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They said what?! A guide to managing your team in client meetings

By 26/11/2015Features, General
You said what? A guide to managing your team in client meetings

Who doesn’t love a good meeting? A bit of chit chat, maybe a presentation, discussion, next steps are defined and you’re done. What could possibly go wrong? Well, everything really. And it does go wonky surprisingly often. It’s surprising how a few misspoken words or clumsiness in a client meeting can kybosh an entire project.

It’s usually the role of account and project management to interact with clients. And it’s usually best that way because that’s what we’re (at least should be) good at. Not everyone’s going to like this – but here’s the problem – when we bring our team into a meeting with a client, we multiply the risk of things going wonky considerably.

There are times when you’ll find you need to bring in your project team to have direct client contact – perhaps even (in a total meltdown scenario) when you can’t be there at all yourself. So how can you make sure these meetings are a success? How can you prepare your teams for your clients? This is a guide for briefing your team for client meetings to ensure everyone’s a winner.

No really, should you be doing this?

Before we even go into the detail of how you can manage our teams with clients, a good starting point is to ask yourself first the question – should they even be talking to the client? By and large, it’s the role of account or project management, so if you’re asking your team to talk directly to the client or in a client meeting, make sure that they’ve got a clear mandate for contributing or making contact. The reason for this is pretty simple; we want client communication to be as streamlined and efficient as possible to minimize confusion and ensure that as an agency we’re ‘on message’ – saying the right things at the right time to ensure the project is a success.

So if you’re confident there’s a mandate and you’re clear on the message you want to communicate, here are five tips for briefing your team on interacting with clients:

1.      Represent the agency

When you’re in a meeting with a client, remind your team that they are acting as the face and the voice of the agency.  Anything they say or do won’t just be representing their personal opinion but will be interpreted (or misinterpreted) by the client as ‘the agency says…’. The team need to be careful what they say and do. It means being on their best behaviour – smiling, concentrating, engaged, taking notes, being positive, friendly and showing they’re interested in what is being discussed. Speak highly of the agency and your colleagues and also of the client their colleagues and projects. Encourage them to do their bit to foster a positive environment in the meeting rather than a negative one. Finally, remind them of your role – ask them to allow you to take the lead and draw them into the discussion rather than contributing whenever they feel like it.

2.      Plan, plan, then plan some more

Make sure your team has prepared for the meeting. Check in with your team ahead of the meeting to ensure that they’re clear about what their roles will be in the meeting. Make sure they’re clear about what they’re expected to share and when they’re expected to contribute (and not) – including any documentation that they might need to refer too. Planning and preparing properly reduces the stress of the meeting, and when the client can see the entire team is prepared and knows their stuff, it builds our clients confidence in the ability of the agency to deliver.

3.      Be nice

A happy client leads to a happy project. An important aspect of delivering a project successfully is keeping the client on-side and happy so you’re working with the client as a team rather than against each other.  So tell your team to play nicely; be nice. To treat clients like they might treat their grandparents – with deference, respect and recognition that without them, the agency wouldn’t exist! Everyone in the team needs to leave their attitude at the door. Remind them that even if they disagree with the client, to respect them and their opinion and remember that even if they’re wrong – the clients get the final say because they’re the ones paying.

4.      Be realistic

Nearly all of us are people pleasers – we like people to like us. It’s always easier to say yes, and agree, than say no. A challenge can be when we find our team agreeing on behalf of the agency to do something extra or to a standard or within a timeframe which is totally unrealistic. Brief your team on the importance of letting you do your job and managing a client’s expectations properly. Remind them that if they feel like they’re being pressured into saying ‘yes’ to something that they’re not comfortable with, to defer first to yourself as the PM and if they’re put on the spot, it’s fine for them to say ‘let me get back to you on that’. They should know that under no circumstance should they say things they know they’re going to regret later!

5.      Don’t say it

Finally, it’s worth laying down some team ground rules – there are some things your team should never talk about with a client, especially when you aren’t there.

  • Conversations around budgets, timelines, and scope or change are strictly off limits – those conversations are for the project manager only.
  • Don’t say that we can’t do something; at least say ‘we’ll go away and look into that’ – we want to encourage positivity and a can-do attitude.
  • Don’t talk about things that we did wrong or mistakes we made – help the client feel like they’re working with experts and getting value for money.

Follow the five tips above and everyone will be happier – the client will feel more confident that the agency is a great partner, your team will know their place and you’ll be able to enjoy the meeting, maybe!

What do you think?

What do you think? How do you manage your team in client meetings? What do you tell your team to say, or not say? Join the conversation and share how you manage client meetings with your teams.

Ben Aston

About Ben Aston

I’m Ben Aston, a digital project manager and VP of Client Services at FCV, a full service digital agency in Vancouver, Canada. I’ve been in the industry for more than 10 years working in the UK at London’s top digital agencies including Dare, Wunderman, Lowe and DDB. I’ve delivered everything from video virals to CMS’, flash games to banner ads and eCRM to eCommerce sites. I’ve been fortunate enough to work across a wide range of great clients; automotive brands including Land Rover, Volkswagen and Honda; Utility brands including BT, British Gas and Exxon, FMCG brands such as Unilever, and consumer electronics brands including Sony.

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