Five Questions I ask potential clients before I work with them

Note:  I first published this post a year ago, but the content is just as valid today.

As I continue down the Five Questions path we will focus back on the supplier-customer relationship, a very important factor.  Working with clients is something that we all do.  The challenge is that most of us don’t consider our internal clients the same way we might if they were an external client.  That is a critical mistake.

A client is the same whether you work for the same firm or not.  We all have projects to accomplish and making sure that we satisfy, no delight, our clients is of the utmost importance.  I wish I could tell you that every client I have is delighted with every project I do.  The fact that they are not is enough for me to continue focusing on the work at hand.

Here are the five questions I try to ask to any potential or current client:

1.  What are you looking for in a firm?  This is a very important question and the answer is a key motivator in whether I continue pursuing a client or suggest that there are other firms that better meet their needs.  I had this conversation with a friend today.  We are a relationship firm and not a transactional firm.  Many of my clients are repeat clients and almost all of them come from referrals from others who think highly enough of me or our firm to recommend us.  You cannot understand how important this is to me and it should also be important to you.

2.  What concerns your or keeps you up at night with regard to your work or your business?  We are in the problem solving business.  Typically the problems we solve involve Talent Acquisition or Talent Development.  Understanding just what the client sees as a gap or challenge can help me understand if we really are the right kind of solution provider for them.  I learned many years ago that it is hard to solve something until you get to the root cause of the problem.  My 6 years with the Japanese helped me get a clear understanding of how to state a problem, not just provide solutions.

3.  What does success look like for you in this situation?  Once the problem is identified I then try to understand what success looks like.  Another way to state this is to gain a better understanding of what the goals are, just what are you trying to accomplish.  Not knowing the destination makes the journey quite circuitous.  I want to make good use of my time as well as the client’s time.  What do you want to accomplish?  That helps me understand if we are the right fit for the journey.

4.  How else can we assist you?  A big part of what I can do may not even involve me or my firm.  I know many other capable people and firms and helping a client understand a problem outside of my expertise allows me to refer someone else to them to help.  I sometimes tell people that I am blessed to get to do what I love and sometimes get paid for it.  My work is my passion; I love it and hope that I can do this until I take my last breath in this world.

5. How can I best communicate with you or others I will be working with?  This question has many facets, especially in today’s world of electronic communication.  We tweet, email, text, write or call on a regular basis.  Knowing the best way to communicate with a client helps me to avoid unplanned mistakes.  I would rather take more time on the front end versus fixing and “tweaking” along the way.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  A better way to say that might be a gram of prevention is worth a kilogram of cure.  You choose the units that work best for you.

Five simple questions that help me better focus and communicate with clients.  I try to ask them every time and hope that my clients see the value in asking them.

Sometimes the right question will make all of the difference in the world.

What would you ask?