Most consultancies ask lots of questions about the client’s business and the particular project they are addressing. However, they tend to ask far fewer questions about how the client really sees them, their perceived strengths and weaknesses, how the relationship can be improved and strengthened.
That’s because most consultancies seek praise not criticism. Most of us don’t particularly want to hear our faults, even though addressing these can help transform a client relationship from good to excellent.
Here are five important questions to start you off.
1. What area of your business would you like us to know more about?
The question is keen and proactive but will also reveal any perceived shortcomings in your knowledge. It’s a question that fosters collaboration and partnership because it leads naturally to a discussion about how you and the client can jointly develop this greater knowledge.
2. Are there any types of project/challenge that you wouldn’t consider us for?
All too often there can be a gap in the client’s understanding of your skill set. There is nothing worse than being overlooked for a project that you are well capable of delivering but this is often the case when a client puts you in a particular box. Perhaps you are unfairly seen as a doer and implementer or, conversely, too ‘strategic’ and expensive for certain projects that you would actually like to win. Perhaps you are seen as having weaker digital skills, appearing too stretched to take on large scale projects or unable to work internationally. Are these perceptions fair or inaccurate? The point is that you will not know how you are really seen or be able to accurately address client misconceptions unless you are asking questions.
3. If you could give our agency just one piece of advice, what would it be?
This question can be very revealing. Clients who are fans of the consultancy will often give an answer that is genuinely useful. It’s a well-considered answer because they have the consultancy’s best interests at heart. For other clients it can get right to the nub of their main issue and how, in their eyes, the consultancy can improve.
4. Would you like us to be more proactive and, if so, how?
Does the client see you as a reactive supplier or a proactive partner? ‘Proactivity’ is one of the most common issues in the client interviews Up to the Light conducts. People interpret the word differently so it’s worth asking what clients mean by ‘proactivity’. Remember, it is easy for an incumbent consultancy to be seen as slightly ‘comfortable’ versus keen, hungry competitors. A perceived ‘lack of proactivity’ is often the stimulus for the client to look elsewhere.
5. If you were in my position, is there anything you’d be doing to spread the word and develop more business?
Your client contacts in large organisations understand that you are keen to develop their business. So, admit it. Ask their advice. This type of question helps you to understand how the organisation works and leads on to how the particular client contact may be able to help you. Most clients are willing to help as long as the question is raised at the right time and place.
As Peter Drucker, one of the founding fathers of management consultancy said ‘My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.’ So, these five questions are a start. How many more can you think of?
Jonathan Kirk is founder of Up to the Light.