For Aron Sora: Meeting Clients

>> Thursday, September 17, 2009

Aron Sora asked: I have a meeting with my client for my first Engineering class. It is a real client, nothing is simulated, do you have any tips for meeting with a client for the first time. It is a community service project, but it is real. I get my project in 1 week and the first meeting is in 2.

I will tell you what I would do, but I caution you, client schmoozing and customer relations aren't my forte. However, I do tend to have very good relationships with my NASA customers because I do good work efficiently, I can almost always figure out what they really want, I'm reliable, and I'm honest. Fortunately, I have a number of readers who know a great deal more about public relations, so, with any luck, they can add appreciably to what I'll put here.

Here's what I would suggest:

Be confident. Selling yourself is no time to be modest (or conceited). If you think you can't do it, the client will too. Remember, you didn't get where you are because you are incapable. You have to trust in yourself or no one will ever do so. Know your own worth.

Be honest. People do respond to this. Do not pretend to knowledge or ignorance you don't have. If you know something, speak up. If you don't, listen and, if challenged, admit to what you don't know without excuses. Everyone is ignorant of some things and ignorance can be cured. It's only for those who refuse to admit their ignorance that it's persistent.

Be respectful but not fawning. Yes-men and toadies come across as insincere, probably because they are. Be respectful and polite, but straightforward and honest. Don't compromise your values, but remember, you're there to help him or her.

Listen. Whether you're talking over an existing assignment or getting direction, listen. Too often, this is the step missed. Someone reads a proposal, thinks they know what the customer wants, and hears nothing when the customer gives specifics and details - then delivers something the customer doesn't want. Listen. When I think I understand what the customer wants, I often repeat back my understanding (not the same words) back to the customer. That way, if I've missed something or misunderstood something, he can correct me.

If you're presenting, don't rehearse. Unless you're an accomplished actor, rehearsing sounds rehearsed and appears insincere. Instead, know your material. Better to hem and haw a little but be able to answer questions or explain points then to be smooth, but clueless if they ask a question.

If you're presenting, be straightforward and clear. Keep it simple but not patronizing. Know the details behind the bullets you present. I'm an advocate for letting the substance sell it rather than using buzzwords and emotive language. On the other hand, I'm not a salesperson. Also, get someone you trust to go over it for unclear language, spelling and syntax.

I hope that was the kind of advice you were looking for. Hopefully, my wonderful commenters will chime in with more.


  • flit

    I think Stephanie's given really good advice. The only thing I would add is to not be afraid to take notes - and or to repeat things back to make sure that you've got the information correct.

    Depending on how it goes, it might also be really helpful to write something up afterwards and send it to your client for approval ...along the lines of thanks for meeting with me; this is what we agreed upon... if I've missed anything, please do let me know. Paper trails are sometimes very nice to have.

  • Stephanie B

    Agreed, flit. That clarification in writing can really cover you later and also be a resource you can go back to in case you get lost or confused later.

  • Jeff King

    Great points...

    I have to represent my company daily to people paying us multimillion dollars for a project they have several "so called experts" advising them on what I {my company} should be doing and how we should be doing it.

    I have to prove myself day in and day out.

    The biggest key for me is to act in charge in all cases, never show insecurity or self doubt. And always have an answer Always!

    Know your job inside and out, never be afraid to speak your mind... be the person they want to hire, and demand respect.

    Best of luck.

  • Aron Sora

    Ok, I think the confidence part will be the hardest, but I'll just listen to inspirational music right before. Thanks, 12 days to prepare. I'm going to show my team this and maybe even give it to the professor.


    That is a perfect idea, I think my clients would love it if we did that. Thank you.

    @Jeff King

    Copy, confidence and expertise. I'm just worried about the political stuff that might come up, I hate dealing with it.

  • Jeff King

    A few questions, is this a structural engineering or electrical or some other kind?
    It helps to get specific…
    And are there plans that have been given to you ahead of time?
    You talk about your team, how many is there, and what exp do they have like years, jobs?
    And what type of project is it. Parking lot, tree house, bridge? (Be specific once again)

    What will be asked of you? Designing, problem solving or just running job like inspections, outlining and layout?

    I have a lot of advice depending of exactly what it is they will be looking for from you…

  • The Mother

    While I agree that too much rehearsing can make a presentation sound scripted, if you haven't done much public speaking, it is a truly good idea to get some practice.

    Show it to your roommates, your parents, or your cat. Just going through it out loud helps your confidence level.

    Stephanie is absolutely right about knowing your subject--that trumps all preparatory work. And can sink even a perfect presentation, if it's not there. Try to imagine all possible questions--and make sure you have answers.

    But if you get stuck, don't be afraid to say "I don't know--I'll find out and get back to you."

    That gives you credibility. Clients love that.

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