Customer Meetings

Digital Agencies Live & Die by Their Customer Meetings

If you run an agency, there are several kinds of people that you invite to customer meetings. Today I want to focus on those “update” meetings where you're getting everyone on the same page for a project. A status meeting, if you will. In those meetings there are three kinds of people:

  • The Customer – This might be the person who signs the check. But it could just as easily be any other stakeholder. It could be the technical point person, the creative point person, or anyone else representing the customer.
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  • The Project / Account Manager – This is the person who manages the relationship with the customer. They may or may not manage the professional service team that may also be in the room.
  • Professional Service Staff – These include developers, designers, SEO, ad buyers, etc. They're the ones that do the actual work and know the details and specifics of the project in question.

There are two sides to the meeting (depicted by my dotted line). But only one side really can make or break your agency.

I know you might be inclined to suggest that digital agencies live and die by how well they deliver their projects. Or you could try to make the case that it's all about cost and profit.

But I disagree.

I think digital agencies live and die by how well they manage expectations and build trust. And there's no better moment or touchpoint that happens more often than customer meetings. Those update meetings will erode trust faster and more often than any other mistake you might make.

So today let's look at three rules for those customer meetings.

Rule One: Know the Questions

You put any four or five people in a room and the conversation can go anywhere. That's just the nature of physics and chaos theory, right? But it's not how it normally works. Instead, the questions are often very predictable. The conversations go in the same direction every time.

Now, to be clear, I'm not saying every customer is the same. But I am saying that people rarely are able to function in two, three or four wildly different ways. Data people always want data. Story people want to contextualize the narrative. You get my point.

So after meeting people a time or two, there shouldn't be a lot of surprises. You should know who will be in the room and what kinds of questions they'll ask. These won't be surprise questions. They'll be (roughly) the same questions they ask every time.

If anyone in the room is surprised, or answers a question without prep, you have a problem. I don't know if your problem is apathy, poor preparation, or the desire to have fun by thinking on your feet at the last minute.

But just as a lawyer never asks a question they don't already know the answer to, digital agency staff should never step into a customer meeting without knowing what questions they'll be facing.

And I mean all the questions.

Your team should know the questions that will be asked. But they should also know the questions that will be asked once your team answers the first set of questions.

  • Predictable Question: How are things going? Are we still on track?
  • Answer: Things are good but we found a small bug that our team is resolving right now. We have our best person on it.
  • Predictable Follow-Up: How will this impact the schedule? Will we still hit our target date for this upcoming milestone?

If you know the first question but can't predict the follow-up question, you need to spend more time in prep.

Rule Two: Have Talking Points

The second rule is as important as the first. Make sure everyone in the room is on the same page. If you already know what questions will be asked, it shouldn't be hard to make sure you're all speaking from the same talking points.

When we were stepping into a room to pitch complex projects, I would often write talking points that our whole team would go over. This doesn't just make sure that everyone knows the answer. It also makes sure that some people don't create their own talking points.

I learned this lesson the hard way.

We were pitching a large custom project and I hadn't written out talking points. As a result, when the customer looked at a colleague and asked a reasonable question, they made up an answer on the spot that sounded good to them.

But this took the whole conversation in a direction that wasn't good for us. Now we had to choose between going down that road knowing that it wouldn't end well for us, or contradict my partner and pivot us back to safe territory. Neither felt great.

Sometimes the answers aren't blatantly wrong. They simply aren't clear. If a customer asks what will happen if they're unhappy with the design, you can answer it in several different ways. But only a few of them will be sufficiently clear to limit follow-up questions. Others will take you down a road of iterations and cost that will feel painful.

Talking points keeps everyone on the same page. And most importantly, they make sure you have the internal debates before stepping into a customer meeting.

Rule Three: Delight the Customer

In an interview with Authority Magazine, I told this story:

“I once ordered shoes from an online store that told me the shoes would be here in 3 days. That was fine. Then I got an email the next day saying they’d upgraded shipping to next day and I would get my shoes two days earlier. That’s delight!”

Delight isn't just about doing something nice. It's the combination of something nice and something unexpected. Without the unexpected part, it's just nice. But when you bring them together – when you confound expectations – you delight the customer.

If a problem was expected to take two weeks to fix, see if you can fix it in a week. If you were going to be ready for the demo on Thursday, see if you can be ready by Wednesday.

The point is that you're repeatedly building trust and a pattern in your customer meetings. They become something that people are excited to attend.

The Worst Meeting in the World

By now you can imagine what the worst meeting in the world will feel like, right? It's a meeting where every question asked feels surprising. It's a status update where different people in the room have different answers to the same question. It's a customer meeting where dates slip and delight is nowhere to be found.

Don't have those meetings. They're not fun. Or profitable.

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