One of my favorite things about interacting with new prospects and clients is the Initial Discovery Session where you ask really smart questions in order uncover the business opportunities you’re going to work on together and the details of what will constitute a successful outcome of your project.
I shared a few of my favorite questions in my article about client discovery sessions, but I thought I would share a few more in this post.
I mention it in the article linked above, but it’s important enough to bear repeating here — when you’re putting together your list of questions to ask your client in the discovery session DO NOT ask any questions to which the answers can be found on Google.
The best questions do not have simple Yes or No answers.
You want to ask questions that require a little bit of thought. Questions that your customer cannot answer by rote reflex. Questions that make them pause and consider their response.
Here are some of my favorite questions…
What have you tried before that didn’t work?
This question will give them a chance to vent about all the things past service providers (your competitors) did that failed. It may have failed because they’re not as good as you, or it may have failed because it was a bad idea. It’s good to know the concepts that didn’t work because if you were planning to pitch a similar concept it will help you revise and reposition the idea so that it is different enough from this old idea that didn’t work that it can be considered for future implementation.
Have you done something in the past that worked really well?
Here is a chance for them to share success stories. If something did work well, one of your follow-up questions should be “why did you stop?”. If the old idea worked and the client was a fan of the process, perhaps you just need to update the concept and reinvent it so it can be applied to the new project.
What is the ideal outcome?
Asking this question allows the customer time to verbalize all the preconceptions they have in their head about what success looks like. If you don’t ask this question, this information stays in the customer’s head and they use it as criteria to judge you against — and you don’t even know it. At least this way you can hold up your results and position them in the same context as their ideal outcome. It also gives you a chance to see if their desired results are based in reality. If you have a car dealer client and they say the ideal outcome is selling 200 vehicles this month, you can ask them how many they sell in a typical month so you can see the difference you’re going to have to cover. If they say their best month ever was 15 cars — their ideal outcome isn’t based in reality and you’re going to have to do something in order to bring them back down to earth.
How would you like to be updated throughout the project?
Some people want daily updates via email, some want weekly reports over the phone, and some what to review everything in a committee meeting every two weeks. You want to know in advance what their preference is (because your’s is probably different) and you need to get in sync or potentially upset your customer because they believe you’re not communicating with them often enough (or are overwhelming their in-box with all the emails you’re sending).
What else do you need help with right now?
This great question because it can uncover needs you didn’t know about, revealing new projects you can try to win or perhaps simply an opportunity to refer your client to another service provider for something you don’t offer. Maybe they are just stressed out because they have to collate a bunch of copies together for a meeting that afternoon — now you have an opportunity to be a real hero and come to their rescue by helping them shuffle a few pages together and bang in some staples. Helping out on things like this are great ways to differentiate yourself from everyone else, and to genuinely show that you’re invested in the success of your customer.
What are some of your favorite out-of-the-box questions to ask clients and prospects?
Send me a tweet with your best question and if I get enough people responding perhaps I can put together another article on Questions and share them with everyone.