  

your language or the jargon or Yeah, absolutely. One of the things. So I get pushback from my agency owner clients on this stuff and, and they’ll say, Well, they’ve asked me for that. Great, but you you can through the questions that you asked demonstrate your capabilities. And it’s always I always say, I want you to try it this way. And I want you to just ask questions. And so they’ll try it, you know, just because I’ve asked them to not because they, they believe me, necessarily, but then they’ll come back and they’ll say, Oh my gosh, you were right. They told me how smart I was. And all I did was ask questions, and I’m like, I know. So, yes, get them talking. And listen, listen, listen, listen,

Chip Griffin  

you can demonstrate your expertise in almost anything far better by the questions that you ask. Absolutely, then by the opinions that you state. And it is a big problem for a lot of business professionals, not just in the agency space, but they just want to talk so much about what they can do and how they’re excited about it and and how they think it’ll be a fit, get the prospect talking, learn from them and think about it this way. If you go to the doctor, and yes, we’re not doctors, we’re not medical professionals. There’s no, it’s not nearly as important to be an agency owner as it is to be a doctor, hopefully not life or death in most cases, but you can learn from it. And if you go to the doctor, and you’re the patient, you say, you know, I need a prescription for x, is the doctor just going to pull out the pad and start writing? Right? I hope not. I hope not. That happens on TV shows, right? You know, but it generally shouldn’t happen in person. It’s a little shady, if that’s happening. So they will start by asking you questions, because they want to know, they want to know more about, you know, what, what is the problem that has brought you there? You know, what symptoms Do you have, and they want to try to figure out is that prescription you’ve asked for what you really need, or is it something else? And you need to think the same way what you’re giving to your prospect as an agency is a prescription for their product. Right. And this is, I mean, this goes beyond that first prospect meeting, but I think agencies totally missed the ball. More often than not on what the client really wants. Yeah, because because then we all have this immediate and mistaked client asked for this, we want to give them that because that means money flows across us. Right? That’s not a good way you need to understand what they’re really trying to accomplish. I mean, back when I used to build websites, if a client came to me and said, I need a website, why, what? What are you doing? particularly this was, you know, 20 plus years ago. At that point, you didn’t necessarily need a website, depending upon what you were doing. Right was it was the same way it is today, we almost just have to have something at least to check the box. You need to diagnose the prospects problem. And that means asking questions, and at first meeting is where that process are certainly and where you set the stage for that, that you’re not, you’re not just an order taker, yet, you’re actually there to help them.

Gini Dietrich  

Yep. One of the best books I’ve read on this is a more beautiful question. I’m looking at my bookshelf, it’s a more a more beautiful question. And it what it helps you do is exactly what you just described. It helps you craft your lists of questions, and then figure out what What the sub questions are. So one of the things I like to do is I asked my question and then, in a roundabout way, ask why at least three times, if not more to the to the answer. So you’re digging further and further and further and further. And I always know that I’ve been successful in a meeting. If a prospect says to me, well, I’ve never actually said that out loud to anybody before or I just opened up the kimono to you and we just met, that those kinds of comments and that happens a lot are indicators to me that we’ve gotten somewhere and that I’m getting some real honest answers about what it is that they need. And you’re smirking. Because I said, opening the kimono.

Chip Griffin  

Just going back to our earlier conversation. I was I was thinking as long as they don’t actually open the

Gini Dietrich  

please don’t actually do that. Yeah,

Chip Griffin  

that’s a problem. But yeah, I mean, it is and you know, and I think that the asking why is tremendous advice. You can solve more problems by being curious than anything else. I mean, curiosity may have killed the cat, but it also can make you a lot of money.

Gini Dietrich  

So as we, as it has been established you and I like money?

Chip Griffin  

We do. Absolutely. And I am I am curious. I’m just now I like to learn about all sorts of things. Even if I’m not necessarily going to use it, I just I like to learn how does it you know, how do they make this Why? Why is this the way to? And so one of the things that I like to do in those initial meetings with prospects is to try to go beyond talking about what the immediate way that I can help them is, and just learn more about their business. Learn more. Wow, you know what, yeah, because the more that you understand that, the more it helps you figure out where you fit in. So I’ll often ask questions, or I did back when I was doing agency things myself, you know, I would ask questions about how they operated. I would ask, you know, questions about, you know, sort of, you know, some of their internal dynamics depending on what kind of product or service they were selling. And just and really tried to drill in You know, if they were if they were a software company, well, you know, what’s your what’s your product development process? You know, what does your team look like? You know, where do you get your ideas. And none of that was directly relevant to the work that I was proposing to do for them or would likely propose to do for them. But it helped me get that bigger picture. And so that first meeting is usually a good place to do it. Because once you start to bring both teams in, it becomes harder to go down that path. Because once you have teams involved, that does become much more about the mechanics of the relationship and the specifics that you can do. So take advantage of that first meeting to go for your curiosity and just explore and see where it takes you.

Gini Dietrich  

And I would say to that, if you have five people in that first meeting, you’re not going to get the honest, unvarnished answers that you’re looking for. You’re just not going to because somebody guard will be the other the prospects guard will be up and if they have other people in the room, same thing, you’re just not going to get to the raw, honest truth that you need and in a lot of cases, the honest truth is what you need to be able to qualify the prospect.

Chip Griffin  

Right. The other thing I would say, for these first meetings, particularly as we’re doing them in the world of zoom, make sure that they know that they have your full and undivided attention. Right? It is, and it is, particularly as we’re doing more of these video calls, you know, there is that that habit that we all developed when sitting around conference tables to occasionally, you know, take a peek down at our phone and what it says or, you know, kind of glance over it at another screen where we’ve got, you know, an email pop up or, you know, make sure that you are remaining focused on them, because that’s that initial impression that you’re making about how focused you are on the prospect and their problem is really going to last over the rest of the relationship.

Gini Dietrich  

Absolutely. Absolutely. And I would say the, the reverse for them if they’re not completely focused, and you know, there’s I there’s nothing I hate and i will i I will not I will refer you on to somebody else. If you are doing that while we’re talking and it’s getting my phone out and looking and you know, it’s I will be like, yep, not you don’t respect me now you’re not gonna respect me later. So that’s a that’s a respect thing for me.

Chip Griffin  

Yep. But the other thing I in initial meeting says I like to avoid making specific commitments about the solution that I think would work for them, even if I’m fairly certain I know exactly what it is right out of the gate. And depending upon, you know, how simple or complex the offerings are of your agency, it may seem obvious, but me personally, I like to have time to sort of digest everything after the fact to be sure to sort of think through, is that really the best solution? So, you know, what I might say in that initial meeting is, you know, my first instinct is that this might be what we would look at and describe, generally the services Yeah, but but I will put particularly I’ve got a team, I would say, you know, I’d like to go back and talk to my team a little bit more about it, so that you know, we can we can put together some you No more solid thinking and, and that but it also just it buys you time to think through things because that initial meeting, you’re just you’re getting a lot of information hopefully. And the more specific you are about what you can do for them, you know what you would propose as a solution, what you would charge, it just gives you less wiggle room that as you have a chance to think about it, you may make some adjustments. So, you know, really, I would prefer that you use that first meeting as as learning and less about talking about, you know, what’s your prescription might be?

Gini Dietrich  

For sure. And I will add to that, that, you know, we have, as we’ve discussed, we have a really strict process that we go through. And there’s one thing that every client that we work with us has to do with us. And so I’ll say to them, I think we can help you and here’s how, here’s how we work and I describe that process, but we don’t talk money. We don’t talk timing. We don’t take any of that because I’ll say exactly that. But let me go back and talk to the team and talk to through some of this stuff and come back to you, and then I come back with a, something in writing that they can react to. Yep.

Chip Griffin  

And if you’re spotting red flags, and that, you know, try to resolve them if you can, right? So if you if there’s something that just really pops out at you in that meeting, and you can follow up to try to get the information to either resolve the red flag are planted deeper in the ground. You know, that’s, that’s helpful, too. So, you know, don’t just hear the red flag and move on, try to follow that thread a little bit. If you can’t, if you don’t make it confrontational by any means. But you do, you know, you don’t want to have those nagging concerns. Because, you know, again, going back to the point of using this as a qualification opportunity, the faster that you can determine that this isn’t a fit, and that, you know, maybe this is crisis work. That’s not a good solution for you to offer, but you know, someone else you can, the faster you can move them off your plate, the better is for both sides. And the prospect will remember that I mean prospects respect businesses that say, we’re not the best fit. And certainly I’m not encouraging you to run around and say oh, No, no, we don’t fit there. We don’t fit there. Because pretty soon you’ll have no business. But you do have to be honest with yourself about whether it is someone that fits within your ideal client definition so that you can actually help because of fear, if you don’t, then you’re just gonna waste both sides time and, you know, worse your own reputation.

Gini Dietrich  

Right. And I think if you’re helpful, and you can say, you know, I recommend these three agencies and here’s why. Right, that will also remember that.

Chip Griffin  

Oh, yeah, so absolutely.

Gini Dietrich  

Anything that you can do to be helpful.

Chip Griffin  

Absolutely. And

Gini Dietrich  

apparently my dog has been very helpful right now as well protecting the house. Well, she has her big girl bark,

Chip Griffin  

you, your house might need protection, but I don’t know if the dogs gonna be able to handle all of the things that are threatening your home at the moment, but I am glad that you’re able to dispatch the rat that was,

Gini Dietrich  

yeah, the rat. The rat is no longer the rat is

Chip Griffin  

no longer that For those of you who do not follow me on social media, she had a little bit of a rat issue, and she no longer has a rat issue, or at least not that there’s

Gini Dietrich  

no longer a write in watch. It’s probably like she

Chip Griffin  

lives in Chicago. So, you know, you’re not gonna be rat free. Yeah, right.

Gini Dietrich  

But probably we probably just displaced it to another area of the yard. It’s probably what happened.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah, the other day, I was on my tractor, you know, on my lawn, because we live in very different places. And so I have a lot of tracking I have to do. And I was pretty sure I saw some I thought it was a country rat, but it was some large rodent. I’m not sure what to spice

Gini Dietrich  

it off. No, you

didn’t run it over.

Chip Griffin  

Well, he was too fast for me. I mean, if he was right, but you know, I don’t really want to make a mess either. And,

Gini Dietrich  

yeah, that’s fair that way.

Chip Griffin  

You know, just

Gini Dietrich  

yeah. And then it’d be up in the blades. All right, that’s fair.

Chip Griffin  

But I did have to chase off some deer because the deer were hanging out in my backyard, and I was trying to to mow and so every time I mowed the area, they would then come back and start grazing again there and I’m like, No,

no, get away.

I want to get this done quickly. I not I don’t really want to sit here and drive around you. So

Gini Dietrich  

that’s so funny. They’re not scared.

Chip Griffin  

Yeah. You know, it’s sort of like, you know, deer in the, you know, those the semi rural areas of New Hampshire I think are sort of like rats in the cities. They’re like, What’s up with you? So

Gini Dietrich  

yes, the rat is no more.

Chip Griffin  

On that note. The other thing that is no more is this episode, we are bringing it in on a somewhat smooth landing or something. So if you’ve made it all the way, we really appreciate it. Thank you for listening. I’m Chip Griffin,

Gini Dietrich  

and I’m Gini Dietrich,

Chip Griffin  

and it depends.

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