Where Should We Go? Choosing the Right Environment for a Client Meeting

Margaret Feltsby Margaret Felts, CPSM

Building relationships, learning about client needs, and figuring out better ways to work together are the keys to sustained business in the professional services industry. Meeting face to face and having a conversation is the best way to go about this. These essential client meetings happen at a variety of times and different locations, often over coffee or a meal.

Too often, I find myself sitting at a restaurant or coffee bar in a client meeting trying to listen and engage with a client but being distracted by the venue itself. Sometimes, it’s so high-end elegant that the meeting becomes formal and tight-lipped. Other times, the venue is too casual or too loud to really have a meaningful conversation and retain information that you’re discussing. If the venue is too novel, just figuring out the logistics of how to order or where to pay can be a burden on the meeting.

The environment can make or break your client meeting, so it’s important to put some thought into where you go.

Location, Location, Location

A good place to start is with physical location. Are you meeting them at or near their office, or is your client coming to you?

If the client is coming to your location, pre-select a few go-to places near your office that can work for any client so you’ll always have a ready answer. Look for middle of the road pricing, consistent food and drink quality, great customer service, and easy ordering and payment procedures.

If you’re meeting your client in their location, ask them where they’d prefer to meet. Chances are they have a favorite meeting spot near their office that is familiar. Be prepared to throw out a few suggestions if they don’t have an immediate response. It has the benefit of establishing a helpful vibe and also serves to show you took some time to prepare for the meeting, even getting to know their neck of the woods a little.

Going to a place that is familiar to one or both of you helps you both focus your attentions and listen to each other, with less worry on whether the food, services, environment, and noise level will be accommodating.

The Nature of the Meeting

Another way to choose a good meeting venue is thinking about what type of meeting you’re having. Is it a confidential business discussion, a formal first introduction, or a more casual “catching up” conversation? Knowing these answers can help determine how formal or informal a venue best suits the type of meeting you’re having.

For a casual meeting, the local bar and grill may be the perfect spot. For more specific topics that may require some privacy, choose a small venue and make a reservation. If possible, request to be seated in a high backed booth or over in a corner away from other guests.

Know Your Client

It’s also important to take what you know about your client into account. Selecting a venue that suits their personality and eating preferences will help establish a comfortable atmosphere, which helps conversation flow more naturally. This may be a chain restaurant for one person and a mom and pop treasure for another. They may enjoy trying new places every day or they may enjoy sticking strictly within their comfort zone. It also may affect whether you choose to meet over a meal at all. Sometimes coffee or a cocktail is the better way to go if the thought of eating and talking isn’t your cup of tea.

This may seem a tricky factor for new clients, but the easiest way to figure out what type of environment your client prefers is to ask. Asking in and of itself shows you value getting to know them. For established clients, it’s another way to show that you care and that you listen.


Follow Margaret on Twitter @MFelts_WH

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