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When’s the last time you took a fresh look at the way you conduct client discovery meetings? I’ll bet it has been a while.
Recently, I was retained by a digital marketing consultant. He had done freelance work for a start-up. They wanted to discuss full-time employment. He asked if I could coach him so he could “maximize” the offer he would receive.
I accepted this engagement even though it was unrelated to financial services. I had always said that the basic principles of psychology and neuroscience set forth in my books are not limited to any particular setting.
What I learned from this experience may cause you to change your thinking about your discovery meetings.
Avoiding the trap
As I prepared for our first session, I was mindful of a trap for the unwary.
I was being asked for my advice. It’s difficult to avoid the temptation to lecture and educate in response.
I thought about the context of my engagement. He is an expert in digital marketing who is intimately familiar with the employer with which he was seeking a job. How likely is it that I would have an insight that eluded him? How would it make him feel if I rattled off a series of proposed solutions to his issue?
Instead, I prepared for our meeting by preparing a series of questions. Here are a few of them.
- What can you tell me about this opportunity?
- How did it come about?
- What concerns do you have about this job offer?
- What do you think is the best way to handle your initial discussion with the employer?
- Do you know how your performance at this company will be evaluated?
None of these questions involve me providing advice. My goal was to elicit information.
It was counter-intuitive but (as you will see) incredibly effective.
Setting the agenda
I started our session with this question: How can I make this session as helpful to you as possible?
I didn’t begin by asking my prepared questions.
If your goal is to find out the agenda of the other person, you won’t get there by assuming your questions are the ones they want to discuss. Situations change. What was top of mind when he made the initial inquiry might be completely different now.
Instead of setting the agenda through your questions, ask them to do so. You’ll get some surprising answers.
The key to a productive meeting is listening to the answers to your questions and asking suitable follow-up questions. This is especially important when the answers lead you into a direction completely unexpected, which is precisely what happened in our session.
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It turned out that his major stressor was giving up his independence as a freelancer and becoming part of a corporate culture.
When I followed up by asking him to list the pros and cons of accepting full-time employment, it became apparent that this was an offer he wasn’t interested in exploring, regardless of the terms he might receive.
What began as a request to help him negotiate a superior offer, ended with his realization that freelancing afforded him benefits he was not willing to give up.
In your meetings, hand the reins to the client. You may find – as I did – that your initial assumptions weren’t valid.
Dan trains executives and employees in the lessons based on the research on his latest book, Ask: How to Relate to Anyone. His online course, Ask: Increase Your Sales. Deepen Your Relationships, is now available. It’s rapidly being adopted by individual advisors, advisory firms and corporations as an impactful, cost-effective training tool.