Winning new business is bread and butter for recruitment consultants. It’s competitive out there among agencies; there are hundreds of thousands of talented talent acquisition professionals all vying for opportunities to work their magic and make their money. In an industry where consultants are forever at the mercy of elements outside of their control, being on a superb winning streak doesn’t merit anyone resting on their laurels. Constantly seeking out new clients and arranging face-to-face meetings is the only way to get ahead. People buy people, so getting in front of your new targets is an absolute must!
For recruiters, it is the hiring manager who is hot property in the overall client portfolio. Together with HR, they are the gatekeepers to new business and are the ones who will have major influence over which agencies they will partner with on external recruitment. So, courtesy of your networking and diligence, you’ve managed dig out a few decision-maker gems and lock them down for a coffee. You’ve told them it’s a chance to discuss what they do, what you do and whether there is scope to work together. They haven’t signed their name on the dotted line or handed you all your hopes and dreams on a silver platter just yet, but you’re close to having a couple of extra clients on your books. Why? Because something you’ve said has got them hooked.
Simply put, any potential client who agrees to meet, wants something from you in the same way you want something from them. Whether they are unhappy with their current recruitment partners, or in the midst of renegotiating their PSL and terms, it’s your job to work out exactly where there needs are and how you can deliver. Presuming you aren’t already recruiting for them (if you are, have a read of How to Take a Job Brief Like a Boss), this is your chance to win them over. Even though you might have sold it as a ‘casual catchup’, this opportunity is anything but casual and you need to impress! Here are the 12 steps to maintaining control over the client meeting:
It goes without saying, but research is absolutely vital. If your clients have operated in the industry for some time as have you, it is likely you have some mutual connections or have unknowingly crossed paths at some stage. Checking their LinkedIn profile will highlight any crossovers within your respective networks. Likewise, even if you’re new to recruiting in your industry, they are likely to have had some interaction with your director or other colleagues, so understanding your wider relationship is important, seeing as familiarity can help your case if you’re trying to win them over. It’s also worth checking CRM system notes and asking around your company to check if anyone else has tried to work with them in the past – they might have a horror story for you! All information about them is worth knowing.
If you think you know what type of employees they’d love to hire, why not print off a couple of CVs and take them with you, to demonstrate how high-quality your network is? Be careful not to give hard copies away too quickly though as you may be breaking some ‘back door’ rules. It’s worth also taking a notebook with pointers inside – names and discussion points. Always bring business cards along too! It’s embarrassing when they ask you for one and you have to raise your hands. It’s also a good idea to check the weather forecast – if it’s going to rain, which in London it probably is, bring an umbrella! The wet dog look does little favours for your professional appearance. On that note…
2. Dress to impress
These are almost givens, but dressing to impress is important. Just like an interview or your first day in a new job, you want to put your best foot forward to create the best first impression possible! Always go over-dressed as opposed to under-dressed.
4. Location, location, location
Choose a location that is relaxed but professional. Coffee shops are a great choice, as everyone loves a coffee, tea or hot chocolate, but make sure it’s not too loud in there! You don’t want to be fighting against cutlery and kids cackling just to get a word in. Also make sure it’s not too dark (you need to be able to read your notes), and also check that it’s not starkly bright and difficult to relax in. If they’ve invited you to their offices, go with it – great. If you’ve invited them to yours, make sure you’ve booked a meeting room, as keeping them waiting in your reception area while you sort something out is a massive time waster. Also check the room is clean and tidy before you go in – this meeting is all about professionalism and first impressions. Offering them coffee or tea is a no-brainer!
5. Be punctual
Whatever you do, do not be late. This is the first unofficial test of what it would be like for your potential client to work with you. Don’t screw it up by falling victim to unreliable trains, planes and automobiles. Allow ample time for things to go wrong, and for you to get lost navigating down dodgy side streets. Being at the location first, ordering table water or reading a magazine at reception before watching them walk over to you is far more relaxing than rushing through the building to where they are patiently sat waiting.
6. Set an agenda
Explain what you would like to cover in the meeting. This should cover a quick recap of how it came to be that you heard about them / where the introduction came from, as well as what you’d like to know from them (in a nutshell) and an elevator pitch on how you think you can help them (not a hard sell here).
7. Lead & listen
Leading is important. There needs to be a sense of direction throughout the meeting, or one of two things will happen. One, you’ll both stare at each other and wonder what the hell you’re both doing. Two, you’ll get along like a house on fire and go on off on a chin-wagging tangent that leads to no business. Keep things on track by ticking boxes, either mentally or on your notepad. Move the conversation along by prompting them with the right questions, and take the lead in instigating the conversation. The key here is to get them talking; when I get nervous, I know I can talk too much, so I have to actively tell myself to pipe down. Don’t try to prove your knowledge to them – asking the right questions will show you understand the subject matter properly.
During the meeting, you want to be personable and build rapport, so keep it friendly and show your personality. Having said that, don’t underestimate the importance of speaking clearly, succinctly and confidently. You are showcasing your work ethic and credibility with every word that leaves your mouth. Volume is also important – don’t mumble! I will never forget the meeting I went on where the person I was meeting spoke so softly I literally didn’t know if he was speaking or breathing heavily. It was almost impossible to find where dead air finished and his words begun – not very inspiring at all, and by the end of it my ears felt like they had run a marathon from all that straining. Likewise, don’t speak too loudly, especially in public places. What you are discussing mightn’t feel sensitive to you, but your client will no doubt want to be discreet and professional, without letting strangers in on what is being discussed.
8. Sell & solve
This is where you can bring to life your company, your services and your approach. It’s always nice to contextualise yourself – providing a business overview and then honing into specifically how you believe you can help. This is where you get to use all the information they have given you so far about their struggles and their gaps, and wow them with your solutions.
9. Adapt & react
It would be great if everything went to plan all the times, but sometimes your potential will throw an absolute curveball at you and all your planning will go out the window. You’ll be forced to answer questions or consider proposals you never saw coming. The key is to be open and flexible, but to not over-promise or dive into something without properly thinking about it first. When you’re caught off guard, take your time before promising the moon and stars. Tell them you’ll look into it in more detail and get back to them if you need to – just don’t sell false hope.
The other common occurrence that can turn your client meeting on its head, is when your client tells you they are actually looking for a new job! You’ll have to revert here to your company’s policies on placing clients, but use this opportunity to give them a great overview and demonstrate your knowledge within the industry. Be careful not to seem to keen to place them elsewhere and help their job search, as only 2 minutes ago you were unofficially pitching for their business – you can’t always have your cake and eat it too, so think it through carefully.
10. Take notes
Take notes. Just, take notes. Try not to look like a hyperactive, super-nosy journalist writing everything you hear, but taking notes of names, leads and important information will not only help you remember and act on what they’re telling you, but it also shows them you are serious about the discussion and what they are saying.
11. What’s next?
The next steps really depend on what was discussed and how quickly you need to progress this business relationship. Make sure at the end of the meeting you discuss what the action points are going to be, and ‘where to now’. Putting the next steps in your hands is a great way to maintain control over the relationship, and avoid putting yourself into a situation where you are waiting on them to follow through on something. If it’s you who is pushing for the business to flourish, keep hold of the reigns and tell them what you will do and when you will do it, come the conclusion of the meeting.
12. Follow up
As soon as you get back to the office, type your notes into your CRM system and diary down a follow up. If you said you’d follow up with an email, do it! If you said you’d be in touch with some extra statistics or examples, set yourself a task to make sure it happens. A ‘thank you for your time’ email with a summary of what was discussed is also a great way to show you are thorough and human in your approach to building business.