How to Nail the Project Kickoff Meetings For Your Agency Clients

Your agency just won an exciting new client, and you were notified that you’ll be the lead on the new client’s first project.

You might feel tempted to immediately jump into execution mode and book a client kickoff meeting right away, especially if the project timelines are tight. But, putting in a little extra time before your official kickoff meeting can help you set yourself and your team up for success.

A successful project kickoff begins well before the official client kickoff meeting. Setting up a few other key meetings before you get in front of your client and their team can make all the difference between a rocky first encounter and an inspiring, productive one.

And that very first meeting? It sets the tone for an entire project, so it’s worth getting it right.

The Unofficial Lunch Meeting Before the Kickoff

Have you ever noticed that some of the most insightful information you get about a client, their business, their expectations and what they really want doesn’t usually end up in the brief or official project documents?

I can’t count how many times I’ve found out key information when I’ve bumped into a client in the elevator or as we’re chit-chatting over coffee before a meeting.

These unofficial, more friendly encounters offer you an opportunity to hear about the more implicit, hidden, or informal requirements a client has–and without which you can’t fully understand what you’ll need to achieve success.

So, schedule a meeting before THE meeting. Try to book a lunch or a coffee meeting with your client prior to the official project kickoff meeting. Grab some good food, get to know each other a little, and find out those details that have the potential to derail things before you’re deep into the project. The rapport you build during this meeting will flow into the kickoff meeting, making everyone else feel more comfortable right away.

The Internal Meeting 

Once you’ve had a chance to get the insider details from your client during lunch, you’ll want to get your internal team up to speed on the project. An internal meeting is an opportunity to bring everyone from your agency working on the project together to get on the same page and get them excited about the project ahead.

The internal meeting before client kickoff meeting is also important because it:

·   Clarifies objectives, goals and expectations of everyone involved.

·   Nails down scope and deliverables and the approach you’ll take to accomplish the work.

·   Gives your team the additional knowledge and information about the client and the project needed to show up to the client kickoff meeting with confidence and genuine enthusiasm.

·   Provides everyone with an opportunity to ask questions before getting in front of the client. You want your team to show up to the official client meeting with a cohesive plan, exuding confidence and expertise.

·   Allows you to develop a list of questions for the client that you know you’ll need to be answered during the kickoff.

·   Gives team members the opportunity to flag any potential risks for the project they see based on their individual experience. 

If it’s possible, try to do a run-through of the client kickoff meeting including who will cover what before you connect with the client. The more polished and concise the team is, the more confidence the client will have going into the project.

THE Meeting: The Official Client Kick-Off Meeting

Your official project kickoff meeting is usually the first meeting between an agency team and the client team that happens before a project starts. It takes place once a contract has been signed, a statement of work has been agreed upon, and a deposit has been paid.

The purpose of a project kickoff meeting is to introduce both teams to each other, clarify the project background, establish agreement on what success looks like, understand what needs to be done, and agree on how you’ll all work together effectively.

It’s a chance for your team to get the critical information they need to succeed, demonstrate their enthusiasm for the project and instill confidence in the client that they have the right team in place for the job.

A project kickoff meeting done well sets a positive tone for the whole project and can contribute immensely to its overall success.

But get that first meeting wrong?

You might find yourself in damage control mode for the entire project trying to get things back on track. And it sounds dramatic, but you might never get back on track. A rocky kickoff meeting can destroy any chance your team has of success–before a project has even started.

So, you want to get it right.

Here are five tips for running a kickoff meeting that sets the project down a path toward success.

1. Have a plan.

If you’ve been doing this for a while, you might be tempted to do only loose planning and “wing” the first meeting. But don’t do it.

Have a new client kickoff meeting agenda with clear objectives and outcomes you’re aiming to achieve coming out of the meeting and share it with all attendees before. Having an agenda helps you maintain control of the meeting and sets a tone of professionalism and expertise that makes the client feel like they’ve made the right decision in choosing your team for their project.

And stick to the agenda. To help yourself (and everyone involved) stay on track, time block the agenda, so you make sure to get through everything.

2. Don’t be robotic.

While you want to have a plan and a tight client kickoff meeting agenda, recognize that the room is full of human beings who may be meeting for the first time. Make sure you leave time for introductions and personal interactions. 

Don’t dive right into logistics, but instead give your best inspirational pep talk about the project’s “Why?” Having your client jump in to share the project’s purpose in their own words can add to the inspirational impact.

3. Get everyone on the same page.

Everyone from both the agency and client side should leave a great kickoff meeting feeling 100% clear on what to expect in terms of timelines, deliverables, communication, and processes.

Especially important is having everyone on the same page about what success looks like. Ask your clients what their definition of “done” is. Clarify what success metrics will be tracked. Know who will ultimately decide if the project is a success. The more precisely you can collectively define success, the more likely your project will run smoothly.

4. Share your process.

Sharing how your agency operates in terms of reporting, collaboration, and approvals establishes expectations around tracking progress and milestones.

So make sure the client understands your approach to project management, how they’ll receive updates, how they can provide feedback, and how you’ll deal with change requests or scope increases. You’ll also want to clarify what the client expects from your team in terms of delivery, availability, and response time.

Clearly outlining your process and getting buy-in from the client sets boundaries your team can use throughout the project to avoid falling into the overservicing trap.

You’ll also want to show the client any tools you’ll be using–agency project management software, communications tools, agency CRM, invoicing tools, and any other software you use to deliver work.

5. Don’t get lost in the details.

Finally, remember that the ultimate purpose of this client kickoff meeting is to inspire and excite everyone, not drown in the minute details of the project. Keep the meeting to the high-level details that must be established before you can start work. Leave the nitty-gritty details for future meetings.

I know I’ve made it seem like there is a lot riding on a project kickoff–and there is. 

But running a successful kickoff isn’t rocket science, so don’t go panicking on me! With some advance planning, clear processes in place, and some enthusiasm and excitement, your next client kickoff can easily be one that will motivate and inspire and leave everyone feeling confident that the project will succeed.

There might even be some high fives.

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