How To Prepare And Manage Client Calls (8 min. read)
This article was originally published on LinkedIn Pulse on May 9th, 2017.
Understanding Client Calls Is Key For Entry-Level Marketers
After spending several months working at both SCORE NYC and ThomasNet RPM, I have come to the conclusion that Intro to Client Calls should be at least an elective course in all media communications/marketing curriculums in college. I say this only because the importance of client calls cannot be overlooked and current marketing students aren’t properly prepared for client work after graduation.
I admit, there are many aspects of work that we just have to dive into, but we are missing out on a lot of valuable information. The only other way we can get client-facing knowledge is through coveted internships (and not all college students can afford to take internships, especially ones just for college credits). The main thing we lack is the ability to consider how everything we do is supposed to reverse engineer our client’s problems, and how client calls play an essential part of this.
Why do agencies conduct client calls?
Frequent and open communication with your customers is the bedrock of business success. When working in an agency setting it’s important to note that the success of your account stems from how you structure the communication and how flexible you keep the dialogue between all parties involved. Client calls, in particular, are the second best way of gaining more insight into and alignment with what your customer wants to achieve throughout your relationship (nothing will ever replace in-person meetings).
The goals of client calls include (but are not limited to):
- Staying on track with contract goals
- Gaining the ability to influence your client’s strategy over time
- Keeping both teams accountable on deliverables
- Providing flexibility when it comes time to pivot your strategies
Because the agency model is Business-to-Business, your team’s growth is based upon the sticky engine of growth. According to Eric Reiss, author of The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses, “…businesses rely on having a high customer retention rate. They have an expectation that once you start using their [service], you will continue to do so (page 324, iBooks).”
Your goal is to retain your customer. Your team’s client retention rate is highly determined by the efficiency of your client calls. If you want to keep your clients, you have to make sure your communication with them is both a pleasant and productive experience for everyone involved.
Understanding your client beforehand
Understanding your client is key to successful client calls. During your kick-off call, you’ll gain a lot of the answers to the questions you need. However, not having a set list of questions to ask can prove to be disastrous. You should gather the specific questions you have beforehand, using proposal documents and the contract as a foundation. If you are getting the account from another team member, you want to read up on as many reports and meeting minutes as possible (always leverage past strategy documents as well).
Here’s a list of questions you should ask your client before or during your kick off call:
- What is their company’s annual sales volume? Revenue?
- What percentage of their company’s sales are derived from each vertical/target industry?
- What is their marketing budget?
- What are their marketing goals and how much of their marketing budget does your team allocate to each?
- What are they spending on marketing time and budget on now?
- Who’s most involved in the marketing of your company?
Setting up agendas/status reports
Another core part of successful client calls is always having a set agenda in which you go over deliverables and other develops related to your account as they occur. You don’t want to keep your agenda too rigid but, it’s important to make sure you send out your agendas at least two days before your client call. Clients have their own discussion points that they want to cover so allowing time so that can add items to your agenda is crucial. Even if they don’t have anything to add, giving them the opportunity to do so is just excellent customer service.
Without an agenda, your calls with your client can lead to wasted time in which you overlook significant strategy updates. To avoid this, make sure you have a regular/template agenda set, where you at least always cover the following:
- What’s been done?
- What is each team doing?
- What’s getting in the way?
This should be enough to make sure things are getting done. Here’s a great video you can check out that dives deeper into this agenda format (it’s also a great blog to subscribe to if you’re curious about SEO & PPC).
Always follow up as soon as the call is over
When following up after a client call, it’s best to get all items that were approved or reviewed in writing. Ask for the client to reply to the email you sent with these items, confirming that they have both read and verify that these items are correct. Also, another tactic you can use is having all action items included in that email so both parties are aware of what needs to happen before the next call and can hold each other accountable.
The main reason why you want to do an email follow up is for clarity of mind. One often retains more information if they write it down multiple times, so with that in mind, adding both your action items to a follow-up email and your task management system can help you.
Moreover, if you feel that this isn’t necessarily something that’s useful for you, remember that it’s also helpful to the client. It allows them to have an archive they can refer to if they don’t have access to your task management system. It never hurts to have multiple points to reference old material and planning.
Other things to take into consideration
One tactic I use sparingly is asking for a 10-minute grace period before a call if it’s scheduled in the morning. The reason being, life happens. We don’t know when traffic gets in the way or something happens at home that makes us 5 minutes late to work. Setting the expectation with your client that you may be late to the meeting shouldn’t be used often but, can help you if you’re in a bind. Your clients are people too, and most will be understanding.
If action items keep getting pushed back, you may want to make sure you understand how issues are escalated to higher members of your team. You want to do your best to take responsibility and help your client complete on your promised tasks but, if they are taking too long to do what’s asked of them, don’t be afraid to tell a senior member and ask for help.
Lastly, you want to focus on building a connection and a relationship with your client. As previously mentioned, the agency structured is based on sticky growth! Expect to be working with your client for years to come if both of you stay successful, and try learning more about them outside of your business relationship. If your client is comfortable enough with you, for the first 5 minutes of each call ask them about their family, hobbies, and other interests outside of work. If you build a relationship based off of great work and empathy, when it comes time to renew your contract for another your chances certainly increase.
- Before You Fire That Client, Maybe You Should Read This — Gary Vaynerchuk
- 7 Key Areas to Cover in a New Client Kickoff Meeting — Hubspot
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