Although it’s true for most tables, the table I’m referring to is the focus group table. More clients, especially those in specialty niches and clients from other cultures, are taking me up on the invitation to sit at the table with us so they can benefit more fully.

My European clients have come to appreciate having a seat at the table. It’s easier for them to understand language differences, and they’re very charming, which adds a lot to the experience for the participants.  When they first sat in on focus groups, they instinctively tried to sell and take control the group. They interrupted and asked questions that weren’t related to the topic at hand, which made participants feel they weren’t listening or interested in what people were saying. Their questions were leading ones, and they took every response personally, and became defensive instead of gaining insight.   For clients who like the idea of sitting at the table but are uncertain how to behave, here’s how to optimize the experience with some ground rules:

Be Authentic. When you take a seat at the table, your customers should know who you are. They need to know you’re interested in hearing them and what your role is.

Check your ego at the door. This can be challenging for most of us. It isn’t about selling, persuading, or manipulating. It’s about listening, learning, and caring enough to help solve their problems and address their concerns. When that’s the rule from the start, participants are comfortable enough to be honest, and clients gain much more insight.

Stay seated.  Clients need to stay seated so the balance of power doesn’t shift. When my Italian client and I first started working together, he had a habit of walking around the room and standing behind the participants with his hands on the back of their chairs. He was the only one who missed the looks of discomfort and irritation on participants’ faces and the shift from honesty to participants saying what they thought he wanted to hear. That doesn’t mean there’s no standing. I stand, and I often invite respondents and clients to stand to introduce themselves, and present their ideas; it builds everyone’s connection, confidence, and presence.

Give gifts. Participants at our table are our guests. Think of the gift as a parting thank you. It’s a generous and memorable way to conclude. My European clients always give gifts at the end of focus groups – gifts that are relevant to the topic and hand-picked by them. They’ve given out chocolate, cheese, kitchen utensils, tote bags, books, and splits of champagne.

Would you like to join us?