If you are like most professional service firms, early on in your selling process you offer some sort of free initial consultation. There are many ways to conduct this initial meeting. Some firms meet for coffee or lunch. Others may offer a free “audit” or evaluation. Requiring the prospect to do some sort of home work before the initial meeting is a fairly common practice. Others firms have a formal presentation that they give to prospective customers.

The purpose of this post is not to say one of the methods listed above is better than the other. I’m one of those people who think it is just as important to understand the why behind the way you do things. If you main reason for conducting your initial meetings the way you do is because “that’s the way I learned and we’ve always done it that way”, then I hope you take another look at them.

Personally, I like my initial conversation with a prospective customer to be around this  question – “When you look back 6 months from now, how will you judge whether or not your investment in a marketing system was successful or not? How about after year 1 and year 2?”.

Here’s why:

Setting Expectations – I think it’s important to set expectations from the very beginning. I have little or no idea of what these folks have experienced in the past. Have others made unrealistic promises to them in the past? It’s important to find out very early what their expectations are, what the impact of meeting or not meeting those expectations will be, and how much they are willing to spend to fulfill those expectations.

Long term vs. short term goals – Installing a marketing system in a professional service firm is not a “quick fix” solution. Sure, there may be things that we can do early on to correct problems or get off to a good start, but it is important to set clear expectations around the time it will take to achieve our goals.

Getting to the core issues – I find that discussing how a customer will define success makes it’s easier to get to the core issues they want to address in their practice and in their personal lives. Contrasted with hackneyed sales questions like “what keeps you up at night?”, I find that helping define the evaluation process gets us on the road to figuring out whether or not we should be working together more quickly.

Focusing on the right goals – It helps determine goals in business and personal terms rather than marketing terms. Very few people say “I want to have a newsletter” or “I want 500 Facebook followers” during these conversations. They typically want enough business to support new staff, or work with fewer, more profitable customers, or have a more even work load. Many of them want to use their business to achieve something much larger than just having a job.

Aligning investment with value – because we have been focusing on the right goals and expectations, it becomes easier to determine a price that makes sense for both parties involved.

Do you have a favorite way to conduct these initial meetings with prospective customers? Why do you do it that way?

Bill Brelsford Small Business Marketing Consultant