Tips to help you get more comfortable with meeting people, building relationships, and winning work.
From client meetings to industry events, business development is a key component to the growth of your firm and your career. Yet some of us start to get sweaty palms when it comes time to network or meet with a client. If you get nervous before a meeting, you’re not alone.
Many technical professionals tend to like math more than talking to people; the numbers don’t talk back and won’t ask us about our feelings. It doesn’t have to be this way! That’s why we came up with the top dos and don’ts of business development – to help you get more comfortable with meeting people, building relationships, and winning work:
Do be prepared. There are two parts to this step. The first is to know about the company you work for and its core competencies. This may seem like a no-brainer, but we are often siloed into only knowing (or caring) about our own office or department’s expertise. Instead, make sure you have a good elevator pitch (a very brief description) ready to describe the different disciplines of your company because you never know what problem a client has that your firm may be able to solve.
The second part of being prepared is knowing who you’re meeting with and why. If you don’t know, do some research beforehand to gain a basic understanding of the person and/or business. A part of this preparation should also be understanding the context of the meeting – such as initial introduction, new client, new market, or cold call – so you can adapt and prepare accordingly.
- Do be there. There is an opportunity for everyone – regardless of level or experience – to network with clients and explore project opportunities. But it begins with showing up for the event or meeting a few minutes early. A former boss once told me if you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re new to the business development world, or feel uncomfortable attending meetings and events alone, take another teammate with you.
- Do be yourself. At Croy, we believe in building relationships with clients as the foundation of our business development efforts. To do this best, be yourself. During a client conversation, ask questions, listen to the responses, and express genuine interest. Questions about their background, family, and interests are great conversation starters and will help with finding something in common – thus helping you to show genuine interest. Here are a few of my favorite questions to ask to get you started:
- Where did you grow up? (Versus asking “Where are you from?”)
- Where’s your next vacation?
- Do you live close by?
- Did you watch any sports games this weekend?
- Do be strategic. After initial conversations, the goal is to turn your contact into winning work for your firm. Business development meetings are more than social outings; they’re data-mining operations. One of the best ways to learn about possible opportunities and be strategic in the process is to ask questions. People know why you are there, so don’t be afraid. A few questions that I like to use include:
- What keeps you up at night?
- What projects do you have coming up?
- What’s important to you?
- Being strategic also includes having situational awareness and pivoting the conversation if needed. Consider the flow of the conversation, the responses you receive, and the body language of the person during the discussion.
- Do follow-up. Once the meeting or event has ended, connect with the person – quickly! Everyone does this a little differently, from connecting on LinkedIn to sending a follow-up email or mailing a brief note. Mention something discussed during the conversation to demonstrate you were listening. Whichever method you prefer, don’t wait long after the meeting ends to take action.
- Don’t be inaccessible. As consultants in a service industry, it’s our job to be accessible, responsive, and available to our clients as much as life allows. A part of relationship-building is letting your client know you’re there for them and being a problem-solver, especially in an emergency. Often issues arise after the clock hits 5 p.m., so being able to respond to an after-hours call or text message demonstrates your willingness to serve.
- Don’t be distracted. Don’t look at your phone during the meeting. In fact, I typically leave my phone in the car to resist the urge to look at it. This also keeps it from vibrating on the table during the meeting. Along with this, I also recommend waiting to take detailed notes from the meeting until you leave. The goal is to make the client know they have your full attention. Instead, jot down a few key points on a notepad and then more detailed notes and follow-up items as soon as you get in your car to avoid forgetting vital information on your way back to the office.
- Don’t be pushy. It’s easy to spend a client meeting doing all the talking by sharing the many services and unique capabilities your firm brings to the table. But resist the urge! Instead, listen to the client and let them talk. This is when those data-mining questions I mentioned earlier – “What keeps you up at night? What’s important to you?” – come in handy. In the end, marketing yourself and your firm should be a smooth, natural conversation and help to solve your clients’ needs.
- Don’t be afraid of rejection. Not every potential client is going to say yes. Not every person at the networking event is going to want to talk to you. Not every meeting will result in a project. Meaningful professional relationships don’t happen overnight. It takes time, and rejection is a part of the process. Accept it, maintain a positive perspective, and keep moving forward.
- Don’t follow the crowd. Identify the organizations, conferences, and events that make sense for your business and its growth opportunities, then show up and get involved. Sometimes, these are different places than where your co-workers, colleagues, and/or competitors are, but if it’s where your clients are, you’re in the right place.
Russell Moorehead, P.E. is a vice president at Croy and leads the firm’s Chattanooga, Tennessee office. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elevating Doer-Sellers is a two-day event developed to help design and technical professionals in AEC firms become more comfortable managing clients and promoting the firm and its services. This event will be in Houston this spring. Click here to learn more!