Voices

Better client meetings: Reader questions answered

I received some great feedback from my series about running better client meetings, so I thought I’d take a moment to answer some of the most common questions Accounting Today readers sent in. Thanks again for reading.

Q: How do you make sure your meetings are not always running over the time allotted?

A: My firm uses the “strategic pop-in.” But, before I tell you what a strategic pop-in is, cut yourself some slack. When you first commit to the efficient meeting process, you’re going to run over sometimes. That’s OK, because you’re covering so much more ground in meetings than you used to.

For each client meeting, have a staff person assigned to “pop in” to the conference room 10 minutes before the meeting is scheduled to be over. He or she will look over at you and say, “Sorry to interrupt. I just wanted to remind you that your next call is in 10 minutes. Do you need me to move it back?” Hearing that, your client will rarely insist on having you move back your next appointment. Sticking to a schedule is not insulting to clients; it’s valuable since they are successful, busy people who need to get on with their days. The strategic pop-in is a subtle, but effective reminder to move things along and wrap things up.

Q: What happens if a client insists on covering everything on the agenda when your time is running short?

A: Good question. The short answer is to prioritize. Look at the open discussion points and the decisions you still need to make together. Prioritize with your client the items that are most critical and schedule a follow-up call to cover the remaining items on the list.

Q: We’ve tried using scheduling apps that let clients book appointments directly in our calendars. Clients love the convenience, but many keep skipping the “meeting agenda” required field.

A: If clients write “N/A,” then it’s perfectly OK to call them ahead of the meeting and ask, “What would you like me to be prepared to go through in our meeting?” Face-to-face meetings are supposed to be valuable for your clients. They should want you to be as prepared for the meeting as possible.

Q: Do I really have time to build agendas and write summary letters for each and every client meeting?

A: I understand why this could seem like more work added to your already overloaded plate. In reality, with practice, agendas and summary letters will save you time. They force you to focus and prioritize during the meeting, which makes it easier to get things done after the meeting. Agendas and summary letters significantly reduce the amount of back-and-forth you have with clients after the meeting to get the information you need to make better decisions together.

For more on post-meeting summary letters, see my article Better client meetings: Summary letters are a game changer.

Q: I like the idea of summary letters, but is it really essential to write them immediately after I meet with my client?

A: I know you’re busy. I feel the same way, but research shows we forget almost half of all the new information we take in after just one hour and two-thirds of it within one day. In fact, we’ll forget three-fourths of the new information we take in with a week. It’s called the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve based on pioneering research from a 19th century German psychologist, Hermann Ebbinghaus. The longer you wait to confirm the next steps and decisions to be made with your client, the higher the likelihood of important things slipping through the cracks — and having a never-ending cycle of follow-up meetings.

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Q: No time for chit-chat to start client meetings? Isn’t that a little abrupt?

A: Yes. I get this reaction all the time. I’m not saying you have to be all business the minute a client sits down with you, but you’ll be much more efficient if you wait until the end of the meeting to talk about kids, grandkids, vacations and your favorite sports teams after the important work has been completed and you’ve reached the end of your agenda. Most of your clients are extremely busy too. They don’t want to be stuck at their CPA’s office all day. Here are two essential kickoff questions to ask at the start of every client meeting.

If clients really want to hang out with you and shoot the breeze, then you’re better off inviting them for lunch or cocktails.

If you would like samples of effective agendas, summary letters and other tools for running better client meetings, just send me an email and I’ll be happy to share.

Remember, when it comes to running better client meetings, you own the process. The only reason that you’re constantly running out of time is because you aren’t managing the process. Time is your (and your clients’) most valuable asset. Respect it. Nurture it. Leverage it so you can maximize the ROI that clients receive when they meet with you. The faster and more efficiently you can help clients make important financial decisions, the more value you’re providing them as their personal CFO and most trusted advisor.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like a sample meeting agenda or summary letter.