Take an inexperienced consultant and an elite consultant, and put them in a room with a potential client.
What’s the biggest and most noticable difference you’ll observe?
Simply, it is the quantity and quality of questions they ask.
Elite consultants know how to ask the right questions — and when to ask them.
Good, deep, thorough questions are a consultants best friend. With the right questions, you can turn an entire sales conversation around. You can go from being just another run of the mill consultant…to the one they have to hire.
Anybody thinks they can ask questions.
But elite consultants know how to ask questions that show they are the expert, uncover their clients true needs, and demonstrate the value they’ll bring to the client’s business.
In this article, you’ll learn how to approach the best questions to ask and develop an ability to uncover a client or prospect’s most urgent needs, the underlying issues they face, and what’s most important to them.
- Every question you’ll ever need to go from meeting your prospect — to closing the consulting sale
- How to help you and your client identify the financial upside for the project so you can maximize your value (and your fees)
- The simple question that you must ask to make sure your project moves forward
Never again will you walk into a meeting with a client not knowing what to ask.
We’re giving you the “playbook” for the questions you need to weed out problem clients, identify the financial upside of your projects, and present your offers with confidence.
Consider this your “cheat sheet” for your consulting sales conversations.
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 to listen.
Listening intently to what clients are saying is the starting point for making any consulting project a success. It also helps establish rapport. In a relationship business such as consulting, this is key.
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.
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
There’s a good chance clients will put you in the “inexperienced” box if you ask one of the following 3 questions.
- 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.
- “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.
- “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.
You’ll find much better answers to all of these questions below.
The Right Questions
Here are a list of great questions (and when to ask them) that will help you to be seen as a trusted advisor by clients and prospects alike.
The more comfortable you become asking deep meaningful questions, the more confident you’ll become, and the more you’ll learn about what people actually want.
Until that point, use the questions below to help structure your sales conversations with clients and your prospective consulting clients.
Take them, tweak them, and make them your own.
Questions to Qualify Your Prospective Clients
With these questions, you’re positioning yourself as the expert by asking questions to learn more about your client’s business and whether or not they would be a good fit for your expertise.
“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.
“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.
“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.
Questions to Identify Problem Clients (And Red Flags)
With these questions, you’re looking to uncover problems with either the client or from within their business before you start the project. The earlier you learn about these red flags, the earlier you can prepare and plan for them.
“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 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 that’s in the way.
Questions to Ask Clients To Engage Them
With these questions you’re looking to really get your client more involved in the questions about their business and the project.
“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’.
“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?”
Point 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. When you combine a statement that you know about their market and following it with a question, you’re showing you’ve done your research and your going deeper into the problems your client is facing. You’ll get far better results with this one then “tell me a little more about your business.”
“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?”
Instead of asking “who is your ideal client” — this questions gets your client to tell you everything they know about their target market. Many times you’ll find that they don’t know what they should. Either way, this will help you uncover who your client is targeting, and how much they actually know about who they are targeting — both critical pieces of information.
“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.
Questions to Identify Value for ROI Pricing
With these questions, you’re looking to ask questions to help you and your client identify the financial implications of this project so that you can employ value-based pricing for your consulting project.
“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 $10000. 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. In fact, it starts to look like a fantastic investment. That’s a 300% increase in fees for you by focusing on ROI.
“What is the value of this to you (your company)?”
Will this help the company make an extra $5M, will they save tens-of-thousands of dollars each month, will they get a promotion, will they reduce their stress level? When you and the buyer understand what’s at stake and the value that will be created you are able to position your offering and structure your proposal so that it aligns with the value you are delivering.
While you do want to identify the financial upside of the project, make sure you also ask your client what success on this project would mean to them as an individual.
Sure, it might make the company an extra $5M — but if it’s going to make the decision makers life easier by drastically reduce her workload and her stress levels, you want to make it known that you understand her, and communicate that the project will accomplish both of these goals.
Questions to Explore the Cost of Inaction
With these questions, you’re looking to get the client to think about how much it would cost them NOT to take on this project right now.
“What would that cost you?”
Being able to show a person the cost of staying where they are or the potential cost of making a mistake is a great way to help them move forward. This also helps them to justify making an investment in working with you.
“If you don’t fix it, how long can you manage and stay with things as they are?”
Get your client to picture how things will look if they let things stay the way they are. Encourage them to put a duration on it. This creates a strong sense of urgency and positions you as the one who can “fix it” and help the client avoid a longer duration of the problem they’re dealing with.
“How would things be different if you no longer had to deal with ______?”
This is where you dig past the monetary goal, and make them feel how they would continue to feel with this problem. Perhaps if they don’t hire you to solve this problem, they’ll continue to feel stressed, embarrassed, their boss won’t consider them for a raise — all of which are just as important for them to feel as it is for them to understand the financial implications of staying put.
Your clients won’t be motivated to take action until they feel uncomfortable. This is where you make them uncomfortable with their current situation so they are motivated to take action.
Questions When Presenting Your Consulting Offer
With these questions, you’re introducing your consulting offer and setting up your proposal in the next step.
“Would a xxxx (process, plan, roadmap, etc) for you to get xxxx be helpful?”
This is where you echo what your client has been telling you. You tell them that you’re going to show them how you’re going to help them reach the goals they’ve been talking about (through your proposal). When you get a “yes!” here, your client has bought in and has start to bought in to the project and your expertise.
“Do you have any questions about this?”
You don’t want to wait around for objections — or hope your client doesn’t have any. This is where you prompt your client to ask you questions (and objections) so you can answer those right now. Objections are often a sign that they are considering your offer and are actually interested. When you can communicate that you understand where they are coming from with their objection and can answer their objections (mitigate risk), then you’ll bring them to the next step.
Questions For Introducing Consulting Proposals
After you’ve introduced your offer, your next step is to prepare them for the proposal.
“Let’s schedule a time tomorrow to review my proposal together so I can answer any questions you may have and figure out which option is the right one for you. Does that sound good? Would AM or PM be better for you?”
If your client says that they would like to look it over and get back to you without going through it with you, you know they aren’t serious. You want to challenge them on that. If you haven’t already, adopt the mindset that your time is valuable. Don’t spend time writing a proposal for a client who isn’t serious about working with you.
Questions to Schedule the Next Step (And Close The Deal)
How many times have you sent a proposal and waited for what seems eternity to receive a response from the buyer?
After you’ve presented your proposal to your client, it’s your job to schedule the next step — usually with a question. You should never send your proposal and wait for your client to reply via email. Always guide them towards taking the next step, preferably on the phone or in-person, if you can.
Here’s what you ask once you’ve presented your proposal and you’re ready to prepare the client to move forward:
“Does that sound good to you?”
A great question to ask after offering an idea, recommendation or offer. This helps you to get buy-in and acceptance from the buyer. It also allows you to address any concerns or questions the buyer may have if they respond in the negative.
“Let’s schedule the next step while we’re here together. How does DATE sound?”
Always schedule the next step before getting off the phone. Get it on paper. Otherwise you’ll be playing phone tag and waiting around for your client to give you the go-ahead…
“Is there any reason you wouldn’t want to move forward implementing PROJECT to solve PROBLEM?”
It’s better for you to know objections right now rather than later. You can learn about it now — and deal with it now. This is the perfect opportunity to answer objections on the phone or in person rather than through a string of emails.
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.
Need More Help with Your Consulting Client Questions and Growing Your Consulting Business?
Are you ready to take your consulting business to the next level?
The Clarity Coaching Program has helped over 300 consultants add six and seven figures to their annual revenues.
If you’re looking for a proven process to move your business forward and create a sustainable and profitable consulting practice you can get more details here.
In our program, you’ll find…
- Role-play opportunities for you to master all of the consulting questions
- The consulting sales conversations flow and script to help you level up your sales skills
- One on one coaching to help you come up with your own set of questions for your industries and projects
- Plus, much more to help you with your messaging, packaging, fees and marketing to generate consistent leads.
Learn more about Clarity Coaching for Consultants.
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Now, what consulting questions do you ask? Do you have a favorite that you’ve found to be effective?
Share your ideas with the community in the comments below…