Planning a Client Visit, Part 1: Better Know Your Client

Your team relies on you to be the travel agent, correspondent and reminder service all in one. You can help your team help you by doing some pre-meeting homework and ensuring everyone does THEIR homework as well. Here are some tips to help ensure a successful client visit before you enter the lobby.

First impressions do matter—especially if they happen during a pitch. As project manager, it’s up to you to identify the factors that could make or break your visit. Between personal observation and contacts at the company (be nice to the admin—always), you should be able to answer these questions at least a few days in advance:

1. What resources are available in the meeting room? This is perhaps the single most critical issue, and yet it rarely gets asked. Do not assume that your conference room will have multimedia (e.g., a projector), white board or anything else that you might want to use during your presentation. DO tell your contact up front if you have special requests. Remember, no detail is too small. I have been in rooms where you can barely stand much less have the space to place an easel.

2. What is the vendor “Dress Code”?: The common Microsoft stereotype is that you are just as likely to speak to someone in a suit as someone wearing cut-offs and flip-flops. In my 9+ years running around campus, I’ve yet to see cut-offs… but I have seen a flip-flop or two. But I would never wear them myself to a client meeting. My usual attire is a nice pair of slacks and a blouse—even if I’m meeting with someone I know wouldn’t blink if I showed up in jeans. Why? Because you never know when someone important will be pulled into your meeting, or if you’ll have an impromptu meet-and-greet with the VP in the hall. Always dress professionally.

3. How long will it (realistically) take to get there? Yes, the mapping technologies and your GPS all give travel estimates. But they aren’t considering little things such as bridge/lane closures, construction, commuter congestion and accidents. If possible, drive the route beforehand at the same time you’ll be traveling. Also, add your local news radio station to your preset stations for traffic reports. And no matter what, leave early. Traffic is never completely predictable. If you arrive early (as you should), scope out parking and then head to the nearest café for last minute team review. Even though your goal is to arrive earlier than necessary, never go in the lobby more than 10 minutes early—it could be interpreted as poor planning on your part.

4. Where can I park? Is there parking nearby? Does the company validate? Do you need cash or can you use a credit card? These questions might seem banal, but they become the most important thing in the world when you’re up against the clock—and you don’t have five quarters to feed the meter. I was once in a situation where I had to send one person running to the meeting and another team member breathlessly dashing off to find a store to get change for a meter. All because the team leader assumed we could use a nearby parking lot that took credit cards. What he didn’t realize was that the garage had limited public parking—and all those slots were claimed by late afternoon. Always keep a little change on hand if you’re going to an area where you have to pay to park. We now keep a roll of quarters in the glove compartment, just in case.

Next time: Prepping Your Team

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