How to Avoid being Blown Out of an Office
Quite a few consultants find themselves out in the cold after seeing a buyer without even knowing what happened. Here are some situations to be aware of and avoid or deal with more productively.
• Your first meeting with the buyer has others present. Try to insist that the first meeting be one-on-one. Some buyers feel the need to “posture” in front of subordinates, and some subordinates see their role as undermining ideas “not invented here.” Tell the buyer that others can always be included later if the two of you think it makes sense.
• The buyer asks for a proposal very rapidly. Instead of thinking you’re so good that it hurts, understand that this is simply a slick way of getting you out of the office. Suggest that a proposal is premature at this point, and return to building a relationship.
• The meeting ends amicably with an agreement to get back together. This is woefully insufficient. You need a firm date and time, and only then if you’ve established a trusting relationship and rapport.
• You are delegated to subordinates or (shudder) human resources “to get their views.” Sometimes that makes sense and sometimes you must do it to please the buyer, but specify: “Let’s make a date now to debrief because I often hear things in these interviews that aren’t consistent with what you and I discuss.”
• The buyer takes calls and interruptions while you’re present. Tell the buyer that you can see he or she is busy, and you should reschedule since the issues you’re there to discuss are important. (If you’ve flown into town for this meeting, remind the buyer about that.) If you find a buyer checking email or phone messages, it’s time to go. This will either shock the buyer into more cordial behavior or save your time with someone who is rude and not worth your time.
• Never “pitch.” Never bring slides or handouts. Simply converse with the attitude that you are peers trying to evaluate whether you are right for each other in collaborating on a project that will be mutually-beneficial.
• Be interesting. Do your homework on the company and the buyer. Use examples and war stories. Provide metaphors. Provide value on the spot. Demonstrate that this is just the tip of the iceberg, and if you were hired the value would be incredible.
• If you are there because of a referral, remind the buyer of your mutual obligation to the referral source and that you’ll be informing the source of progress.
It’s tough to see key corporate buyers. When you do, make sure you stick around.