You need to present your credentials to a potential client. But if they’re in the room with you, it’s safe to assume they already know something about your strengths. So what’s the most important thing to say?

I once sat through a meeting that the leader of the pitching team started by presenting his and his firm’s credentials…for two hours. Literally. (And yes, I literally mean “literally.”) No one could derail the runaway train of his mouth – believe me, I tried. The only thing that stopped the monologue was an assistant popping in to see if we wanted to order lunch. Oh boy, did we ever!

In two hours of talking, he never managed to say the six little words that should start any first meeting with a potential client:

What can we do for you?

Say the six magic works and then close your mouth and open your ears. Because how can you serve your clients if you don’t know what they want?

Many people talk about listening, but few people actually do it. I think that’s because it requires a certain level of courage: What if what they want isn’t what I want to do? What if it’s beyond my expertise? What if I fail? It’s a lot easier not to fail if you never articulate a goal.

Listening isn’t the only way to win clients – I just think it’s the best way. It shows you respect them and their business. It’s a great way to build a relationship.

And what about that guy who delivered the two-hour monologue? Believe it or not, the clients actually hired his firm. But they never listened to a word he said.

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