Organizing a fruitful meeting with a group of people you might not have worked with or met previously is no piece of cake, especially if you cooperate remotely. Here are my tips and tricks on handling client calls.
Organizing a fruitful meeting with a group of people you might not have worked with or met previously is no piece of cake, especially if you cooperate remotely. Your co-workers are sure to have differing levels of experience, language fluency, strengths and weaknesses and, of course, personalities. Both working remotely and the differences between people could potentially pose numerous challenges for project managers. One example is handling calls with clients and the team.
Your job is to make sure they all skip out of the meeting with a smile on their face and an eagerness to start working on the project. It’s not easy but it’s doable. Here are my tips and tricks on handling calls. Hope you find it helpful!
Gather as much intelligence about the client as possible. Go through the e-mail history, talk to the sales department and ask for their insights. Seek out some information on the Internet if needed.
Make sure you know the goal your team will be aiming for. Find out as much as you can about the application you are going to be working on and the skills required to build it. Review all existing project documentation and give developers access to the existing code.
Share the information gathered with the whole team. The smallest detail might turn out to be crucial, i.e. whether or not the client is endowed with a sense of humor or if s/he has any technical knowledge to speak of.
Let everyone know who is the part of the team. Both on your and on the client’s side. Carefully review the duties and responsibilities of each team member and communicate this. Transparency will pay off.
Plan the call and discuss it with your team. Make sure each team member knows what their scope of the discussion is, when and how elaborate they should be on a given topic. Adopt the strategy you all agreed on and remember to be assertive with the client when it comes to the meeting agenda.
Ask each team member individually if they need your help or advice while planning the call. This could mean providing support in terms of actually writing down what needs to be expressed during the meeting, how to introduce themselves or any other additional information that may prove invaluable.
Inform your client in advance about the purpose of the call, what you plan to discuss and who will join. Let them prepare for the meeting, too! Thereby, you increase the likelihood of getting straight to the point. Remember to ask in advance if they want to cover anything else apart from what you have suggested. This will help to avoid any unexpected divergences or digressions.
Turn on your camera during the meeting. When working remotely it is crucially important to make the eye contact during a conference call and to look professional. Before joining the meeting, make sure you choose a room with a neutral background and don’t look like you just crawled out of a sleeping bag ;) Google Hangout gives you a preview opportunity before you actually join the call.
Take control and lead the call. You are in charge! Set the pace of the conversation - your interlocutor will match your way of speaking, so speak at a comfortable medium-pace and clearly. Follow the established agenda and plan. Don’t let any participant in the conversation pull you off on a tangent. Politely suggest dealing with additional issues at the end of the call or during a separate call, if you need some preparation time.
Use positive language, i.e. instead of saying “it won’t be done until mid-June” it sounds better when you say “it will be done by mid-June”. Always emphasize the solution, not the problem or obstacles. The ability to cope with difficulties is a measure of your professionalism.
Don't hesitate to ask questions. This only shows your desire to gain a deeper understanding of the project, not a lack of knowledge or experience. Besides, it is always better to clarify doubts at the very beginning than resorting to guesswork later on.
To sum up, if I had to give you one principle to remember it would be this: make no assumptions. Either about your team or the client. Instead - do a lot of research!
Remember that you are a part of the team and a have certain role to fulfill. It’s your job to make sure that the clients get to know the team from their best possible side and, on the other hand, allow everyone in your team to feel confident and secure.
You are the Project Manager - manage the call, your client and your team. Do not leave anything to chance.
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