Tips for Better Client Meetings
With CPA firms becoming trusted business advisors and having more intentional meetings with their clients than ever, it’s important to ensure that your client meetings are operating at an optimal level. You want to make sure that your team and your client understand what the purpose of each meeting is and ensure that everyone is on the same page before and after the meeting takes place. Here are our top five tips for better client meetings.
Have a Clear Leader and Scribe
It is not uncommon for client meetings to involve more than one person from your team in the discussion. You want to be sure that you know who is going to be leading the discussion to avoid awkward silences and stumbling over each other by trying to begin the meeting at the same time. You also want to be sure to know who will be responsible for taking notes throughout the meeting so the leader can focus on the client discussion.
Up-front Contract and Agenda
Up-front contracts are essential for everyone who will be attending the meeting to understand the purpose of the meeting and the expected outcomes. The up-front contract should not only outline the purpose of the meeting and expected results, but it should also communicate any expectations you have for your team members and the client. If they need to provide information before the meeting, be sure to indicate that in that up-front contract. It should also include the agenda for the meeting to help the discussion stay on track. Here is an example of what an up-front contract could look like:
Hello John, Lisa and Tom,
XYZ CPA Firm is looking forward to our upcoming meeting to discuss the future of your company. During this initial discussion, we would like to hear a brief history of your firm, where you stand today and your future goals. We will take some time to introduce ourselves and the roles that we will play in our ongoing relationship, if you choose to move forward with working with us.
At the end of this meeting, we will have a better idea of the services that we can offer your company and if this would be a good fit. If we mutually agree that this is a good fit, our team will work to put together a proposal of those services that we can provide.
Be on Time
You must start and end your meetings on time. This shows your client that you are excited to be speaking with them and that you respect their time. If it looks like the meeting might start to run over, evaluate your agenda and let them know that you want to make sure to cover certain items that are higher priority. Shuffle a few items around and make sure to touch on the higher priority items; other things can wait until the next meeting. Remember, if one meeting goes over it is likely to throw off all other meetings.
Mindfully Manage Your Meetings
As I mentioned before, having an agenda before the meeting is an essential part of running a successful client meeting. Another tip on the agenda is to try to allocate a certain amount of time per topic. Utilizing our up-front contract example above, let’s say the meeting is expected to last 60 minutes. Here is what the agenda could look like:
Introductions – 5 minutes Client History/Current State/Future Vision – 30 minutes Questions – 10 minutes Our Solutions – 10 minutes Wrap-up and Next Steps – 5 minutes
Know that there is always wiggle room, but having some parameters helps to keep the conversation following and on track. Beware of “bunny trails.” This is when someone in the meeting talks and talks, causing the discussion to go off on tangents that aren’t relevant to the agenda. In these cases, you need a “parking lot,” or a list of new subjects to be dealt with later. Creating a parking lot reassures the person who raised the point that their subject will not be forgotten. If any bunny trails start to occur, be sure to use the parking lot.
End the Meeting with Clear Next Steps and Action Items
A successful meeting must end with clear next steps and action items for the appropriate individuals. Discuss when the next meeting should take place and get it scheduled. If you’re planning to provide the client with a proposal, make sure you discuss their expectations for receiving that and when you’ll be sending it. If you need additional information from them, be sure to request it verbally. Write it down and send a debrief email outlining those items again. It’s your responsibility as the service provider to ensure that the client stays on track and provides any information you need to give them the best service possible.
There are plenty of other tips out there to have productive meetings, but in our experience, if you follow these five tips for every meeting, you will see positive results and happier clients, both internally and externally.
Deanna Perkins, Solutions Advisor for Boomer Consulting, Inc., works to help clients and prospective clients identify their dangers, opportunities and strengths. Once these are identified, she works to develop a personalized game plan for their firm to focus on the area, or areas, they need to improve on most. These areas are critical to a firm’s success and future-readiness; Leadership, Talent, Technology, Process and Growth.