“I have an idea that won’t help me at all…”

You’re in a meeting with a potential new client. While you’re listening to your client talk, an idea occurs to you that might be useful to them, but won’t help you at all. Do you take time out of an already short meeting to explain your idea? Or, do you stay focused on understanding the needs they have that your product or service might be able to meet?

This is probably an easy one for most folks. I’m betting most of us would offer an idea that is unrelated to our product or service. It builds good will, shows that you are listening, and illustrates that you are a useful resource.

Let’s break this down into two deeper questions.

1) What if it actually reduces the chance that you’ll do business with them? Do you still do it?
2) If yes, when and how do you bring it up?

Even if the idea that I have reduces the chance that they’ll do business with me that day, if I think it’s a good idea, I’ll usually tell them anyway. The salesman that says to me… “You know what, I don’t think you need my product right now. Try this for awhile and if and when things get more complicated for you, we’ll talk again.”…has earned my allegiance. Building a relationship that’s valuable to them is valuable to you.

What about when and how one communicates ideas that might help?

One effective guideline is to make a note every time you get an idea that might be useful to them. Then wait until there are about ten minutes to go in the meeting, and walk them through your list item by item. Do this near the end of the meeting rather than suggesting ideas as they occur to you. Suggesting ideas as they occur to you breaks the flow of the client informing you. Plus, you might find out later in the conversation that your idea isn’t worth mentioning. Wait until the end of the meeting when you’re the most fully informed to offer suggestions. Then if they don’t seem to have any interest in the idea, you can move efficiently on to the next idea on your list, and not waste any time on a suggestion that doesn’t have traction.

I start this process by saying something like, “There are seven things you mentioned that I want to go back to. The first is your concern about the time cost of managing paperwork and required reporting; what we’ve done to mitigate that is..”, or whatever my thought is about how a need I heard might be met. I’ll list any ideas I have about things they’ve told me during the meeting; perhaps introducing them to a vendor, giving them market information, or simply offering a different perspective on a challenge. Hopefully, useful ideas marching into their pocket, for free.

The most important things I say in a meeting are all the ideas, possibilities and information I offer, one after the other, at the end. It’s a great way to be useful and remembered.

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