Tips for Leading Effective Client Update Meetings

Good morning or good afternoon to all of you. My name is Brad, and thank you for joining our monthly webinar here at Adigo. This month we are talking about tips for client update meetings. This is a continuation in our series of different webinars on different types of meetings. We feel strongly that every meeting type is somewhat of a beast all its own, and the preparation and structure behind that should be quite different, so like to share best practices on what works.

We’ll be going for about 20 minutes. We’ve got quite a bit to do and go through, so bear with me. You should know that your chat on the right side is active. It is private, though, so whatever you do send into the chat, that just goes to my eyes and no one else. Everyone also on the audio side is on mute, so if you’re having lunch now and a working lunch for you, don’t worry about rustling the paper chip bag. That won’t interfere at all.

Also wanted to just see what people thought as they join the conference. This is a VIP account, what we call our VIP account, so you dropped right into conference without having to enter anything at all. Go ahead and send me a chat, let me know what you thought of that, if you find it a very fast way to get into the call as well as a very easy way to do that.

Let’s move forward. First of all, just to give everyone a heads up, I’ll be doing just a quick introduction, tell you a little bit about how I am. Then we’ll be moving right into things in terms of what are the specific challenges as they relate to client update calls, what type of planning is appropriate, how can we better structure the meeting to facilitate what we want to accomplish on both sides, for us as well as the client, and what is an appropriate agenda. There’s some must have items, so we want to make sure that those are included.

Then we also want to touch on conflict management. Obviously this is hopefully avoided in our preparation, but client update calls are notorious for going in and getting blindsided in some cases and boy, things just falling apart, so what to do if that situation does arise. Then we’ll follow up with some other things as you can see. Feel free to jump in at any point if you need to go in and out during the 20 minutes.

First of all, a little bit about me, though. I am the president here at Adigo Conferencing. I’ve got experience both at private companies. Of course we’re a private company, but before Adigo at several different public companies as well. In addition, I have started three different businesses, so rest assured I’ve had experience with lots of clients. Honestly, I’ve often been burned over the years during a client update meeting, so want to share some personal experiences as well, and hopefully help others avoid those.

As we’re talking about that, send me a chat in on the pane on the right. We’d love to make this as relevant as possible, so let me know what your experience is, what type of client update meetings you’ve been involved with, and what’s worked and what hasn’t.

First of all, why have a client update meeting in the first place? Well, in many cases if you’re a consulting type of company doing project work, they’re often required and built into the parameters of the contract itself. That’s not always the case, so I think there’s an argument to having client update meetings regardless of the type of company you are, whether you’re doing consulting work or not.

First of all, there could be project creep or scope creep as it’s talked about. It’s really important to keep a handle on that. Also, even in a service business, if it’s not consulting work, just like in our business with conferencing services, you need to manage expectations. Early on in the relationship you want to understand if there’s any misconceptions on either side. That needs to be cleared up.

You also want to gauge your success. How is the project proceeding? You want to know early on whether things are on track or not, because at the end of the line it’s just too late of course to do that. That’s to avoid any type of surprises. Really, I think of client update meetings as a real positive experience. Some people don’t like them and it’s a source of a tremendous amount of stress, but they should not be that way I don’t think at all. They’re a very positive experience if you’ve done your homework ahead of time.

That’s what we’ll talk about, because really it’s a significant revenue upsell opportunity whether that involves approving cost overruns on a current product or if there are additional opportunities for more projects afterwards or additional business. Then, lastly, I think it’s always important to keep in mind opportunities for referrals. This is where most businesses get there customers, is references and referrals from a good job well done.

What does that mean? It does mean that in your meetings you should probably involve sales. You also want to control the meeting. It’s necessary to get good feedback, and in order to do that you’ll want to have a very interactive type of experience.

What have you experienced? Is this the typical situation that folks on the cal have had where everyone is happy and clapping? Tell me in the chat again, if you would, your experiences. Sometimes things don’t always go this way. Perhaps the champion of the project that you initially put the project together with is no longer there. Because of that, there might be other staff, different dynamics in the communications. The update call might involve many doers on the client’s side, not necessarily the decision maker. If this was planned in the contract on a regular basis, then that’s one thing, but sometimes client udpate meetings happen with little notice and you might be surprised. It could be in response to a problem or a crisis that’s going on. In those situations, clearly there’s a potential for things to go awry. That’s what we hope to avoid.

Perhaps it could be that you’re entirely blindsided and you’re going into the meeting thinking everything is going well, but there are competing agendas perhaps on the client’s side internally, different groups of people wanting to accomplish different things within the meeting. That’s something to be aware of before going into the meeting, because if some of these things are happening, missed deadlines or where perhaps on your side you’ve missestimated the project, the scope or the skillset required, those are all issues that can result in a loss of trust. That of course results into a potential meeting where there’s some dysfunction. Hopefully it doesn’t just dissolve into a general bitch session, but maybe some of us have had that experience. I know I have in the past. Not to be proud of that, but that’s what we hope to avoid.

Because if that were to happen, then ultimately you’re getting other people involved. It’s raising the issue up the flagpole, and then the bottom line is there’s a financial implication to that. It’s perhaps the project is not as profitable, or really I think in a more significant way that the follow-on revenue opportunities, whether it’s for additional business at that client or a different client, are lost.

What can we do? First of all, it’s all about your planning at the front end. I like to say that cheating is not only acceptable, it’s actually encouraged. What do I mean by that? In a client update call you don’t want to go in blind. I can’t tell you how many meetings in the past I’ve been a part of where people didn’t reach out. There should be a specific client contact that’s running the meeting, and it’s imperative that you have a conversation with the client ahead of time, at least a week ahead of time depending on the frequency of these meetings. It should be a conversation, not an email. It’s important that it’s not documented in black and white like an email, but you want to have a frank conversation with your client, understand ahead of time their view of the project not only personally but from the company as a whole, and understand any open issues that there may be.

That also should happen internally on your side. You need to have a discussion in advance with all the participants that are working on the project and understand the situation from each of their perspectives. Then lastly, you want to really put some thought into who are the attendees. A lot of people like to match the level of people on the client side to your side. I’ve mentioned early, it’s important I think to include sales, someone from the sales department. Then keep in mind a client update meeting should really be a summary level only. You don’t need subject matter experts in every different area so that you can answer any question that may come up. You’re really not trying to establish credibility here. You’re trying to communicate status primarily. It’s actually better, I believe, not to have those experts included in this type of meeting.

What should the structure be? First of all, you want to distribute your agenda a couple of days prior. This does a number of things. It sets the stage for what’s discussed and it helps again to prevent the blindside or the meeting dissolving when it actually happens, because by putting this in place ahead of time, you’re giving them the opportunity to make changes. If they do not, then you’ve got established that the agenda of the meeting should flow as described.

You also want to, during the actual meeting, have notes displayed in real time, so again, that you can focus the direction of the meeting and be in control of it. That’s going to be important, because I think you want to start off with the presentation. You don’t want to open things up, especially in the beginning, to a general discussion. You want to have your agenda very concise and specific. We’ll talk about that in another slide in more detail, but first, it’s a overview of what the status of the project is, and then discussion.

Now, if you do know ahead of time that there is an issue or a crisis or a problem that has come up, you do want to address that early on. We call it welcoming the elephant into the room. If there’s an elephant in the room, it’s better to say hey, there you are. When there’s a problem it’s better to acknowledge that early on, say we know there’s an issue here and we’re going to be going through that later in the meeting. Again, not to open it up early on, and actually, the details of which you’ll want to handle offline. A client update meeting is not a problem solving meeting about a particular problem. It’s a different type of meeting.

Being consistent and regular with this format is very critical. This structure is important because you’re setting this up as a precedent and you want to make that precedent be in your favor because this is not going to be the first and only client update meeting hopefully, but one of several moving forward.

Let’s talk a little bit more detail about the agenda. First of all, the current status of the project really should be the majority of the meeting time. We recommend well over 50% of the meeting should be just about what’s the current status, because you’re really showcasing your firm’s effort during this meeting.

Some must-haves to hit on are what’s the schedule. You want to talk about where the milestones are, what the timing has been, and whether things are on schedule or not. Regardless of where you are budget-wise, you don’t want to ignore that, so whether you’re on budget, under budget, or as often the case may be, over budget, that needs to be discussed. It needs to be discussed on a regular basis. Always include where you are, budget to date, and projected.

Third, you want to discuss deliverables. This is a critical area. Always be up front with where things are with deliverables and milestones, because again, that’s really where the rubber hits the road as you’re doing project work.

Another thing that’s often skipped but I think is critically important is discussion of quality. On these deliverables, there should be quality metrics built in, whether there are specific metrics or not. You’ll want to have it as a line item to be discussed so that you get feedback on the quality of your work. You don’t want to go through a month or three or six-month-long project only to find out at the end that the client wasn’t impressed. Then lastly, update on the scope. Often there’s project creep so you need to address that on a regular basis.

Second half of the agenda should really be about challenges. Again, this is all about communication and avoiding misunderstanding, so you do want to address challenges on a regular basis. They do always come up. They should not be avoided. Speak to them in terms of the actual situation and identify what are the next steps, because it might be … and we’ll talk more about this in a little bit, but you might still be trying to get your arms around what the challenge is, identifying the scope of the problem. What the next step might be is data gathering still, or you might be in an analytics stage of the challenge. Identify what those next steps are so it’s clear. If you’re at the point yet of identifying potential solutions, then I think that’s also very relevant if it’s at a high level. You don’t want to go into great detail, and again, you don’t want to dissolve into problem solving. That’s not appropriate. To give a high level idea of some potential approaches is very relevant.

Then always leave time for new items. You’ll want to identify what those may be, either on your side or the client’s side. Again, as I mentioned earlier, I think new revenue opportunities are a specific and important part of the client update meetings, and this is where that can come in. Talk about what else is going on at your client company, what other strategic objectives they might be doing. That’s an avenue for you to get more information about what’s going on and where your project may fit in into the wider, broader picture.

After you’ve got the agenda in place, what if there is an issue? What if you did your homework, you did cheat, you found out that they’re upset about xyz? What’s going to happen? If it comes up and you were blindsided, how do you deal with that? The International Quality and Productivity Center has established five different approaches to resolving conflict, because if it happens you do have to deal with it of course. Send me a chat. Let me know who can identify the two approaches listed here that really are not recommended. Then send me a chat if you can identify the three that are better approaches in dealing with conflict management.

Yeah, this was a softball. This was a gimme if you’re looking at the slide because I’ve got it separated. You don’t want to avoid things. You’ve probably gotten a sense already from the recommended agendas that it’s all about being upfront and communicative about the status of things. Don’t avoid the conflict, if it’s there, deal with it. Don’t get into a competitive situation. The three recommended approaches are a … accommodation means one side or the other is basically going to accept that it’s either over budget or delayed or whatever the situation may be. Often it’s wonderful if you can get to an approach where there’s compromise on both sides, or really in the end if you can have a collaborative type of discussion where both sides work towards a solution together that is the best approach. Again, that’s not what you want to be doing during the client update meeting.

If a disagreement or a challenge comes up, what we recommend first is actually to take a break. Stop. Slow down. Because emotion can often run high when the issue is up on the agenda or breaks into the agenda. Say, “You know what? Let’s take a break right here, gather our thoughts, and then come back and we’ll address this.” It may need to only be a five-minute [inaudible 00:19:17] but you’ll be amazed at how well that works.

The number one task during the client update meeting is simply to find out what the scope of the problem is, because often there’s a misunderstanding on one side or both sides. Identify what the scope is and then stop again. Later, in a different meeting, not this client update meeting, because you’ll likely need other people, the right people and the proper format to go through what are possible solutions … Do that offline. Identify what other resources might be needed. It’s at that point that you can then move toward a root cause analysis and fix. What this does is gets you out of the finger pointing arena and back into a solution-orientated mentality.

Lastly, want to talk about documenting your meeting. It’s so easy to record meetings even if they’re in person and live. Simply call into your conferencing system. You can record it easily that way. When you take notes of the meeting, be sure everyone can see it whether it’s live and in a meeting, put that up on a projector, or if it’s a virtual meeting like we’ll talk about in a second, then have those notes shared. Be sure to include the date and attendees and the agenda and discussion points. You’d be amazed how many times we’ve been in meetings only to ask afterwards, “Was so and so there?” and no one can remember and it wasn’t in the notes. Kind of a basic thing.

There’s a lot of benefits to doing these meetings virtually, not just because we’re a conferencing company but a virtual conference call style client update meeting is great. I’ve listed a few things here. I’m going to jump right to the bottom, though. What it does is allow you to have internal communication on your side. Heck, if you follow these ideas and suggestions, hopefully everything goes smoothly, but when it doesn’t, it’s sure nice if you and your time can be at one table and you can have a little side discussion on paper or via chat or email during the meeting to make sure everyone’s on the same page. That’s difficult to do when you’re face to face. Again, you’re not needing to perhaps establish that face time because this is an update call, not a sales call to begin with. That’s why mediation is all done in separate rooms. Think about that. I think you’ll find it very effective.

If you’re going to do it virtual, use the right tools. A conference call system, if you’re going to utilize that, make sure you can manage the background noise that may occur. Someone’s traveling and on the road, be sure you can put the call into a listen-only mode because during the beginning portion you’ll really want to be delivering a presentation that may have questions but hopefully you can save the questions until the end after you’ve done your presentation. If that’s the case, if there’s multiple speakers, be sure you can identify them with your conference call system so that they don’t get muted during that portion. Basecamp is another tool we like a lot for project management. That’s often used in the industry.

We’re wrapping up. What are the takeaways? First of all, definitely cheat. It’s great to cheat on a client update call. Don’t go in blind. Ask them ahead of time what do they think, what’s going on, and have an actual conversation. Can’t stress that enough. Secondly in your agenda, present first. Don’t just open it up to a general discussion. Have a more formalized presentation where you cover the five bullet points that we talked about. If there is an issue or some type of conflict, know ahead of time how you’re going to deal with that. Remember to take a break after it comes up, let the emotions subside, and then really focus only on making sure everybody has a complete understand. Then, always think of the client update calls as a opportunity to develop new revenue.

Any questions? I know we went through that very, very quickly. My contact information is there on top. I’m happy to stay on the call. A number of you have chatted, so I’ll be happy to take those questions offline at the end of the call in another minute here. Press star pound three on your phone if you’ve got a question and you’ll go into the queue, or feel free to email me or give me a call afterwards.

Let me know what you thought of this. Nothing’s taken personally, but really do want to get feedback and understand how we can make these more helpful. If you really didn’t care for it, chat in or email me a one and let me know why. On the other hand, if you thought this was very informative and helpful, five would be super. Next month we’ll have another one, so we’ll look forward to seeing you the second Tuesday of March. Until then, have an excellent rest of your afternoon, and again, appreciate very much your time. 


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