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That important first meeting

June 1, 2003 -  By

I will never forget the first meeting we had with Henry Williams, a mortgage broker, when we bought our last home. I had run home from work on a crazy spring day to meet with this gentleman at 2 p.m. At 2:20, “Hank” as he called himself, showed up. Hank came in and sat down at our kitchen table without one mention of his tardiness.

He had a button missing from his shirt that was straining to cover his large belly. A long coffee stain ran almost the length of the shirt. As he began his sales pitch, it was apparent from his breath that Hank had a cocktail or two for lunch. It was clear that we weren’t going to get what we had wanted from this guy. We quickly cut off the conversation and sent Hank on his way.

Are you or anyone on your team driving away potential business because of a poor first impression? There is no meeting more important than your initial meeting with a prospect. It sets the tone for your relationship with that potential client and can make or break the sale.

First impressions are everything, so do everything in your power to make it a great impression with these two steps:

  • Send a note to confirm your meeting as soon as you get off the phone with a prospect.
  • Call the day of your meeting to confirm the time.

By doing these two simple steps, you have immediately put yourself head and shoulders above the competition.

Toolkit for the first meeting

Prepare a strategy for the first meeting based on your initial conversations with the client. The car ride to meet with your prospect is your opportunity to prepare for being your best. Your toolkit should include all of your brochures, your portfolio and any other sales tools you’ll need. Jot down a list of pertinent questions.

Think only the most positive thoughts on the way there. Use the car ride to get fired up. I played at least five to 10 minutes of my favorite “fire-up music” before meeting a client. Music has a huge affect on your psyche.

Finally, do everything in your power to be on time. If for some reason it appears you will be late, call to let your prospect know-even if it will only be two to three minutes.

Take one last look in the mirror before you see your prospect. Make sure you look good! As you walk up to the door, walk briskly with a sense of purpose. Smile and act as professional as possible.

The first five minutes

When you greet your prospects for the first time, greet them with a firm handshake-whether the client is a female or a male. Start the conversation by giving them a sincere compliment on their house, their office or their children. Thank them for the opportunity to meet with them. Don’t come on too strong, or be too laid back. You should strive for a balanced approach until you get to know your client.

Psychologists say that people pass judgment on a person within the first five minutes of meeting them-good or bad. This may not seem fair, but it is reality. Worse yet, it is very difficult to change that judgment-if you are even given the chance.

The interview process

I have found that the best salespeople are the best listeners. If you do a good job listening to your clients and frame your recommendations around what you have heard, you will be successful more times than not. I always suggest asking a question and then closing your mouth. If you keep talking, you may miss what your prospect is trying to tell you. People buy on emotions, so take the time find out what their emotional hot buttons are.

As your prospect talks, lean forward and listen intently. I like to take notes to remember the conversation. Other salespeople may prefer to use tape recorders-with the clients’ permission. Either way, this tells the client that what they are saying is valuable. It is a good idea to paraphrase their comments for clarity. Another good technique to use is to show pictures from your portfolio that might depict what they are trying to accomplish.

During the meeting, talk in positive terms to sell the job. Use statements like, “When our crews install the landscape‚Ķ” or “Our maintenance crews will come to your home on the same day of the week.” This sets the tone for future meetings and establishes a positive mindset for the client.

Wrapping up

Once the client has given you their thoughts, restate what you have heard and define the scope of the work. At this point, do a reality check as well. Ask yourself: Can we help this client? Are we the best company to meet their needs? If you are going to say no, this is the time to do it. More often than not, if you try to force a project that does not fit your company, it will be a disaster.

If everything is a go, define the next steps. Provide a timeline they should expect for their project. Remember, under-promise and over-deliver! This is the time to get some commitment from your client in the form of deposit, a signed contract or a confirmed next meeting date. Both of you need to make some commitment to establish the relationship.

As you leave the meeting, thank the client for their time. Give them your card along with the best times to reach you. Make sure to get their contact information too, so you can add it to your database. Finally, give a firm handshake and a smile. Tell them you look forward to the opportunity to work with them.

Follow up

When you get back to the office, send an e-mail thanking them for their time. Within two to three days, send a letter confirming the decisions made at the meeting. It should state what the project is, confirm the scope of the work and restate the timing of their project.

This letter is extremely important to finalize the initial meeting and put a professional stamp on the process. Follow-up should be a regular habit that is part of your documented sales process.

Griggs has several years of design/build experience in the landscape industry. He is director of green industry solutions at JP Horizons, Inc. and can be reached at 239-597-9867 or

LM Staff

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