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Once upon a time, I was brought in on the very beginning stages of a project for an oil and gas company. The company was a long-time client of the project manager but this particular business center was potentially a new client.

During our very first meeting, my role was to listen, take notes and observe.

Things happened at that meeting that would forever impact how I handled business back at my own office.

a good small business owner listens to their clients

Strike One: The Poorly Scheduled Money Meeting

The meeting was scheduled for a 4PM on a Friday and one of the meeting attendees let us know this was a bad idea from the moment we sat down at the table. He repeatedly stated that Friday’s were the one day of the week he was responsible for picking up his little girl and taking her to an after school event. Was this brought up before the meeting was confirmed? I don’t know. Is Friday at 4PM ever a good time to schedule a money meeting? Feel free to let me know in the comments section below.

I do know that the project manager didn’t have this key player’s attention or his support. He spent the entire meeting looking at his watch and checking his phone. He was impatient and his body language (which was apparent to me) said so. The project manager plowed—and I do mean plow—forward regardless.

What To Do In This Moment? As a business owner having a money conversation with a potential client, you want buy-in from decision makers. Since more than one key player attended the meeting, he could have been excused and called in from the road which would have exhibited understanding. Or the most senior manager could have easily handled the meeting and filled the other in at a later time. The lesson here is be ready, be flexible enough to pivot in real time. Anything would have been better than to continue a meeting with a decision maker whose feathers were ruffled by a poorly timed meeting because now, you’re the reason they’re missing their little girl.

The purpose of this money was to talk cost—pretty simple, right?


good marketing shouldn't need swat team

Strike Two: Holding Critical Information Hostage on a Friday at 4PM

As I watched interest wane and frustration grow, the unthinkable happened. The project manager was going through their presentation when one of the decision makers quite bluntly asked for the numbers. The project manager told them that they had not gotten to that point in the presentation and that they would have to wait.

I was horrified and I hoped my poker face was still holding. All the while I’m thinking, do they want this contract or not?

This was the reason we were here—to talk numbers. To my amazement, the project manager didn’t have a single number to present. They were simply rehashing info from a previous meeting.

I know this because the most senior decision maker said so.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and hearing.

Did this project manager really tell a potential client (a big one at that) that they would have to wait and then not have the information the potential client was expecting?

Why yes. Yes they did.

What To Do In This Moment? This may seem simple but be prepared! Give the client what they asked for! Deliver on your promise. If you scheduled a money meeting, be ready to talk money (especially if it’s 4 PM on a Friday). Be ready to talk value. Be ready to talk deliverables. Don’t waste the client’s time by rehashing old, well-known, pre-stated facts.

Now, the decision maker who is late picking up his little girl is incensed. Not only is he late; now he’s not even getting the information promised.

Strike Three: Not Listening and Taking Clients For Granted

a good small business owner listens to their clientsBecause this project manager serviced several business centers within this oil and gas company they made the mistake of not listening to this potential client. They leaned heavily on their overall business familiarity and brushed off legitimate concerns this potential client had.

The project manager made the grave mistake of not taking seriously this potential’s client concern about falling oil prices. They were being extremely cautious and that is why they were willing to meet on a Friday at 4PM because they wanted to know if this project was something they could move forward on or put on hold.

What To Do In The Moment? Listen. Don’t speculate or second-guess what the client is telling you and certainly don’t dismiss their concerns. If they say they are concerned about something happening in the marketplace then address those concerns and create alternate, if this then that solutions.

As the project manager and I stood in the parking lot recapping the meeting, they seemed completely surprised by it all. They reiterated how ridiculous the falling oil price concerns were and left there assured that they would close the deal. They were appalled at the dad decision maker’s behavior and thought his rudeness and brashness was uncalled for. They were certain they’d close the deal and the project would get underway in a matter of months.

I got in my car and wondered if we had just attended the same meeting because my takeaway was completely different.

For me, that whole meeting reaffirmed that:

  • You give clients what they ask for … not what you think they should have
  • Be ready to pivot and adjust in real time
  • Listening and delivering on your promises are still skills that increase your company’s revenue
  • Showing a little empathy/compassion can gain you a much needed business ally

Oh and as far as I know, this project manager never closed on that project.

In addition to following the steps above, be sure to download 5 Things You Need To Know Before Pitching Investors, Potential Clients.

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