Thoroughly understanding your client from the very beginning is imperative to building a strong relationship and achieving the best possible results.
True understanding is the result of asking good questions. Going beyond the surface, digging deep into what your client actually wants to achieve and understanding the challenges they face will allow you to provide value. The more questions you ask, the more you will learn.
Here we are looking at the top six questions you should ask prospective clients, in the latest of our #AATPowerUp your business skills series.
The right questions
First of all, says Falcon Huerta, founder of Soaring Falcon Accountancy, “you need to find out what the client knows about their own finances and how they’ve been working. For example how do they prepare their books? What is think the structure of the business and what is their vision for where they can take it next?”.
1. What is the structure of your clients business?
Finding out the structure of your clients business is a good place to start when getting to know a new client and will provide you with useful insight into the running of their business . Do they have any team members for support?
“For example, if the person you’re speaking to is a director, do they have admin people to assist them?” That tends to help when we implement our software, as we can then liaise with those admin people – we like to move things away from the director as much as possible. Asking how they are with technology is useful too. Normally they’re pretty good, or else eager to learn” says Huerta.
2. What problems is your client facing?
In order to provide value to a client and be a part of the solution, firstly you need to understand what problems they are facing. Ultimately clients want help to solve a problem. By making a connection with a client, relaying their problem to them and explaining how you will help to solve it is a much more effective way to build a relationship rather than just saying, here are the numbers.
Getting these problems or concerns out into the open straight away removes any ambiguity around your role and gives you a head start on how to solve their problems. As well as allowing you to be more specific in the information and reporting you provide.
A way you can do this is by getting your client to list all of their problems and challenges while you’re in the meeting which you can discuss there and then.
3. What does good look like?
A client could answer this question simply by saying “organising my finances”. But where value is really shown isn’t in providing reams of numbers each month, but instead giving your client tangible steps to take in order to reach their objectives.
By asking the client to articulate their vision of success often makes goals seem a little more real and enables them to drill more fully into their objectives.
A good example was given by Andrew Sullivan, director of Plymouth based practice Numbers (UK) who said “We ask our clients for a set of goals to meet over three to five years. They can be business based or they can be personal. A lot of people say they want to work fewer hours, pay off their mortgage, make more profit or spend more time with the kids. So we set goals with the client and agree how we’re going to help them achieve them”.
4. What is their ultimate goal?
Once you know what good looks like, you can then move on to asking questions about what your clients end goals are.
Imagine your clients end goal is to scale up their business and sell it in 5 years’ time. Without asking the question about they want to achieve, it’s difficult to provide advisory value about how they should be structuring their finances and where they could make savings and when they should be hiring etc.
“One of our clients came to us and said ‘I’ve always wanted to own the local pub’ which was a strange one, but this allowed us to focus on how we were going to make sure that the business had got enough profit so that, over a number of years, we could accumulate that profit so he could buy the pub” says Sullivan.
5. How can I make your life easier?
To have a good grasp on how to make your clients life easier, you’ll need to understand what has worked well or not so well in the past. Asking this question will allow you to build another layer into your relationship with your client.
For example your client might meet with investors on the second week of every month so by having up to day financial reports ready for the first week of the month this could help with their overall preparation and planning.
6. What is their why?
An important question to ask your client, is why they are doing what they do. What are their goals and what do they want to achieve ultimately with their business?
The why is the purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us. As Simon Sinek, author of the global best seller ‘Start with Why’ and TED talk contributor notes “whether you are an entrepreneur, an employee, a leader of a team, or are looking to find clarity on your next move, your WHY is the one constant that will guide you toward fulfilment in your work and life.”
Asking this question early on in your relationship with your client will help you gain an insight into the bigger picture of the company therefore allowing you work together more succinctly.
Tips for asking good questions
- Ask open questions. This will enable your client to talk openly about their business which will put them at ease as this is something they care about.
- Be aware of your body language when talking to clients. Crossing your legs or arms can be seen as remote or unavailable.
- Ask what questions. What questions are most likely to move conversations forwards, with this information you can dig deeper into a client’s wants and needs.
- Don’t take too many notes . Eye contact is important when building a relationship, as is active listening so ensure you’re focused on who you are talking to.
Remember asking a good question means nothing if you aren’t prepared to listen to the answer. Why not check out our post about supercharging your communication skills which included tips on how to improve your active listening skills.
You can follow the latest on Twitter with #AATPowerUp, or check back here for more.
Hannah Dolan is AAT Comment’s Content Editor.