Meeting with a client for the first time can be both an exciting and anxiety-ridden experience. I remember my client site visit as much for the Mad Man-esqe feelings of being a “badass” as well as for the sweaty palms and heaviness in my chest equivalent to asking out a girl in a junior high dance. As you settle in, you become comfortable with your audience and your skillset. You build relationships and your focus on driving to a solution outweighs your initial nerves. Still, here are some tips I’ve used to reduce my nerves when first meeting a client:
Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
When it comes to dealing with external clients, you’re only there because they have identified a need with the help of your Sales team. Your Sales individuals, and possibly other Senior Management, have been on-site before you holding a series of discovery sessions and negotiations in order to secure your efforts. Chances are you will not be engaged without at least an initial Statement of Work (SOW). Also, your company probably had to submit a Request for Proposal (RFP). This means there is PLENTY of documentation available for your review. My suggestion is review all of it at least a couple times before doing anything else.
Flush Out the Hidden Detail
Now that you’ve reviewed the available documentation, my next piece of advice is to actively participate, or request, a meeting with your Sales team and your project team. Use this meeting to solidify your understanding of your upcoming engagement. You should seek clarity on not just who are the stakeholders but also what are their unique interests. Who is easy to work with? Who is resisting the coming change? Is there internal strife and differences in opinion that has been identified already? Also, is your first engagement for discovery or are you jumping into true requirements sessions? Who should you meet with first? What is the highest priority? Is there an easy initial win that can help build your team’s rapport?
Plan Your Approach
You have gleaned as much as you can from those who have worked to bring this project to life. Already you have completed quite a bit of prep work, the next step is to work on your weekly agendas and individual meeting agendas. If you have one week onsite, chances are the Client PM and your PM will work together with an Account Manager to help plan out a high-level week long agenda. You can contribute with what you’d like to accomplish. From there, you can identify how each individual session will go. As with any meeting, it is important to have clearly defined objectives and an outline. I like to create two outlines. I start with a detailed outline as I really try to visualize everything I want to try to cover and then I can filter it down to more of a high-level outline to present my client. I do not need to inundate them with too much detail and I want it to be adaptable enough that the conversation flows appropriately versus getting stuck in an order taking mentality. It is really ideal to come into a situation with both weekly agendas and individualized meeting agendas. With your individual agendas, you may also want to think about who needs to be involved, how large of a meeting space is needed, and what resources are needed. It would not be good to show up to a room with no AV equipment when you are planning a Power Point presentation. Also, make sure your team understands what roles they have in each meeting. Remember, someone besides the presenter needs to take good notes.
Practice Makes Perfect
Recruit members of your team, other teams, or even family members at home to help you practice some sessions. It is not about memorization. However, it is helpful to role play some requirements or discovery sessions to help you work on understanding your level of preparedness on different topics, work on adapting to the unexpected, and practice presenting in front of others. You may feel foolish, but it’s better to feel foolish with those you are comfortable with than your clients. Have your helpers assume the role of some of your stakeholders. Give them free reign to give you dummy requirements. The more practice you get, the more natural you will feel (and seem) when it’s time for the actual exercise.
My last piece of advice is to have fun! You made it this far. Obviously, you are a trusted, valued member of your organization. Trust yourself and have a good time. It is a lot of fun interfacing with new people and getting to understand where you can help them. While there may be tough negotiations and difficult moments, you are all there to solve problems and make peoples’ lives easier. At the end of the day, that is a very good feeling.
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