Tuesday, 09 September 2014 00:00

Problem in the Project? Meet with the Customer!

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Your customer wants to discuss your proposal of marketing campaign? He is not excited about the new visual identification? His brilliant idea to move logo to the left seems stupid to you? Or maybe your subcontractor failed to deliver crucial graphics on time? Probably you will need to meet with your customer. This is usually a bit stressful event. So read a few hints and get prepared!

Are meetings a waste of time?

Executives assess that each two out of their three meetings are purely unproductive.

Most UK businesses believe that the type of biscuits served on customer meeting is the key factor to its outcome! Many people, including government officials, pay more attention to their on-meeting tweets than to what’s going on in the meeting. On the other side, there are many great leaders for whom the meeting is the basic utility, the medium for managerial work to be done.

What kind of meeting you are going to?

It is always good to know the goal of the meeting. Generally there are two types of them: a “status update” meetings and a “problem solve” meetings. You should not mix their purposes, if you want to get as much as possible from the meeting. Do not resolve or discuss big problems on the former, and do not bore with general status updates on the latter, when brains are storming.

Problem solve meetings

Once a bigger problem arises, there is often more than one person involved into resolving it. Problems in marketing occur. Deadlines not met by subcontractor. Freelancer designed a new logo which is too similar to competitors’ one, and it has been already passed to press. The project budget was underrated. Pick your favourite. Usually the solution is not one man’s task. Someone, presumably you as the manager, calls the meeting.

How the meeting looks like

Many people gathered in the same room, including your customer representatives. There is a of bit fear, uncertainty, doubts and you can feel a tension in the room. When the issue is grave, the meeting starts with finger pointing and shifting the responsibility. After 45 minutes someone tells: “OK, but what will we do to fix it?”. Then the time ends and the only decision made is to call another meeting in smaller group to resolve the problem. The smaller group usually don’t have the authority to take important decisions, so it takes time. Very productive, isn’t it? You are the manager of the project at risk, so it is your job to organize the meeting.

Agenda and participants

Think carefully about the participants. Who is authorized to make decisions. Who is brilliant enough to help find the “out of the box” solution. Who should be invited only to not feel excluded. If you are in small marketing agency this “office politics” can be difficult for you, but is extremely important when working for a bigger customer. For the key participants, call them and check when they have time for the meeting.

Prepare the agenda. Provide 10-15 minutes of time for customers to allow them to share their thoughts, and a few minutes for others who may have something important to say. Book 10 minutes for a wrap up. State one, clear goal for the meeting above the agenda. It should be a kind of “product” or “output” you expect to have after the meeting. Now you can send the meeting request to your participants. Remember to attach the agenda!

Meeting roles and tactics

There are two important roles on the meeting: a note keeper and a moderator. The former should take notes with action items agreed to be done after the meeting. The latter should keep the meeting on track, park the rat holes and calm down boiling blood. When you are blamed, you might be too emotionally engaged in the meeting. In such a case hand the moderator or note keeper role over to someone else at once.

Keep in mind that the agenda helps you cut the unnecessary discussion by saying “hey, folks, we are a few minutes behind the agenda, and we still must to find the solution”. The brainstorming phase of the meeting usually starts then. Your role is to extract from the discussion the most important ideas, proposals, rationale.

Wrap up

In the end of the meeting, remember to wrap up the meeting. Say loud if the goal of the meeting was achieved or you failed to achieve it. If failed, order the next action. If achieved, say what are the next moves.

Send the meeting minutes in 24 hours after the meeting, to ensure the action items are not outdated and everyone remembers what’s agreed.

Bonus tip: watch out hidden agendas!

This might be especially important if your customer is a bigger corporation. The meeting with you, as the marketing supplier, can be just an excuse for one of the customer’s representatives to meet with her opponents. You should be prepared for fights and that you might be finger-pointed as a source of all evil, even if you have done nothing wrong.

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Alex Kowalczyk

Alex Kowalczyk is an experienced projects portfolio manager, project management freak, entrepreneur and software engineer. He is the creator of foxytasks.com - an application with a mission to help marketing managers in their projects. An enthusiast of modern management tools and top quality engineering. Published on various international conferences and magazines. He loves road bicycling and Mediterranean cuisine.

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