First meetings: The rules of a good match

The rules of first impressions apply equally in business as in any personal situation. These first moments can change the tone of a relationship, sometimes irrevocably. The good news is that it is possible to learn these rules – but how you use them will set the tone of your relationship.

None of the following is rocket science, but the impact is alchemy at its best.

Before the meeting

Both parties should have taken time to research the other including the following;

  • Financial data;
  • Web site review;
  • If possible and practical do a mystery shop;
  • Culture – are they casual and informal or structured and formal;
  • What are their values, mission and vision;
  • Who will be coming to the meeting? Check them out on Linkedin or similar; and
  • Look at their tweets and any other social media you can access;

At the meeting

If you are meeting at a remote location, give yourself plenty of time to park and find the place.

If it’s at your premises, make sure to look the part – tidy up! It really matters. 

You should have assessed their working style. As the vendor you need to respond to their needs, not the other way round.

Try and have an equal amount of people on each side. For example, if they bring four people you need four on your team.

Don’t jump straight into a debate about the proposed deal. Pleasantries and small talk do matter. For one thing, it helps people to relax and may provide a valuable insight into their own personal requirements. By and large, people like to work with people they get on with.

Once you start the meeting, invite each side to open with their own summary of their interest and reason for the meeting. Ask what they are hoping to achieve.

Generally, the first meeting is not the time to discuss detailed deal value, but it’s not a sin to talk in broad terms. The first number you mention will be the most you will ever achieve. Equally, if you go too high you can frighten people away, so encourage the buyer to make the first bid.

As you approach the end of the meeting, the next steps need to be agreed. This could be as negative as “this is not for us, thank you and goodbye”. Always follow up ASAP as delays in responses are never positive.

After the meeting

A courtesy call and email is essential from both sides, even to those who have agreed there is no progress to be made; just because that is the case now, doesn’t mean it will be in the future.

If you have agreed to do anything, do it. If you can’t, tell them.

Fix the next meeting and confirm, follow up ASAP after the meeting.

Jo Haigh is head of FDS corporate finance services and the author of ‘The Financial Times Guide to Finance for Non Financial Managers’.

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