How to make the most of your client meetings

As the demand to move beyond technical knowledge and offer effective client management grows in the professional consulting sector, it can be a struggle to know how to have purposeful conversations with clients. We sat down with management expert Ben Paul to talk about how you can take client relationships to the next level. 

So Ben, why is it so important for us as consulting engineers to have meaningful client relationships? 

You're all working tirelessly on a project spending a great deal of time in front of clients in meetings, focusing on the job at hand. It's easy for consulting engineers simply forget to broaden the conversation and use these meetings as an opportunity to understand the client better and build a deeper relationship. I'm often asked how consultants can get in touch with their clients after the work has been completed. While the project may have been delivered very successfully, this indicates that the only focus of all conversations with the client was the work at hand. This makes it very difficult to get back in touch with the clients after project completion because now you no longer have an obvious connection or talking point with them.

So how do we do it?

Breaking this pattern requires a small shift in mindset, the adoption of some new skills, and a bit of practice. Your mindset shift is the most important part, towards one of curiosity. You need to be curious about what’s going on with your client outside the project you are engaged in. Having the desire to find out more removes the project-focused blinkers and allows you to look for opportunities to engage the client in a broader business conversation.

Of course, you can’t just ask endless questions about what else your client is working on or what they care about during a meeting that is designed to be focused on a current project. And admittedly, it isn’t appropriate to do so in every single meeting. If the client is dissatisfied with the project's progress and it’s falling behind, or if you’re needing to explain a scope variation, that’s not the meeting to open the conversation out.

However, there are usually lots of other meetings during the project where you can ask these questions. At the outset, I’m amazed how many people don’t ask where this project fits in with their other business objectives, or in the case of government, broader deliverable objectives. It can be as simple as asking your client what else they are working on. This builds rapport and if done with the right level of empathy, shows you care about their full workload and what’s important to them.

These questions can be written down ahead of client meetings to give you the confidence to use them. The more you practice asking these questions, the more natural they become, to the point where you’ll do it in most meetings. Continual practice makes a habit, and this is a habit that’s worth forming.

In essence, to have more meetings with clients outside of when you are working with them, you’ll need a curious mindset, the acquisition of some new skills, and the courage to keep practising them until they become a natural way of working.

To learn how to have successful meetings with your client join Ben at one of the following workshops being run in conjunction with ACE NZ.

Want to get some practice? Sign up for our free event 

We're holding an event with Ben in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in July offering a practical, end-to-end guide to planning and conducting effective client meetings that will advance relationships, and help you secure new opportunities. With plenty of interactive practice in small groups (we won't put you on the spot in front of the whole room), we will build your confidence to run effective meetings.

These interactive sessions will cover:

  • Positioning an agenda ahead of a meeting
  • Creating a purpose to drive a better conversation
  • Questions that generate client actions/next steps
  • Post-meeting follow up

Register to secure your spot: