Understanding Your Client: 7 Insightful Questions to Ask Up Front

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Congratulations! You won the opportunity to speak with someone interested in your services! Now let’s get your partnership off to a solid start by asking some insightful questions. Asking the right questions early on can have the power to define the client’s goals and a strategy for achieving them.

Before you close the sale or book the job, you should be discovering as much as possible about your prospect. This discovery phase can help determine if they are qualified to be your client and whether you are qualified to be their partner.

The best way to discover information is to ask an open ended question—then listen. If you spend the majority of the time talking, your potential client may only share part of what you need to know. To ensure you’re asking the right questions, identify the information you need to provide the best solutions for this client. Then, ask for permission.

Simple Example: “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions? Some of them may be tough to answer.”

A good sale is about forming a strong partnership, especially if your service is more than a one time interaction (or if you want referrals later on). By asking the following “surface level” questions you not only identify your prospect’s needs, but build a rapport that will help you form and foster a strong partnership.

7 Open Ended Questions to Ask to Form a Strong Partnership from the Start

These questions are just the first “level” of each question – or “surface level.” If you don’t get the answers you are looking for, or feel there’s more to explore, dig deeper. Keep probing, rephrase the question, and ask follow up questions to reach a deeper level and discover the “real” answer to your questions.

Question Type: Aspirations

  • What’s going on in your business these days? What has changed since 12 months ago?
  • What’s your story? Your vision? Your ‘aha’ moments?

Question Type: Impact

  • What’s holding you back from reaching your goals (revenue, profit, or other)?
  • What goals (and objectives) do you have in general for the next 12 months? In “this” area (i.e. marketing, website, email campaigns)?

Question Type: New Reality

  • Compared to your previous partner, what are you hoping will be different by working with us?
  • What does success look like to you over the next 60 days?
  • Do you have a budget for this project? What is your budget?

Putting it into Practice

Now that you’re armed with a few insightful, open ended questions, the next step is to get out there and practice them. As you begin you’ll start to identify your own best practices for having these conversations. For example, you may tweak questions to better fit your business, personality, products, or services. You may also find that asking a different question or changing the wording gets better results and feels more natural.

However, before you can start learning from your experiences, you have to have them. Step into that awkward zone that you’ve been avoiding and start asking questions until you get comfortable. Remember some of these key tips:

Sound natural – Practice in the mirror or with friends and colleagues until the questions come out naturally. If that doesn’t work, go through the questions with your prospect like going through a checklist until you feel comfortable.

Be assertive – This does not mean to be aggressive. Being assertive simply means prioritizing your needs as a service provider. In this case, your needs are to get your (sometimes tough) questions answered. If your prospect is not giving you answers that are useful or is avoiding the questions, try not to back down. Instead take action by rephrasing or refocusing the conversation to better engage the client.

Keep your need for approval in check – Everyone, especially people new to sales, have an inherent need for approval. This simply means that you want your prospect to like you. While that isn’t a bad thing, putting that desire at the forefront can have a negative impact on client relationships. Be mindful of your own need for approval during the sales process. You don’t actually need your prospect to like you as much as you need them to respect you.