Lessons Learned From a Weird Client Call

I had a weird client call. These are the lessons that I learned from having a client call where the person on the other end didn't want to talk about working together.

Lessons Learned From a Weird Client Call
Photo by Andrei Slobtsov / Unsplash

Part of being a consultant involves making sales calls or conducting discovery calls with potential clients. It's one of my least favorite parts of being a consultant, but it's part of the job. I'm working on becoming better at it so that I don't dread it so much. Most of the time, these calls or meetings are great. Everyone is excited about the possibilities, and there is momentum to move forward with something. Even if I don't get the project, I usually walk away feeling pretty good. Sometimes, though, they're weird.

If you're trying to grow and get more clients and build up a portfolio, you find different ways to meet people. I go to Meetup events, volunteer with local organizations, and utilize LinkedIn's Sales Navigator tool. I recently connected with someone on LinkedIn who was in the same industry as one of my big clients. After connecting via the standard LinkedIn connection, they sent me a message to ask about what I do. I responded by telling them I build data processes and data visualizations for healthcare research organizations, primarily. The person responded by saying that was interesting because they had just discussed creating interesting visualizations for their business with a partner. "Perfect," I thought, "this fits right into my wheelhouse." Based on that information, they wanted to set up a time to meet and sent me a meeting invite. So far, this was going great; it felt like something right out of the how-to-be-a-consultant playbook. Connect --> message back and forth a bit --> discovery call --> start project. That's the dream, but it rarely happens this easily.

When it came time for the meeting, I was excited to hear what this person was working on and how I could help them out. I couldn't have been more wrong. When the meeting started, there wasn't any of the normal 'get to know you or your business' type of conversation. Generally, in initial phone calls, I'll ask a couple of questions about what they're working on or what problems they're facing. They will tell me why they wanted to talk or what pain points they're trying to solve. This meeting was not going to be like that. The person immediately questioned why we were having the meeting in the first place. They had no idea why we were having the meeting, how we got connected, and didn't have a clue what I did. I was really confused - and still am. I've never had that happen before and was really taken aback. Why would a person schedule a call with me if they had no idea what I did or how I could be of service to them?

This was an awkward start but felt like a good time to practice sales and to do some selling. I've read books on cold calling and selling, so I was prepared to deliver my value pitch describing the things I've been working on that I thought would be of value to this person. Unfortunately, they didn't understand what I was talking about and kept asking me why we were having this meeting. It was so odd, they were the one who requested the meeting, so I assumed (never assume anything) that they had a problem they needed solved or at least saw some value in what I could provide them. I was wrong. After trying to describe creating data visualizations that I've done in the past, I tried to ask them about their data and any problems they have that they thought I could be of service. Due to them saying they were interested in visualizations I tried to drive that point home. But, unfortunately it wasn't working and I got nothing back; it was clear they didn't want to talk to me or tell me anything about their business. Instead, it was just more confusion about why they were spending time talking to me.

Seeing this wasn't going anywhere, I threw them a lifeline by saying this was possibly just a mix-up and there isn't a path forward to work together. They took the lifeline and agreed. We politely said thank you for your time and goodbyes then ended the meeting.

And that was it. I'm still really confused about that phone call. It didn't make any sense to me why someone would want to schedule time to talk but then have no interest in talking. I don't have hard feelings towards that person or their organization and now have a funny story. What I've learned from this meeting is that I need to be upfront before the next first client call to be sure we're all on the same page. Now that I'm writing this, asking questions before the meeting actually sounds like a great idea to help me be more prepared for client calls like this.

Going forward, before each client call, I will ask these questions via email upfront in order to get a base understanding or at least set the agenda for the meeting:

  • Can you tell me a bit about your organization and the core challenges you are currently facing?
  • What are some issues or pain points that you are experiencing?
  • Is there a problem or goal that you can see I can help you overcome or achieve?
  • What resources (budget, personnel, technology) have been allocated for this project?
  • What timeframe are you looking for to complete this project?
  • How do you prefer to communicate (email, phone, video calls) during the project?

With this new set of questions, I hope to establish an understanding of what the client's needs are before we get on the phone. Additionally, they demonstrate that I'm taking a proactive stance and commitment to delivering a valuable solution for their organization.