Thursday, 28 October 2010 15:46

How to enjoy a coffee with a client

I had what I thought was a red-hot sales lead, so I took the prospective client out for a coffee. Unfortunately, I haven't landed the sale and I think it may be down to the meeting.

The client seemed genuinely disgusted with me and I'm not sure why. I may have snorted some coffee out of my nose while laughing but, apart from that, I can't think what I did wrong. Can you shed any light on this?


Hurry, Hurry, Hurry! These thoughts come into most of our heads when we are staring wildly at the barista each morning before we step into our offices. Surely this actually makes him churn out our first caffeine fix faster, right?


Coffee is done! And before we say thank you we throw the brew straight down our throats.... Ahhhhhhh. Now we can actually concentrate on the day ahead; checking the diary you see you get to have another coffee (yay) in the one-on-one meeting with that really important new client, thinking: 'I hope we get the chocolate biscuits in the meeting room this time.'


The above situation is highly acceptable behaviour in the morning while you are alone with the thoughts in your head. But none of the above should ever, ever enter an intimate client meeting.


Many people get stuck thinking that a coffee meeting is just an informal meeting. So wrong. These 'informal' meetings leave lasting impressions just as much as any formal event does.


The thing with etiquette is, people might not say that they care about it, but do the wrong thing and they will judge. They might not even know exactly what you have done wrong but they'll just get an inkling that they don't like how you operate.


I grew up with my mother being a crazy etiquette drill sergeant to me and my sisters and so she is always interested in what I'm up to with my coaching. "What is your next article on?" I answered "On coffee mum, coffee etiquette." My father, who is just like another one of her children sparked up in the conversation, "Coffee etiquette? What do you mean coffee? You drink it! I don't understand."


Once I explained a few coffee etiquette faux pas to Dad he said, "Ah yes, all the things your mother tells me not to do." Luckily my father is not in a client facing role.


So here are those tips:


First of all, sitting is very important. Sit right the first time to make sure you aren't a wiggling worm. Back straight and feet flat on the floor or for a woman, one ankle behind the other. This will let you sit comfortably for hours.


When you receive your coffee cup, add sugar or milk if you desire and use the spoon once to stir them. Make certain not to 'tingle tingle' your spoon on the sides of the cup, this is one of the biggest coffee faux pas.


Remove your spoon (never lick it) and place the yummy frothy spoon on the saucer and that is the last time you are to touch that spoon. Lift the cup or mug with one hand and place it down after each sip. We are not having an alfresco meeting in Alaska so no need to keep warm by holding the cup with both hands in between sips.


Regardless of how delicious those biscuits are on the table; just because there are six biscuits on the plate does not mean you have to eat all six. It doesn't matter if you skipped breakfast, you are not in this meeting to eat. One biscuit maximum and of course that is after you offer them to everyone else at the table first.


Lastly, never have your mobile phone or any other personal belongings on the table. If you must have them with you, they go in your handbag under your chair and your phone on silent.


If you have an amazingly urgent call that might happen while this meeting takes place then apologise right at the start of the meeting and explain why you will have your ringer on. Now I'm saying this reason is urgent, like Oprah is calling you personally urgent; anything besides Oprah calling can wait.


The reason for all this is like I stated above, it's so you aren't judged, so your client is only concentrating on what you are offering. You would like them to be thinking "Wow this person really knows their product. I'm impressed and I want in" rather than any distracting biscuit eating trait you have.


As I always say, remember you are your client's experience of the company, you are the service. How you act in your meetings influences the way they perceive you and your company as a firm and its value.


When you are confident with etiquette and appropriate behaviours then you can concentrate on the important things in the meeting. When you don't have to think about which bread is yours or what fork to use then you can put all your attention on your meeting purpose, your product, and your client! Enjoy this new found confidence.

Leadership advice, news and tips from Australia's best business start-up mentors and journalists. StartupSmart's leadership section features information and advice for business start-ups and people looking to start a business.

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