It’s Never ‘Just’ a Kickoff Meeting: Starting Your Client Relationship Off on the Right Foot

Two NYC tech companies share their secrets for early planning, communication and success.
Written by Avery Komlofske
October 20, 2021Updated: October 20, 2021

“It’s just a kickoff meeting,” you think. “I don’t need to prepare too much.” 

You write up a loose outline, get your materials together and talk to your team to get everyone on the same page. The kickoff call goes fine — it isn’t anything to write home about, but it doesn’t have to be. After all, it’s just a kickoff.

Weeks pass, and you’re not sure how it all went wrong. The project has been rife with miscommunication, missed deadlines and frustration on both sides. Your employees are finishing tasks only to find that the client already completed them, and are unable to finish others because the client hasn’t given them the relevant data. Yesterday, you received an angry email from your client asking why you missed a follow-up meeting — one you don’t remember scheduling.

It feels like everyone has different expectations and goals for the project. You’ve checked your notes from that initial meeting a dozen times, but they don’t provide the clarity you need to get things back on track. 

You’ve learned a key management lesson a little too late: It’s never “just” a kickoff meeting.

A good kickoff meeting will help you form trust with a customer, set clear expectations for the project and define in detail the steps needed to accomplish established goals. Done right, your kickoff will make every subsequent phase of your project — and your client relationship — orders of magnitude stronger.

While deceptively simple, there is a tremendous amount of work that can be done before, during and after a kickoff meeting to ensure success. Built In New York City reached out to Catalyst Customer Success Manager Kiko Taniguchi and Pinwheel Solutions Engineer Kate Marienthal to hear their strategies for the perfect kickoff meeting. Through their wisdom, we learned that with strong communication, thorough research and a focus on building trust, a kickoff meeting can be the perfect start to a long and fruitful client relationship.

 

Kiko Taniguchi
Customer Success Manager


What are some steps you take to prepare before a kickoff meeting, and why? Be specific.

To prepare for a customer meeting, I start with research.

I want to ensure that I go into my first meeting with a customer with a solid understanding of whom I’m speaking with, what their company does, what problems or pain points they are hoping to solve and what value our product can bring to their organization. This is where handoff notes from sales come in handy. Good handoff notes should, in some form, address all of the core components listed above. For any gaps in knowledge, I’ll use resources like LinkedIn, company websites and any presentations, notes or recordings from the sales cycle I can get my hands on. 

The next step is coordinating with our internal pre-sales and post-sales team to ensure a smooth transition. During an internal sync, I will ask any remaining questions that are unanswered from my initial research, as well as plan for how we will tackle the kickoff meeting. When multiple team members are involved, it’s important to understand which role each internal team member will play during the meeting. 

From there, I make sure all materials for the kickoff are in order, which are then sent out to the internal team for comments and approval.

 

During the kickoff, what are some specific things you do to make a great first impression and ensure the client is set up for success?

Being prepared and organized is a simple way to make a great first impression. Kicking off the call with a clear agenda is the best way to ensure that the meeting stays on track. When going through introductions, the account team and I will clearly outline our roles and how we will support the partnership in the post-sales lifecycle, in order to minimize client confusion working with a multi-person account team. 

During the kickoff, I will concisely summarize as much information as I can from the pre-sales cycle, focusing on the pain points their team is hoping to solve, why they chose our product and calling out any nuances or timelines the client had flagged during the sales cycle. I then weave this information into the goals for our implementation and overall partnership to ensure alignment. All of this demonstrates a smooth handoff from sales and prevents the client from having to repeat themselves, which can be frustrating. 

Before ending our meeting, we will set out a clear timeline for the rest of the implementation process and the next steps. That way, expectations are set for what steps and meetings are necessary for the customer to achieve a successful implementation.

 

Being prepared and organized is a simple way to make a great first impression.”


What does your follow-up look like after a kickoff meeting? And how do you leverage that follow-up to keep the momentum going and the customer engaged?

Follow-ups are recapped at the end of our kickoff meetings, but we will also send over a written overview of follow up items via email. 

To recap the call, our team will include a copy of our kickoff deck as well as a recording of the meeting, especially if the call is rich with content. From there we will clearly define the next steps to continue the momentum from the kickoff. We will also list out any action items or requests for information, specifically calling out which team and team members are responsible for what. 

Our team will typically try to get any follow up calls on the calendar while we’re on the kickoff call to minimize the back and forth and delays that come with email scheduling. If that’s not possible, we’ll work on getting that set up over email. 

Lastly, we will define the high-level focus and agenda for the next meeting to ensure expectations are set correctly and the customer is prepared. 
 

 

Kate Marienthal
Solutions Engineer


What are some steps you take to prepare before a kickoff meeting, and why? Be specific.

There are a few key items I focus on before a kickoff meeting. First, I get to know my customer. I can best serve my customers when I understand their use case, pain points and company goals. Once a new deal closes, I connect with my sales team to get any background they have. I do my own research, check out who is invited to the meeting and make sure I know who I’m talking to. It’s be easier to connect with the customer if I have a good understanding of what each stakeholder will care about and expect from me.

Next, I create a project plan that works for me and the customer. It’s helpful to create a reusable, customizable project plan template for each client. Typically, I create a shared resource that can be used as a joint document to track processes and take ongoing meeting notes. This helps move the project forward and keeps both teams aligned. 

After a deal’s closed, I reach out to the customer to introduce myself and welcome them to our customer family. If they’re ready, I use this time to schedule the kickoff meeting. This continues the excitement they felt when signing the deal, and reaffirms that working together is going to be an awesome experience.

 

During the kickoff, what are some specific things you do to make a great first impression and ensure the client is set up for success?

It’s important to build trust with your customers. This gives the relationship a strong foundation that enables you to serve your customers effectively. Take time to share something about yourself; if they understand who you are, they’re more likely to trust that you’re the right person for the job. 

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make it very clear that you want to be a partner to your customer going forward and are using this time to learn more about them. Don’t hesitate to ask the nitty gritty questions — this is where you’ll find out what they really care about. This will also help you to understand their objective for the project. Most people like talking about themselves and their business, so this part should be easy.

Set clear expectations around timelines, communication preferences and project goals. Your customer’s timeline helps you understand the urgency of the project. Additionally, learn about your customer’s preferred communication method — such as Slack or email — and set reasonable expectations around response time. Consider setting aggressive SLAs for your team and yourself to build greater rapport at the start of the relationship.

 

Don’t hesitate to ask the nitty gritty questions — this is where you’ll find out what they really care about.”


What does your follow-up look like after a kickoff meeting? And how do you leverage that follow-up to keep the momentum going and the customer engaged?

Make sure you follow up with an email soon after the kickoff meeting. Include helpful resources, your shared project plan and any outstanding action items. Agree on the appropriate meeting cadence and find a recurring meeting time. Even if you don’t need frequent recurring meetings, it’s helpful to have the time scheduled to use as a checkpoint for project updates. This builds momentum and keeps the project at top of the mind for both parties. 

Lastly, make sure to follow up in a timely manner with any action items. Always set reasonable goals for action items, and make sure you stick to them. If you’re going to slip on a goal, make sure to communicate that to the customer. This helps to build and keep trust.
 

 

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