Confidently Drive Client Meetings (When It’s New to You)
Posted On: April 19, 2020
Now that we are all working from home, with team members and managers also working from their respective homes, there may be times when you may need to conduct client meetings without their participation or direction.
Normally, you are in the office with your team. Normally, you see your team everyday, face to face. Normally, you eat lunch together. Before quarantine, you would commute to work together. You would also be able to have water cooler talk at an actual water cooler. While your local team is indeed local team, now a days it feels like everyone is far away and maybe not as accessible as in the recent past.
Up until recently, when you attended virtual client meetings, your team was with you in the same room or building. While you were a participant in the meeting and status updates, you were not responsible for scheduling the meeting, sending the calendar invite, gathering the team on time, connecting in with time to spare, or maybe speaking that much.
But, today is different.
Your Manager or Team Lead has asked you to work from home (WFH) due to the Coronavirus. Maybe your city or state has shut down. You may be asked to self-quarantine. But, you still have to work.
But, this time is different.
Because the Manager or the Team Lead is also working from home and their schedule is a bit different than it normally is, maybe they want you to take the lead on the next call. They will not be able to schedule or attend the call.
It’s your turn to step up and take charge.
But, you’re freaking out because you don’t know how to do it. No one has showed you or told you what to do.
Guess what, I am here to help you!!
Now, as we say in the US, you are left holding the bag!!
What do you do?
You never had to organize and schedule a virtual meeting with the client or offshore colleague before…. What do you do? How do you do it?
Rather than bite the bullet and go in without preparation, let me walk you through it. These tips apply most to those in India (or maybe other offshore/non-US locations) who work with US Americans as some are culture tips.
How to organize your first client meeting with someone in the US:
Step 1: Confirm You Need to Handle This
First, do confirm that either your manager or senior team member or team lead is not handling this. Do not assume. Keep in touch while working from home. As you are now not seeing each other for tea or lunch, ping them on Slack or call them on WhatsApp. However you can, get in touch by call to confirm if they are organizing the meeting. Do this at least 2 business days in advance due to the time difference between the US and India.
|There are four time zones in the continental US. Identify the
city and state of your client to identify the right time zone.
Step 2: Email Counterpart to Request Meeting Time
Do this as soon as you realize you are indeed to be in charge. The first thing to do is email your US client or colleague to request the meeting. Do not send a calendar invite with the proposed time. This will get ignored, or worse, offend your US counterpart. Write an email requesting the time. Don’t forget to write your request in the form of a question with a question mark.
Let’s meet Tuesday, March 17 at 6pm IST/8:30am EST. (This is not a request. This will be read as a demand by most US Americans.)
Instead write, “When will you be free next week for our meeting?” Or turn the statement above into a question using polite question words and a question mark at the end.
If the meeting is one that happens pretty much the same day and time every week, it still may be good to write something like this to the client, “As you now Madhu is out this week. I will be coordinating the meeting this week. Would you like to meet the same day and time as usual (note day and time in parenthesis)? In case a different day and time is more convenient, feel free to suggest an available time slot.”
[Don’t forget the opening and closing to your email to make it more formal, and not looking like a text message.]
If you are not sure about the time differences, use websites to convert the time or type in Google “6pm IST to EST.” It should output something like what you see in the image below.
Step 3: Send a Calendar Invite
The US counterpart will respond. As soon as you get a confirmed date and time, set up the calendar invite. Just as with your meeting request email, assure the calendar invite has a catchy title that will make sense to your client when seeing it quickly. Vague titles like “Meeting” or “StandUp” may not work as we don’t know if your client has other similar meetings with other colleagues or stakeholders.
This may be the first time you have ever sent a calendar invite. Take your time, assure that the calendar invite assigns the correct time zone.
Tip: Though I have been sending calendar invites for years, I still sometimes get confused and practice on it by sending one to myself in the client’s time zone schedule to see how it renders in my calendar before even suggesting a time.
Even in Google Calendar, it is often necessary to select your local time zone. When recipient opens and sees your invite, it should display in their time zone. The calendar invite should be accepted by the recipient to show on their calendar.
Important tip: If your client sets up an invite and sent it to you, DO press accept on it as soon as you get it, not one hour before the meeting is to start.
Unaccepted meeting invites by US counterparts may be read as a lack of attendance, which will mean some may book another appointment in that slot. And, as many US Americans are not as flexible with time as Indians, they may not talk to you in that time slot.)
Take a look at the tutorials below that will help assure your calendar settings are correctly configured. Though these are gmail tutorials (many startups use a branded Google email and calendar), the same should apply for your email client.
See this video to set the time zone on your Google Calendar.
Step 4: Arrange Meeting Agenda, Prepare Yourself for Conversation Topics
Once you have sent the invite, assure you know what the meeting agenda will be like. If it is an ordinary StandUp meeting, do keep in mind you should be ready to greet the counterpart, maybe make a little small talk, talk about your status, and close up the call with small talk and maybe scheduling the next call if you know you will be in charge of doing that for the following week.
If the meeting will be of a new topic or not a routine StandUp meeting or if it will be a demo, take time to plan out how you will organize your talking points. Assure the agenda has a good flow and it’s not all over the place.
Tips for Driving the Meeting to Impress the US Client
Just like with the StandUp meeting, be ready to greet the counterpart, make small talk, transition into the business discussion and to close make small talk and schedule the next meeting.
If you are a service provider providing a service to the US client, take charge of the call. Do not let the client drive the call. The rule of thumb is that you organize the talking points, drive those points and you do about 60-70% of the talking. The client should always do less talking than you.
Step 5: Time Management
Now that you have your agenda and talking points, you still may be a little nervous if this is your first time. Maybe you can practice your opening and closing with someone. Try to give yourself 10-15 minutes before the call starts to ‘get in the zone.’
When connecting in, if the call starts at 6pm IST, connect in at 5:55. You should be first to join. This is probably the simplest way to start driving the call and the conversation. If you come in at 6 or 6:05 this is late to most Americans, especially the more east coast you go!
If your meeting is scheduled for 30 minutes start on the hour and end at least 5 minutes before the time slot completes (so end at 6:25 for an end time of 6:30 or 6:50-6:55 for a time slot ending at 7pm). But, always, always, always enter the virtual meeting room 5 minutes before the start time. Then, start at the allotted time.
These are some basic tips to help you coordinate your first virtual meeting with your US client. Are you ready? Do you need help? This is what we specialize in helping you with from A-Z. Get in touch with us today to help you or your teams to be ready for the virtual meeting, demo or daily StandUp meetings without always needing a manager present!
We provide coaching for developers and software teams that need help speaking up to foreign clients due to language or cultural barriers. Check out our 1 to 1 coaching program, Email Writing Program or our signature program, Managing Client Expectations.
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Read about a client program we held: Building Culturally Competent US-Client Facing Teams in India