How to control a business meeting: Michelle interviewed for BusinessZone

18th October, 2016

This article was originally written by Lucie Mitchell for Businesszone.


“The longer I work in business the more I realise that success is predicated not just on the quality of your service and product, though that is important, but on your ability to build relationships,” remarks Michelle Wright, founder and CEO of social enterprise Cause4. “People want to work with companies they like and trust, with good values. The ability to build rapport, present clearly and to relate to people face-to-face just cannot be undervalued – it’s essential.”

A 2014 study by the Wall Street Journal revealed that 88% of respondents feel face-to-face meetings are essential when securing a business deal, while 81% believe that meeting in person is the best way to build relationships.

Meanwhile, a report this year by Egencia found that 90% of UK business travellers feel face-to-face meetings are more effective and productive, while 70% think they would be less successful in their role if they did not travel.

For Ian Hood, CEO and co-founder of communications agency Babel, making a point of meeting potential clients in person has proved to be very worthwhile for his business.

“A recent analysis of our new business activity revealed a dramatically improved win rate if we meet in person, roughly double that of activity where we rely on some form of remote presentation,” he says.

“That effect is even more pronounced if the opportunity is with a foreign company – they clearly appreciate the commitment, and meeting in person allows us to quickly develop rapport, understand the requirement more accurately and tailor the offer appropriately. The added benefit for us is that we use the opportunity to develop a better understanding of the market in question and to identify additional new business opportunities as a result.”

Key elements of communication, such as body language and eye contact, are often lost in virtual exchanges, yet these are crucial when building relationships.

“Securing a business deal or engaging with employees requires an element of trust, and this is more likely in face-to-face interactions because you can look somebody in the eye and rely on cues such as body language, gestures and vocal signals,” says Deniz Ucbasaran, professor of entrepreneurship at Warwick Business School.

Neil Westwood, MD and co-founder of Magic Whiteboard, recently had to travel to Japan to meet potential distributors – a meeting which definitely paid off.

“In some cultures like Japan, it is very important that the first meetings are done face-to-face,” he comments. “We secured a deal for £60,000; we would not have achieved this via email. By going there it showed we were serious and wanted to do business.”

Colin Pyle, co-founder of coffee producer CRU Kafe, says it can be a mistake to rely on digital platforms such as LinkedIn for success and that, if you want to build long-term relationships, you need to put effort into networking and setting up meetings with companies that should buy your product or service.

“A personal connection is everything in business and being able to establish that early on in a relationship is critical to both the overall success of that relationship, and the speed at which the relationship starts paying dividends.”

He adds that conducting his meetings face-to-face has been absolutely instrumental in securing his customers, especially as he sells a consumable product. Two of his biggest customers are Soho House and Ocado, and meeting with them resulted in two lucrative contracts, each worth around six figures a year.

“The ability for my customers and partners to taste the product, look me in the eyes and believe that I can deliver has been a cornerstone to our early success.  Both Soho House and Ocado are a huge part of our current business and would have never been closed without a face-to-face. “

James Constantinou, owner of Prestige Pawnbrokers, says that face-to-face meetings are far more important than a telephone call or email conversation in his industry of luxury goods.

“I find meeting a client in person far easier to close a deal on the spot, rather than wasting time talking over the phone or via a number of emails, where actually nothing of note really gets achieved,” he comments.

Obviously there are costs involved with holding a face-to-face meeting, including travel and venue expenses, so it’s really important you do your homework first and spend time planning and preparing, so that the meeting is worthwhile and any costs are turned into an investment for your business.

Pyle spends much time planning for face-to-face meetings and aims to provide an agenda at least 24 hours beforehand, so that he can maximise everyone’s time.

“Preparation is everything, and just the process of preparing and sending an agenda is so rarely done that often the person I'm meeting is already impressed with my organisation and professionalism before we even meet,” he remarks.

“To keep costs down, I often look at my calendar in one-month chunks to see where some of my other meetings are going to be, and try to bolt on speculative ‘sales’ meetings either before or after an already-planned meeting. Therefore, the costs are sunk and it's a win-win.”

It may also be worth only arranging face-to-face meetings when you are sure it will deliver long-term value.

“I will only attend a meeting if I believe it to be of value to us as a business, and the client checks out,” says Constantinou. “In my line of work it is a necessity to travel and we receive enquiries from all over the world. I may well go to Mexico to see a rare sports car that’s of notable interest, but I might not go there just to see a luxury handbag. We have to legitimately make sure that all the facts stack up prior to travelling.”

It can’t be emphasised enough how important it is to prepare and do your research ahead of any face-to-face meeting. As such, there are certain skills needed for any entrepreneur to ensure the meeting is an effective driver of business.

“Be clear about what you want to get out of the meeting and, whilst there, know when to let a discussion go on and when to steer it in the direction you want,” advises Ucbasaran. “Nobody likes a meeting without focus and which drags on, so it’s important for the person leading the meeting to take control. Also, know your audience so you can connect with them in a variety of ways.”

Westwood concludes: “Just be honest with each other; if they trust and like you, and the price is right, you will do business.”

Read the original article here.

"The course was informative, enjoyable, covering plenty of ground in just one day without feeling rushed at all. It came at a crucial time in our planning and thinking as a development team and was a very welcome pause for thought. Michelle was a brilliant facilitator and it was a real benefit to hear about her experiences across the sector."

Jane Reynolds, Development Manager, Manchester International Festival