10-Step Critical Path for a Successful Initial Meeting

This post is Part 2 of a 2-part series of blog posts on the initial prospect meeting.  Jump into the first one or keep reading to jump right in the thick of it.

The setup for this meeting is one I’ve encountered dozens of times over the years: I’m out and about and meet a guy who runs a business. When he finds out that I do web design, he starts talking about how he needs to get his website into shape. We make an appointment to talk about it and that’s that.

From his point of view, he just made an appointment with a web guy to talk about websites. It’s no different to him than making an appointment with his car guy to change his oil.

But from my point of view, I want his website to work better for him. At the meeting, I’m going to tell him how I can make that happen. Chances are, it’s going to be a bit much to take in. My pitch has a high upside: more money comes out; but it also has a potential downside: loss of some control.  It won’t be a problem for every prospect, but it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind that change is hard for people. As an agent of change, you’re going to encounter some resistance from time to time. The key to lowering their resistance is to continually point back to how you’re working to meet their specific business goals.

The goals of this initial meeting are to:

  1. Find out if we are a good fit
  2. Kick start the relationship
  3. Find out their situation
  4. Propose a way forward
  5. Set a date for a future meeting to make things official

Not every meeting will go this way. It all depends on the relationship you have with your prospect before the meeting and whether or not they are willing to think and act on this level. Not everybody will get it, and that’s okay.  But in a general sense, here’s how I’d do it:

This is my 10-step critical path for a successful initial meeting with a prospective small business client.

1. Introductions

Take a few minutes and find some personal points of commonality. Try to connect with them. Do not be perfunctory with this. Take the time for a little business gossip. Be prepared but be genuine. It lays the foundation for the next part. If this were a date, consider it a quick coffee date. You should already know about their website, their Twitter feed, their YouTube channel, their Facebook wall, and a bit about their SEO. Use probing questions about each of those things to ferret out point #2.

2. Discover their problem(s)

Invariably it’s going to be “not enough sales”, “not enough leads”, or “I can’t find myself on Google” which is really the same as saying “not enough sales/leads”. Let this take you on a discussion about the sales/lead performance. If you can, discover their break even point or other numbers that let you contextualize their revenue. You have a duty to their bottom line so asking about it is a fair, if delicate, game.

There’s also a fair number of businesses who don’t think about their bottom line as much as they think about some other aspect of their business. For some, their website is an exercise in branding. For others, they really do just want some simple web changes.  Whatever the reasons are that made the meeting happen in the first place, find out what those are.

Note: People don’t always know what they want. The Internet is still an ephemeral place for a lot of people. For this reason, it’s a good idea to stick to business objectives or their kissing-cousin, business related political decisions.

Pictured: business politics

3. Find out who their stakeholders are and what those people do

Many times there are other people, not at the initial meeting, who are affected by how the website performs. You need to find out who they are, what they do, and what their needs are from the website.

Revenue will always be the #1 goal but a close second comes office politics and we cannot be successful unless everybody’s concerns are addressed and there’s institutional support for the project.  This even applies to 1-man shops.  If a guy has a business and a wife, it’s a safe bet that his wife has an opinion about the website. She’s a stakeholder, and so, what she thinks matters.  These are the people that are going to be talking about the website and who feel responsible for it in some manner, so they have to be accounted for. Find out who they are and what’s important to them.

4. Determine the Win State(s)

It’s not enough to know that a website needs to drive revenue. We also need to know how much and how soon. In my mind, an ideal win state looks like this.

“Steve needs website revenue to increase from an average of $100 a month to an average of $500 by July 31st.”

“Ann needs to provide an easier way for customers to return unwanted merchandise by December 26th.”

These Win States can be viewed as goals and objectives and should fit the SMART criteria.

Specific – Targeted to a clear and unambiguous business goal
Measurable – Answers the question “How will I know when the goal is met?”
Attainable – Can be achieved with effort
Relevant – Answers the question “Is the goal worthwhile?” “Is this what I really want?”
Time-Bound – Creates a time-frame and deadline

Essentially you need to know who needs what by when.  These are known as SMART goals.

Goal oriented.

5. Do the math and create the mission(s)

When a SMART goal is written in the format above, it’s easy to do the math.  Once you do the math, those answers can be stated as missions.  Let’s look at the above examples:

“Steve needs website revenue to increase from an average of $100 a month to an average of $500 by July 31st.”

The math:

$500 – $100 = $400
Nov. 11 – March 31 = 4.5 months

The mission: Increase the website’s average monthly revenue by $400 (or 400%) in 4.5 months.

“Ann needs to provide an easier way for customers to return unwanted merchandise by December 26th.”

The math:

Nov. 11 – Dec. 26 = 45 days

The mission: Create a measurably easier way for customers to return unwanted merchandise in the next 45 days.

Now that you know your mission, you can develop a plan to accomplish it.

6. Define the relationship

In light of these missions, discuss the kind of relationship the prospective client is expecting. Is this a one-time thing (in which case all the mission planning is unnecessary) or is this the beginning of a business relationship? Personally, I wouldn’t do anything without a minimum of a six-month commitment.  We want to make the website perform better in measurable ways.  A six-month commitment is trivial in the larger context of a never ending web presence.

Think about it. If a business currently has a website, unless the web changes fundamentally or goes away, those businesses will ALWAYS have an Internet presence from here on out.  Six-months is not a lot of time to ask for starting a relationship with a client.We want ongoing relationships with clients. It’s the only way we can be sure to effect positive change. If you start off without a sufficient length of time to be successful, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

7. Rough out a framework for success

Most projects fail when they lose momentum. Successful projects maintain a sense of energy throughout the project. When people feel energy loss, they get stressed out and it makes the whole thing less fun. Instituting a calendar for the cycle of measuring, analysis, changing, and measuring again and sticking to it is the quickest way to alleviate the problem of a project losing energy.

Next, assign roles and responsibilities to everybody involved. This includes the prospect. If he’s responsible for content (say, a blog post) – make sure he knows it and agrees to write it by a certain date. And tell him you’re going to quarterback the whole thing so if he waits until the last minute, you’re going to be on his case about it.Ultimately you’re responsible for making sure the system laid out here is implemented. That’s your role, Mr. WebGuy. You’re the quarterback – insofar as you are responsible for making sure the plan comes together.  Don’t disappoint the Colonel.

Cigars for everybody!

But, do remember that this is an initial meeting so treat this exercise at this point as a back-of-the-envelope plan. It can be broad as long as it illustrates the point. This will be done more in-depth at the next meeting. Getting the point across on how the process works is more important at this stage than getting mired in the details.

This is also the place where you can whip out all your fancy toys. Show off Google Analytics, Webmaster Tools, Inspectlet, Feng-GUI, Usabilla or whatever other tools you use.  These are powerful tools and they will make a strong impact on your prospect.

8. Set broad budgets

Budgets come down to time and money.  To some business owners, time is money.  It may be the first thing that is discussed because for many it is a deal breaker. In general though, the more time, the more money.

In my meeting, I’d offer an annual monthly plan that’s tailored to achieve the above missions. It’s okay to use rough numbers.  But remember, there are pricing strategies.  Use them.

The goal here is to get comfortable with a pricing window. Pricing is based on the cycle of measuring, analysis, changing, and measuring again. Each cycle is its own unit. Broadly speaking, pricing can be thought of as buying a certain number of units.

Your pricing may vary, but broadly speaking this will be true.

If $50 is the best a client can do – but they’re committed for a year, they can move the needle.  It may be a fraction of what $500/mo. could do but it’s a start. Meet them where they are.  If you have a minimum spend, that’s fine. But aim to find a solution for their problems that works for their budget. Be honest and set expectations here. If you don’t, this will bite you later on.

If the website meets or exceed the expectations you set here, you can bet that they’ll become more receptive to speeding up the process.

9. Give them the back-of-the-envelope worksheet

Not pictured: The actual worksheet

If you’ve made it smoothly all the way to budgets, you’re in the home stretch. You’ve answered the Who, What, When, Where, Why, How and for How Much by hitting all the points above. Things should be pretty clear.  Make a copy of the notes you’ve been writing while talking to the prospect and give them the original to take with them.

Two points here.

1. People like it when you’re personal. Nothing says personal like a hand-written worked over worksheet that is all about generating more revenue for their business.  That’s a valuable document to them.  They’ll be glad they have it and thus glad they met with you.

2. Give them the original. You need the copy for your notes but the original – in pen – is a nice personal touch. Make sure they have it.

10. Setup a second meeting with all of the stakeholders to agree and further develop the plan, get the okay, and to sign the contract.

I believe that asking a small business owner to commit to a plan is something they should sleep on. If they are impulsive to get into it, they will be impulsive to get out of it or to change the details of the plan.  I don’t believe in having them sign a contract at the first meeting.  It undercuts everything that’s come before it.  The whole meeting has been about clarifying their business goals and matching them to how the website functions.  Shoving a contract in their face at the end of it is a bad note to end on.

Let them take the worksheet with them.  Let them make a few phone calls and talk it over with the wife or the business partners or their drinking buddies or whoever else they talk shop with. This meeting, done properly, is going to get them thinking about their business in all kinds ways that are energizing to them.  They want this system because in short, it’s the right way to do it.

Your goal is to setup a second meeting, or at least a phone call to set a second meeting. (They may have to check with other people to find out their schedule.)  If at all possible, get all the stakeholders in the room.  The system works best when everything is obvious to all of the stakeholders.  They need to know what’s going on.  I cannot stress how important it is to get the initial communication with them right.

Get them all in the room. Explain the situation. Hash out a plan. Come to an agreement and sign.  But leave that for the second meeting.

You want to end this meeting on a strong note, but one that shows your ability to plan too. So set the next meeting, say your pleasantries and say good bye.

Follow Up

Follow up with your prospect within 24 hours. Give them another piece of information about their business or their website that’s useful. Thank them again for coming by and sitting down and ask if you can follow up with them in a few days (if you didn’t get a meeting set) or confirm the meeting.


In short, be pro-active, do your research, offer a high value proposition, and keep focused on achieving their SMART goals. It’s all somebody could ask for from a designer and it will give you a real platform to create successful web sites.

2 comments on “10-Step Critical Path for a Successful Initial Meeting

  1. Pingback: How to Create Better Monthly Reports For Your Clients « Better User Experience

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