Proposals are fundamental to the success of any new client project. Without them you have no clear objectives. You also have nothing to measure your success against. Perhaps more importantly, without a proposal your client has no idea whether you understand their problem.
But before you get anywhere near a proposal, you need information, and the only person who can give you this information is your client. So be sure to ask the right questions...
In today’s post we’ll look at 10 questions you should ask in your next client interview. Your client’s success depends on it…And so does yours.
1: Why do you need this new [insert product or service]?
It’s common for a client to come to you with a request; a new website, a redesign, an update to their codebase...But on many occasions they give little to no information about the reasons behind their request.
Knowing why a client is beginning a project can change everything that comes after. You may be surprised at the real reasons behind a project. It could be something as simple as an offhand remark made by a friend that turned into insecurity. Or it could be that they haven’t updated their branding in years. The reasons they give may only be skin deep, but it’s a great place to start digging.
2: What problem is this project going to solve?
If you're not solving a problem, why are you talking? Your client needs to know that the work you do will improve their business. While working on projects with no particular goal will pay the bills for a while, it won’t establish you as a leader in your sector. If you want to be the go-to person then you need to make sure your work improves people’s businesses.
This question can also open up further discussion if your client hasn’t thought too much about the problem. They may simply be reacting to a nasty comment and not given a second thought to what was behind it. Many proposals fail because they don’t understand the client’s problem. Don’t let yours be one of them.
3: What will happen if this project doesn't go ahead? How will it affect your business?
Again this goes back to knowing how you can help. If you have a clear baseline to work from, then you know what you have to improve upon. For example, your potential client informs you of the following; “We’re currently spending $2,500 a month on advertising and in return we only get 5 new signups, each worth an initial $15 a piece”.
But of course the implications can run far deeper. If they continue to acquire customers at such a high cost they’ll be out of business in 12 months. This affects where you can help and tells you what’s at stake.
4: What are you hoping will come of this project?
Is your client looking to make more money, generate leads, increase trial signups, heighten brand awareness or annoy their ex-business partner?
This is where the problem they’ve come to you with, and the goals they have in mind can start to “separate”. If a client tells you they need to redesign their marketing campaign, you need to know why, right? They go on to inform you that they’re not getting enough trial users into the system, but then say their goal is to increase revenue.
You can see that their goals don’t necessarily relate to the problem they’ve come to you for.
Sure you can increase revenue by adding more users, but there are lots of ways to achieve this. By digging deep on these initial questions you’ll uncover all sorts of issues. Issues that need to be looked at in-depth before putting pen to paper. Bonus point: Note down any language, phrases and terminology used by your client. Use the same language your client uses in their proposal. It's a sure way to hit the ground running.
5: Do you have a budget range in mind?
This is always a hard question to ask, and sometimes a hard one to answer. Clients are afraid that you’ll max out their budget, whatever it is. But the truth is, if you have no idea what they’re willing to spend then you may well be wasting your time (and theirs).
As a side note, regardless of a client’s budget I will always include a price package that comes in over their budget. Using tiered pricing can increase your chances of up selling a client and bring even more value to the table.
Try framing the question as, “Do you have a budget range in mind? I don't want to waste your time with some crazy proposal”. Softening the tone can help a client feel more comfortable, and giving a budget range isn't as scary as a definitive dollar amount. Proposals take time to research and write. Don’t waste time on a client that’s going to say no anyway.
6: How will you measure the success of this project?
This is important! You need to know that you can make the project a success. Success can mean many things: More signups, more people on their mailing list, more revenue, or a lower churn rate. In fact it could be anything, as long as there's a way to measure it.
A healthy ROI doesn’t always need to be quantitative either. A qualitative return can be just as valid. You want your client to succeed, and you also want to use this data to land future business.
7: What concerns you most about this project?
There can be certain aspects of a project that worry a client more than others. But why does this matter to you?
If a client is nervous or worried then it’s your job to put them at ease. Closing a contract is all about allaying fears. If a client doesn’t trust you to cure whatever problem they face, then you’ll have a hard time being successful.
This question will also give you insight into what could be some of the underlying problems. The more you know about your client, their project and concerns, the better you can advise.
8: What aspects of your current product work well?
A wiser man than I once said “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Knowing what a product or service currently does well is worthy of your attention.
Take an example: A designer is called in to redesign a client’s product. She’s a talented designer and has a great feel for user experience. However, she doesn’t take into account that for the last 12 months her client’s users have been creating reports in a certain way. A way in which they like and feel comfortable with. The designer steps in, unifies the entire experience, makes it look fantastic and alienates half of the users.
Be careful. Don’t wreck your client’s service in the process. Know what works, what doesn’t and why. Forewarned is forearmed.
9: If this project could achieve only one goal, what would it be?
This is where you find out what matters. It also helps your client to focus on the problem.
If I was to take Nusii as an example, I’d say our priority is to help customers win more proposals. Everything else is secondary.
In any project there will always be primary, secondary and even tertiary goals. Hitting those goals is of the utmost importance to your client’s business, and yours. Knowing what these goals are can only come from your client.
Be insistent. If they don’t have a clearly defined goal, do all you can to help them find that goal.
10: How did you hear about my services?
An often overlooked question.
If a client came to you via a referral then you’ll want to thank that person (even if the project doesn’t pan out). If they found you via an article you wrote, a product you created or a Google search, you'll want to know...
Knowing where clients find you is important for obvious reasons. If a certain channel is bringing you more leads than another, work it even harder.
Closing Notes on client interviews
Ultimately it’s on you to find out what your client needs. If you go in guns-a-blazing and end up disappointed, you only have yourself to blame.
If you don’t think you can actually improve a client’s business, should you even take on the project? I’d say probably not. But without asking these sometimes awkward questions it’s impossible to know.
If you think I’ve missed anything. Or if you have any doozies you always include in your own client interviews, then feel free to share them below in the comments.