The way we interact with clients, and potential clients, often needs to have a different focus than the way we interact with colleagues. It is important to first seek to understand our clients. Inquiry and diffusing defensiveness is essential. Use your best skills to summarize what you have heard and what you believe they need. Making assumptions is a sure path to regret. Expressing ourselves should come after we have really “heard” them.
I was talking recently with David Neenan, founder of The Neenan Company. Neenan designs and builds commercial buildings. He said when he was building the company and selling, he met with potential clients and first asked what put them in a position of success that prompted the need for more space. He got them talking about their organization, but most of all he listened. He asked about their challenges and then tried to find a way to help their organization overcome those challenges.
David says reading body language is a key. After their relationship deepened he would ask more personal questions. If someone looked tired, he would ask them if they felt up for the meeting, if they were sleeping well, or about their health. He then connected them with people who may be able to help them. He built a relationship by caring and taking action on their behalf. He listened to them from a very human level.
People always have deeper concerns than the ones they are expressing. Some won’t tell you what they are, but when you can connect with someone at a deeper level, you create an opportunity for them to confide in you. Though first… you have to listen.