Five easy to follow tips.
For 13 years, I work as a consultant, more precisely as an attorney at law. Again, this is an exemplary service: it is about people who come to me with a specific problem or concern and expect a solution from me. That does not distinguish the lawyer from other consultant jobs.
In these 13 years, I have advised private individuals as well as companies, authorities, and NGO´s. Regardless of the type of customer, it is in my eyes a people-to-people business, because it is always about human beings – I convince and advise not companies, but still people, with all their emotions, needs, and hopes. It often depends on small things to make an excellent first impression.
These tips for can help young consultants, from my experience, in doing so. Let me summarize them:
- Be social and ready to talk.
- Show good manners.
- Reset your ego.
- Listen attentively and honestly.
- Summarize the concern succinctly.
Sounds easy? Let‘s look at the details:
1. “Warm Up” – at least talk about the weather
We are human beings. Our clients are people. People decide within seconds whether they like each other or not. We all know that, but we underestimate the importance of this point for the success of our consultation and initial contact with clients.
A fruitful conversation includes a warm-up. A friendly smile, depending on the firm culture, an honest handshake, a remark that has nothing to do with the mandate. Who immediately falls into the house with the door – “Good that you have called me, to solve that big problem,” will leave no positive impression. Yes, it is a business situation. But as a consultant, we do not talk to robots, but to humans, and I firmly believe that consulting is and always will be a people-to-people business.
In the beginning, there should be some small-talk non-related to business. It´s easy for my wife to do so; she naturally makes it easy to build a personal connection with her. For a long time, I was not a master at it because I was always afraid to say the wrong thing. But this fear is unfounded: people want to talk. A note about the weather, the difficult trip to the appointment with all that traffic, the great building we‘re in, a fine work of art on the wall, or even about the good-tasting coffee – one of this can be enough to show that I am not a replaceable adviser robot. I´m just as human as you are.
Of course, good consultants inform themselves in advance about the person they are going to meet. Who is she or he? What drives her or him on, what are their interests? Social media can give a clue, but be careful – it must not look like stalking. But it is perfectly okay to praise an article or blog post of a conversation partner as particularly interesting (but please read beforehand, if inquiries come). If you cannot find anything about the conversation partner, you can also inform yourself about the company: Are there any new developments that might concern the conversation partner? Is something new built? Is there a great new product? The possibilities to connect are often diverse.
Be honest. Do not say something that you do not mean during my warm-up. People quickly notice when others lie or want to be liked. If you do not find anything, it may be better to avoid small-talk or just go with the flow of the situation. But everyone likes to talk about the weather, the last vacation or the traffic situation. You will find something.
„It‘s always time for good manners.“
2. Good manners
Closely related to this are good manners. That‘s not new, but whoever does not shake hands or look in the eyes of others will find it difficult to be sympathetic and be deemed competent.
My grandmother used to say, “It’s always time for good manners,” and that’s in my head. I’m not suggesting that I’m always perfect – but I’m trying.
This post is not a summary of what good manners are. They are also different depending on the culture. Make an effort, however. An important point for me is the business card, which is exchanged almost everywhere in the world. I want to address two typical mistakes:
Error 1: Practically “throwing” your business card to the customer. Especially among younger colleagues, I often see that they throw the business card in front of the “feet” of the customer by not bothering, for example, to lean over a table and to put the business card carefully in front of the customer. Instead, the card is thrown more in his direction. No one likes such a behavior. It seems derogatory. The card handover does not have to be a ritual, but it must not seem like a chore. Your customer should value your business card as much as you.
Error 2: Carelessly accept the customer´s business card and plug it in immediately. How would you find it if this is how you deal with your card? It is a good thing to look at the customer´s business card for a short time and, if necessary, to comment on particular things (such as a title, a particularly nice design). It shows that you are interested in the customer as a human being.
3. “It’s not about you; it’s about them.”
Many young colleagues cannot wait, as soon as the conversation has begun, to spill out the information about their talent and experiences. “I know what you need.” Really? In my many years of work, I have noticed many consultants, colleagues, and competitors who forget a simple rule: It´s not about showing how much I know as a consultant, what I´ve learned, what I can offer. It´s about the customer.
Specifically: I had observed lawyers and management consultants at appointments that did not let the customer finish the first thought before they made it clear to know what the customer was in need of. It was not the need of the customer in the foreground: It was more about. the own product, the own ability to sell, without reflecting on whether the customer needed the service.
A good consultant, on the other hand, wonders at each performance what added value she or he can offer to the customer. It´s about the customer and his needs, not what I have done in the past. If my proposal does not suit the needs of the customer, I recommend a colleague. If I can fulfill the customer´s need by modifying my offer, then I change my service. But I do not sell the customer anything he does not need as a consultant. Especially lawyers should never impose appraisals or even legal proceedings on clients that they do not need, perhaps only because the counselor is good in them.
Only in this way, in my experience, you can build long-term and trusting relationships that lead to ever new orders. Because only then the customer knows: I can always rely on this consultant. His advice always gives me added value, for which I will pay good money.
On the other hand, whoever sells something that the customer does not really need, which does not advance the client, is punished in the end: the customer is dissatisfied, may not pay the bill – and will not recommend this consultant. Is it not better to let a short-timed win go and to build long-term relationship?
So let the customer speak. It leads to my next tip:
4. “The most interesting is the most interested.”
In the course of the conversation, some colleagues also love to tell a lot about themselves, about assignments they have had, about people they know. Sometimes that makes sense, so the customer gets the confidence in the consultant and can check his references. Often it serves the self-image, is inappropriate, and triggers rejection rather than approval.
Remember: You made the first win when the customer came to talk to you. Because would you invite a plumber to your house to talk, knowing he cannot fix the broken pipe? Certainly not. Ergo: You already have a leap of faith in your competence.
I decided as a consultant: Listening is better than talking.
Clients are people. People want to talk about themselves first, about their problems, about their worries. They want, like all of us, to be perceived and understood. Anyone who only talks about his skills as a consultant not only does not recognize the other but also cannot follow him.
Listening must be honest and focused. People have an exquisite fine sense of it when someone else pretends to be attentive. Therefore, it is important for the counselor to be in the moment, to give full focus only to the client and his concerns and nothing else – no time limit, no e-mail, and no quarrel with a colleague or the spouse. The client gives me his time. I owe him my full attention, and he should get nothing else.
Often I was worried that I was too passive, that I had to intervene more often in a conversation. Today I know: the opposite is the case. Of course, I ask questions. But I purposely formulate my questions openly and widely, so that I learn a lot from the customer and understand his problem and concerns exactly. I do not involve the client with my questions and comments or assumptions at the beginning. I have found that many people appreciate being able to speak with an attentive and interested listener. If you listen with interest, you also automatically assign competence to the wise woman or man and trust her or him. It is even more accurate if the next tip is followed:
5. Show the client you understood the problem
When I talk to a client, I take notes. It not only serves to prove my interest and to document the conversation. They are also a guide: If the client has presented to me the facts and his problem, I take a brief thought break. Then I said: something like “If I understand correctly, the following situation exists” or “I summarize the problem from my point of view”. Then I summarize the – often long and quite complex – description of the client briefly and structured and ask if I have understood the issue correctly.
In my opinion, this is an absolute key to success: if I succeed in briefly and succinctly summarizing the problem perceived by the client as very complex and stressful, clients are generally very pleased. They feel understood and convinced that I have fully understood the problem (a goal that everyone pursues).
To put it simply: If the client has the impression that I can describe the problem shorter and better than he does, then he also regularly has the conviction that I will solve the problem for him.
Only after the summary, I come to the offer of a problem solution.
It‘s easy to make a good first impression. And so important. Hopefully my tips can help you a little in showing the client you‘re the best woman or man for the job ahead.