Just as no two people are alike, no two clients are alike. Even when two companies are structured similarly, sell similar products, or serve the same industry, they’re still made up of many unique individuals who bring their own unique style and leadership culture to the table.
That’s why the way I communicate with each one of my clients is also unique. From phone calls to email to onsite meetings, I’ve found that learning a client’s preferred project management style up front pays off down the road in terms of driving the project forward and building a strong working relationship.
Instead of using a single project management approach to lead every project, below are 3 tips for learning what makes your clients tick so you can work together effectively and efficiently:
- Determine your client’s preferred communication style up front
When I’m kicking off a project with a new client, getting to know them and finding out their preferred communication style is really important.
During a kickoff meeting, make sure you establish meeting frequency, what you’ll cover during meetings, and what kind of information you’ll provide in any status updates via email. Also, simply asking if your client prefers to have video meetings can go a long way in improving both communication and your business relationship.
I’ve recently started sharing this simple slide during kickoff meetings to help establish the client’s communication preferences from the get-go:
The slide walks clients through when and where they can expect to hear different types of updates. After discussing each of these with your client, you may end up taking the following communication approach: a weekly status update via email, a weekly sync, and as-needed work sessions.
It’s also important to feel out how your clients like to begin each meeting. For example, one of my clients likes to kick off each meeting with something personal, whereas other clients prefer to get straight to work. Neither approach is right or wrong — they’re just right or wrong for each particular client.
I’ve found doing this quick expectation setting up front helps to make things much smoother moving forward. Everyone has different expectations. And once they get frustrated enough, your clients will generally make it clear what their preferences are. (Or worse, they won’t and will just trudge through the project with you.) Don’t wait until it gets to that point.
- Meet and exceed client expectations during meetings
I’ve worked with a broad range of clients here at DemandGen. Big, medium, small. Technology, healthcare, nonprofit. None of that matters when it comes to basic communication.
As a project manager, I’ve learned to tailor my approach to meetings based on each client’s communication style. For example, some clients want to:
- Know what the project plan looks like from start to finish.
- Only address the here and now (they don’t want to see the entire project plan).
- See the agenda throughout a meeting and discuss each topic one by one — only flipping to the project plan as needed to review deliverables.
- Understand dependencies to avoid bottlenecks that could put their project timeline at risk.
Some people have a more conversational style during meetings, whereas others have a more rigid, task-based communication style. Some clients like to stick closely to the agenda and will use a “parking lot” for any off-topic discussion. Others are extremely comfortable veering away from the agenda as new topics pop up.
A few of our international clients like to visually see the agenda throughout the entire meeting — even if it was included in the invite — and then go through each topic one by one. For them, I’ve also found that visually capturing notes on the screen helps to bridge any language or communication barriers.
The most important thing is to provide a consistent meeting structure — based on your client’s unique communication style.
- Make it personal — to them
I’ve worked with some clients who literally want you to pick up the phone and talk to them. They won’t even respond to email because they want that level of discussion and engagement. I’ve also worked with some clients who prefer to communicate via email.
While regular phone or video meetings are great, be sure to schedule in-person meetings where they make sense. Some clients embrace the idea of having an onsite meeting to discuss what we want to accomplish together in detail. A couple of clients I’ve worked with in the past, however, absolutely don’t want to do that. It really depends on the client.
When starting a new scope of work, some clients truly need that in-person interaction to drive a successful outcome. I’ve also noticed that some existing client engagements take much longer when we’ve tried to move forward to discuss a new Statement of Work without an onsite meeting — especially if they brought on any new team members.
I’ve found it depends on the structure of their organization — not their size — and how siloed their work teams are. If they have strong cross-communication internally, they may not need to bring everyone together in one place to move their projects forward.
For example, one of our clients manages a number of ongoing initiatives, and multiple departments are responsible for different tasks. A lack of internal alignment caused earlier projects to run in fits and starts, so we requested an in-person meeting to bring all key stakeholders together. This level of interaction helped get everyone on the same page, secure buy-in, and determine what was technologically possible and what each team could realistically deliver.
Also, keep in mind that sometimes it makes sense to gain alignment within each department first before discussing with the larger group. When I was at Disney, interdepartmental projects would drag on longer than they should have. I realized that people were uncomfortable speaking freely and making broad, sweeping decisions without discussing ideas and challenges with their individual teams first.
Tailored to your organization’s unique needs
We practice what we preach when it comes to project management here at DemandGen. We also know that what works for one organization may not work for another — whether that’s a communication style, strategy, piece of technology, or foundational framework.
What big initiatives do you have planned? Or what initiatives would you like to plan, but don’t necessarily have the resources right now to pull it off? A solid lead management framework, new MarTech deployment, lead nurturing program, ABM strategy, or something else? We love turning our clients into marketing heroes.
Let us know what you want to accomplish, and we’ll let you know how we can help make it happen!
Stephanie Hargrave is a seasoned Project Manager with more than 10 years of experience. Known for her strong organizational skills, creative problem-solving, and unwavering focus on execution and results, she pushes to exceed overall expectations. A certified scrum master, Stephanie is quick to listen and ask questions in order to bring the right resources to the table, anticipate potential risk, and provide dynamic solutions for project completion.