Best Questions to Ask Your Consulting Clients

Consulting Client Questions

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One of the most important skills a consultant can possess is the ability to ask clients the right questions at the right time.

I know that sounds simple, but don’t fault me for it. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most powerful and profound.

This ability will help you uncover a client or prospect’s most urgent needs, the underlying issues, and what’s most important to them.

Before You Ask

Now before you start asking all kinds of questions at your next meeting, you need to do one thing well first.

And that…is listen.

Listening intently to what clients are saying is the starting point for making any consulting project a success.

If you don’t listen carefully to what your clients are telling you about their business and current situation, you’ll have no way to understand what solution will best give them the result they want to achieve.

I know that sounds simple, but don’t fault me for it. Sometimes the simplest things can be the most powerful and profound.

Starting to Ask

The next step, asking the right questions, is what will allow you to truly deliver your clients with the highest level of value and done right, establish your authority status and aid in building your credibility.

There are a multitude of questions that you can ask your clients in different situations.

To start, here are three common questions consultant ask, yet often make a mistake in doing so…

The Wrong Questions

1. Inexperienced consultants will often start by asking prospective clients something like: “So tell me a little about your business?”

One of the most important factors in making any marketing effort a success is understanding who the ideal client is.

This screams amateur. Why? Because if you’re a professional you’ve already taken the time to research and understand your prospects marketplace.

Better question: Start by pointing out a few facts about the prospects marketplace. Show that you already understand their industry and have done some homework – even at a basic level. Then you can ask them a question like: “Many companies in this market are currently facing the issue of X, are you also finding that a challenge, or is there a bigger more pressing issue on your mind?”

2. “Who is your target market?” That question by itself isn’t a problem. The issue is when you allow the client to answer it in little detail. One of the most important factors in making any marketing effort a success is understanding who the ideal client is. You want to keep digging here so you uncover everything you can about the client.

Better question: “Can you tell me what your ideal client looks like? How old are they? Where do they live? What magazines or newspapers (or websites) do they read? What is their income level? What is their most pressing problem or desired result?”

The answers to these questions will provide you with much more information to act on and use than just the general response you’ll get with the initial question.

3. “What is your budget for this project?” This is a horrible question because it assumes that the prospect or client has a budget. Worse yet, it positions your service as a commodity with a big fat price sticker on it.

Better question: “What is the value of a new client to you?”. If a new client is worth $20,000 to your client then you can start the discussion around your fee by associating it to the value your client will receive. If you can help them get 3 new clients each month, and each one is worth $20k to them that’s $60,000 a month in new revenue and value created. If the client even had a budget in mind, it may have only been $3000. But now, as they see that you’ll help them create a strategy and process that will generate over $700,000 a year, your fee of $30,000 doesn’t look unreasonable. That’s a 10X increase.

The Right Questions

Here is a list of great questions that will help you to be seen as a trusted advisor by clients and prospects alike.

“What is your number one priority for this business unit during this fiscal year?” By asking them specifically for their number one priority you can help them clarify whether that really should be their #1 priority. Then you can look at how to help them achieve. Plus, you can document that and refer back to it to help keep your client on course and focused.

“What do you believe needs to be strengthened in order to support achieving this?” This question will help you uncover areas of weakness in your clients business. Sometimes there could be one employee that is causing a whole deal of trouble. Yet the President has chosen to ignore dealing with the employee and instead masks the problem by convincing themselves they can solve it by focusing on a separate initiative. Knowing that the employee really is the problem you can talk more with the President and look at alternatives in dealing with the core issue rather than spending time and money on something completely irrelevant.

By getting the client to speak openly with you about this you can figure out how to best help them deal with the issue, remove the roadblock and overcome the challenge in the way.

“What options have you looked at to achieve this…?” There is no need to reinvent the wheel here. Understanding what your client has done to this point, or what they are thinking about, can uncover something that you may not have thought about yourself (that is worth trying) or may allow you to make recommendations in doing the same thing again, but in a different way when the client has done it improperly before.

“Is there anything that you or your employees are doing that may be getting in the way of achieving this result?” Often you can find clients taking actions that are actually harmful to their business or are getting in the way of the progress they want to make. By getting the client to speak openly with you about this you can figure out how to best help them deal with the issue, remove the roadblock and overcome the challenge in the way.

“What is unique about your business compared to your competitors?” You can ask this question in many ways. For example, “Why should customers/clients choose your company over the competition?” Many clients have trouble answering this question. They respond with things like: “We’ve been in business for 30 years” and “We have the best service” or “Our quality is just the best”. You know what? Who cares! That may make the client feel all warm and fuzzy, but none of those are reasons for the marketplace to choose your client over the competition. Help your client by getting them to clarify what exactly is their value proposition, their competitive advantage, the reason the market should choose them over anyone else.

“What was the main reason that you wanted to meet with me?” This question is most effective when you find your client isn’t engaged in the conversation in the way you’d like them to be. It forces them to take notice and actually tell you why they wanted to meet. You can then come back to those reasons throughout the conversation and remind them why they wanted to meet and the value that you can provide. You don’t do this in a pushy or self-centered way, but rather if the client has told you that they wanted to meet you because they need a consultant that can help them reduce their employee turnover rate, you can focus the discussion on the keyword ’employee turnover rate’ and ‘lower the employee turnover rate’.

“Who will be making the final decisions on this project and who will be in charge of implementation?” This is another critical question that amateur consultants forget to ask. This should be asked early in the conversation as you want to ensure you’re dealing with the person in charge that will be writing you the check. At one time or another, early in their careers, consultants find themselves working hard to ‘sell their services’ only to find out they’ve been talking with the wrong people. This wastes time and can really drain your energy and knock your confidence level.

When you’re asking these questions, don’t be shy to challenge your client on their responses. The more you dig the more you can help your client find the core issues…and the greater the value you will be able to help them discover and enjoy.

If you enjoyed this article, please click the share buttons on the left to let your friends and colleagues know.

Now, what questions do you ask? Have a favorite that you’ve found to be effective? Share your ideas with the community in the comments below…

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  • Chantal

    I really enjoyed this article. Very useful.

  • Johnny

    These are very good questions, thanks for this.

  • Matt

    Indeed! I appreciate you thoughtful suggestions Michael.

  • Dave Poulos

    Terrific! Well done. Gotta keep this one in the refresher file . . .

    • Dave – thanks! The ‘refresher’ file is a good idea 🙂

      • Ethan Hale

        I agree with Dave Poulos and i agree with you that the”refresher” file is a good idea. It helps keep similar content together while not losing it in a specific contributors file. Good train of thought on the questions.

  • Mircea Buzlea

    Excellent article, congratulations & thanks for sharing! 🙂

  • Mallerk

    Very useful article. Thanks for the heads-up!

  • Rudolf DSouza

    Your mailer came just as i was to interview a Client and I jotted them down and used them. Made the client think and think and reflect and i got some very good insights rather than off the cuff responses. Thanks for this timely piece. Rudolf

    • Rudolf – that’s great to hear that this helped you at your meeting. Always enjoy hearing examples like this!

  • I already have a questionnaire that has received compliments because the questions has caused my clients to really think about their business. But.. I must say, the questions in this article takes it even further! I will be including these questions in my routine. Thanks Michael!

    • Danielle – happy to hear that. What other questions would you suggest people ask their clients?

    • sandeep sidhu

      hi danielle,
      I am starting up a small scale consultancy with my friend. if you don’t mind, would you like to share the questionnaire via email. sandeepsidhu80@gmail.com thanks, sunny

  • Pramod

    Thank you Michael. It gives confidence to amateurs like me to get a positive start..!

  • Sairam

    Got some valuable points …

  • Eko

    Thank you for sharing this tips michael…this is can be very useful for me who just start my personal consultant carrier…thanks

  • Sheldon Browne

    What are your objectives?
    What are you currently doing to achieve them?
    Who is your target market?
    How do you identify your target market?
    How do you communicate with them?
    How do you track your ROI (Return On Investment)?

  • Noel Murray

    I found the article to be on target, Lest we forget, consultants are solution providers and the marketplace is an ocean that is constantly moving and changing, so we not only have to respond to what is affecting our clients performance now but be able to also anticipate future possible scenarios when we are providing advice and direction.

    It is conceivable therefore to recommend what may only be a short-lived ‘fix’. Costly to the client and to your reputation as a consultant.

    Todays ‘client problem or concern’ may only be a symptom of something greater looming in the marketplace or his business environment.Dynamics both within and external to the clients operation warrrant examination.

    Two fundamentals come to mind and should be answered before we can be prepared to provide solutions …. and only with the assumption that we have correctly assesed, interpreted,synthesised the situation

    Firstly: the clients real business and its positioning in the market environment. Does he/she have a true grip on what his/her business/service is doing or providing within the marketplace?

    Secondly: what are the top insights [the wow factors] that make his/her product . service, etc. really stand out and provide the solution[s] that motivates his or her consumer/customer/client to demand repeatedly his /her product or service on offer?

    Answer these with your clients help and a major hurdle to providing solutions has been crossed.

    • Noel – thanks for the thoughtful comment. Two great suggestions there!

  • Really good article. Thanks.

  • Jennifer

    Great article! Thank you for the insight

  • Shardae Avents

    Thank you for this article! I will be using these questions for my first client consult! I appreciate you taking the time to share this valuable information.

  • Michael, there is one question I don’t see here, following “Why did you want to meet me?…. and that is, How can I help you solve your problems?…which would be a follow up to the former question….. Great article..thank you for it!

    • Bernadette – great addition. That’s a great question. However, not all clients know the answer to it…and that’s why you need to keep asking the right questions to figure that out.

  • kk

    very revealing. an eye opener

  • I love this article. It’s extremely helpful. I stumbled across this site while looking for ways to improve my consulting services. Thanks for sharing this priceless information:)

    Best,
    Stacie Walker
    Woman in Leadership Founder

  • Gautam

    Amazing article. Very insightful. Taking a lot away from here for my next client meet.

  • Monica

    Thank you, your articles are incredibly helpful!

  • Izzmyster.

    SUch an enlightining article, I feel like I can now approach consulting with a far clearer identity and direction.

  • Priya

    Great examples of questions. I plan to use them in my call tomorrow. Would love to read more articles on this topic.

  • Chinwe Kalu

    It’s one thing to be in Consulting but another to position yourself properly so that you are perceived to be a true professional. In the Nigerian market where I am about to begin operations, you must start right to gain public confidence. I find this peice so important for me at this time. Thanks a lot. Chinwe Kalu.

  • Vebjørn Tveiterås

    Great questions, Michael.
    Another one to ask is “What are your expecations of me in this project?” This will be too direct for a lot of relationships, but if you’re comfortable asking it, it can give both of you some great insights.

  • ELVAmarketing.

    Really valuable article that breaks past the cookie cutter approach with clients. Thank you!

  • Mehdi Salehi

    amazing questions, just one question before the last was not useful for my case.

  • Jennette Cronk

    Great, to the point questions. These really cover just about everything you would need for an initial meeting for a client. (So glad I found this. I love the Internet). My addition is to ask whether the client is looking for a diagnosis or implementation (if they don’t ask you first). In my experience, the client can be unclear that there is a difference between the two.

    • Jennette – welcome! Glad you found us 🙂 Great question, sometimes the client won’t know. So you’ll need to ask lots of questions and then give them your recommendations on how to proceed so they get the most value.

      • suresh

        sir, i want to do feasibility study for opening a consultancy firm, for that i have to form out questionnaire for clients. what type of question should i ask them?? please assist me.

  • Konstantin

    It was really helpful 3 hours before meeting the client )
    When you experience lack of time to ‘grab yourself in one’ after long trip

  • Danielle Findlay

    These are great questions, thank you! It’s always a key tool to know what NOT to say.

  • Latasha Patrick

    Great article. Thanks.

  • James Mitchell

    Michael, this is a wonderful article. I ask some of these questions, and you’ve given me some wonderful new ones to add, as well as framing some of the existing ones in a more powerful way. This is definitely a keeper!

  • Apollyon

    Good, straightforward questions, but also insightful. They ensure the client opens up.

    Personally, I found the ‘wrong questions to ask’ illuminating. Very easy to fall into simple, but not particularly helpful (and lazy) questions.

    Good article.

  • rsegura

    Great article. as always!!

  • Gabrielle

    Great article Michael. Very useful!

  • I find that most consultants have an agenda – they aren’t listening before the Q&A begins. Some questions already have been answered or at least uncovered. I find that I have to really let the meeting unfold and NOT have an agenda to be able to learn as much as I can before it is my turn to ask questions.

  • Simon Yaw Boribah

    These questions are really good for every consultant to ask when the need arises. Besides, if I answer these questions correctly, my consulting business will stand out.

  • Kuzzy

    Very educative. I found this article very useful for my meeting with a new client. Thank you.

  • Christian Reuben Jr.

    Still useful a year later. Thanks

  • I had an initial meeting with a potential client this morning and used these questions and had amazing results. I was able to get a thorough understanding of the clients needs and was able to secure the project! I’m thrilled to have found The Consulting Success System…it’s exactly what I’ve needed to take my business to the next level.

  • I know this a repost, but I really enjoyed this and it helped me to focus my profiling when I first started. Thanks.

  • Awesome report and very helpful. I have a meeting on Monday and will add these additional questions. Thank you Michael – appreciate you! Ron, Dilbert Consulting Group

  • cdspro

    The information you have provided in this article is very helpful
    Thank you.

  • doejimz

    This article is a great help to an aspiring consultant.

  • Sampath

    Man it’s really good to read this… i enjoyed it

  • alexzandria

    This has definitely helped me create a more questionnaire. Thank you .

  • Great tips – especially about demonstrating your insights first! “Show that you already understand their industry and have done some homework – even at a basic level.” Very powerful stuff.

  • Reni James

    very nice article. Thank you for sharing.

  • Jan van Uden

    Dear Michael: This is far the best article I read on consultancy. And I have about 20 years executive jobs and my own Strategy and Management Consultancy in Brazil! Thank you!

  • Jan van Uden

    Dear Michael: This is far the best article I read on consultancy. And I have about 20 years executive jobs and 30 years my own Strategy and Management Consultancy in Brazil! Thank you!

  • M. J. B.

    Awesome information. Thank you!

  • taraszen

    Great article – thank you.

  • Brennan Kirkpatrick

    Michael, I love to see that you are replying to most peoples’ posts!!!
    Shows you care about those with similar interests!!! Warms my heart.
    One question though… What is the difference between a really good salesperson and a consultant? The method of payment? LOL!

  • Larry D. James

    Great article Michael, I got a lot of valuable gems, and will apply them soon. Keep them coming.

  • Marketing Major Gal

    These seem like the best kept secrets of consulting. Thank you!

  • Understand your target market and know what to say.. it all comes from experience.. Putting several hours of hard work into consulting talks will help you reach higher levels..

  • Stella Zhang

    I am a fresher in consulting field and i am confused about the starting point of question. Our team have got the brief of client. So I suggest that we should explain what our picture about their current condition and then let the client to add and adjust. However, other team members think we should let client explain first and then we give our picture. I am appreciate if you can give some advice.Thanks.

  • Davis

    Very helpful and useful. I’m currently taking a Consultation Skills master’s course and this will help our group better engage our client. Thank you Michael

  • Ashim

    This is really eye opening. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Mark Hudson

    Great article, you made some really useful points that I’ll apply in my client meetings from now on. Thank you.

  • Jazmine

    I’ve enjoyed this article and will use it as a point of reference in the future.

  • Nigel

    Extremely helpful article. Thanks a ton!!

  • Erica Shotnokoff

    Great article, very helpful! Thank you!!

  • James

    Great job, this article had depth and solid advice. Thank you for sharing.

  • Rick

    Great stuff. Quite useful. Thank you.

  • rickguilfoil

    Thank you for this article. Very good information that I can implement immediately!

  • Nagender Singh

    i want to work as an business development person. can you help me the type of question any client will ask me and what will be the answer

  • AMS

    great suggestions

  • Michael. This is exactly what I needed. Great questions! Can you help me get my consulting business going successfully? I need direction. Thank you in advance!