The First Date - Building the Relationship with your Clients

by Amin Akbarpour

Every great relationship has a beginning. It's what you would use to answer the question, “So, how'd you guys meet?” When it comes to starting things off as a relationship-builder for an organization, first impressions are key. Without a great first date, there won't be any other dates. No pressure, right?

The hardest part about the beginning is differentiating yourself. Your new contact might see you as just another account rep that is going to waste their time or try to sell them stuff they don't need. Lucky for you, often the bar has been set really low. Follow these steps to get things off on the right foot:

Learn About Your Date

Ever take a vegetarian out to a steakhouse? You want to put yourself in position to avoid any missteps on your first date. The same holds true when approaching your first interaction with your clients. Before you pick up the phone to introduce yourself, do your homework. Does your organization have some sort of CRM to track client interactions? Read through those interactions and any notes about specific contacts or your organization's relationship with the client. Learn every key player at that organization (users of your product or service, decision makers) and look them up. LinkedIn is a given, but don't forget to do a simple Google search to see what they have out there (blog posts, interviews, press releases). Note anything that stood out to you or could be used as a conversation starter. Oh, and if you’re providing technology, make sure you look at their usage of your system.

Freshen Up

I have a confession – I love basketball shorts. They're super comfortable. That said, you'll never find me wearing them on a date. You should approach client meetings with that same mentality. If you will be meeting with clients face-to-face, dress to impress whether you're meeting a 15-person startup in someone's garage or a Fortune 500 company at their big city office. Not everyone will take kindly to you wearing a t-shirt and jeans, even if it's their own company culture. You don't know any of these people on a personal level. Don't give them the chance to misinterpret something you meant as a gesture of camaraderie.

What Are Your Interests?

This is my favorite part of dating, the part where you finally meet that other person and start learning more about them. You find out what they're into and witness their personality – it’s the exciting part of the journey. This may be the first time the client has ever had a conversation with anyone at your organization. You should walk into this conversation with goals – getting to know each other, confirming your understanding of the client's business (because you have done your homework!), determining their needs, and surfacing any current pain points. If the person you're talking to isn't a champion of your product or service, then one your first goals should be turning them into one.

People don't have a hard time talking about themselves – it's a talent most of us are born with. Let the client do the talking and guide the conversation with open-ended questions. Here are a few conversation starters:

  • Which goals and metrics are you responsible for?
  • What are your most important initiatives this month or quarter?
  • Are there any features or services you wish we provided that would help you achieve your goals?
  • I noticed you aren’t really using (some aspect of our offering). Is this because you just haven't been aware of it, or have there been issues on the adoption front?

Close That Second Date!

Congratulations! You aren't a complete loser and have made it this far. I know you just want to run home and fist pump the night away listening to T-Swift because you killed it. Well, hold on for just a bit longer. You have a great opportunity in front of you that you should capitalize on before you let the giddiness of first date success completely take over. What's that opportunity? The chance to see each other again!

Don't just shake hands and say goodbye thinking that because you're their rep, there's this unspoken understanding of future communication. Set the expectation that you'll be regularly contacting them moving forward. Use this as an opportunity to schedule a second phone call or meeting. If your second meeting is a few weeks away, schedule another call in between to stay in touch and tell them what you plan to bring to the table. Addressing any concerns or problems you were able to flush out in your first meeting is priority one.

The first date can be both exhilarating and nerve-wracking. If you take the time to prepare and walk into it with clear intentions and goals, your first meeting can build a great foundation for the relationship with your customer. 

Amin Akbarpour - Amin is a customer success coach and architect.  With relationship-building at the core of his practice, he molds teams by instilling the necessary principles to transform them into trusted advisors.  Understanding what's needed for organizational change, he translates theory and ideology into practice and habit.  Originally from Southern California, Amin is a University of San Francisco alum who is grateful to still be able to call San Francisco his home.