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Meeting the Client – Remembering the Basics!

May 20, 2011

In my blog ‘You can’t email a hand shake’ I highlighted the value of meeting your clients face to face. In this article, I take a humorous look at some of the things that can go wrong when you walk into that crucial client meeting and what NOT to do, to avoid blowing the whole thing!

You would like to think that we would all have the natural ability to not to be overly familiar, rude or argumentative. However, unfortunately I’ve seen too many people lose potential business within the first five minutes of a meeting, to be able to make that assumption any more. Of course, by all means if a customer opens up and invites you in to a conversation about how "fit" Nigella Lawson looked on TV last night, or how many Jaeger Bombs they drank last night, then yes, by all means you should indulge in some light hearted banter, as they have set the tone and it’s important that they feel that you’re on their wavelength. But proceed with caution...whatever you do, never take the lead with risky subject matter yourself!

Over familiarisation can easily ruin a relationship before it has any chance of developing. I have never forgotten a particularly bad client meeting I attended in a previous role.  I was joining a meeting with a colleague and when we both walked in, the first thing he said was “Wow if I knew you were going to be this attractive I’d have put some deodorant on and combed my hair”....unbelievable!  I was majorly embarrassed and just wanted to say “Please don’t think that I am like him”. This same colleague also asked the person taking notes in the meeting to “Make us a brew”, which was completely out of order, especially as we later found out that he was the MD’s son...!  So, based on both good and bad experiences; here are a few basic rules.

Don’t ever take the lead with risky subject matter.

Do your homework. Get to know as much as you can about the key people in the meeting, before you start telling anecdotes about mammoth drinking sessions, your latest fling, last night’s game etc.

Avoid being overly-familiar and don’t make any assumptions about anybody.

Make sure you engage correctly with everyone in the room. Remember that they wouldn't be in the meeting if they didn't have a role to play.

Also remember - body language can involve smell and touch, as well as sight. Smelling of breakfast or last night's attempt at a Lamb Bhuna is very bad and any whiff of alcohol is worse. Avoid putting your hands in your pockets, behind your head or anywhere on the client! Don’t yawn, and keep your feet away from the desk.

Finally, accept the offer of tea, coffee or water, but not biscuits. You’ll almost certainly end up speaking with your mouth full while spraying crumbs all over your desk/clothes/client.
You’d like to think that these things are just common sense, but it never ceases to amaze me how often the basics are overlooked by some people. If you've got any horror stories to share, let me know...! 

Posted by Paul Latham
Topical email

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