A First Set of Questions to Ask Your Potential Client

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    Consulting books often suggest a sequence of steps or phases that a consulting project goes through. The nature of the sequence depends on the perspectives of the authors of the books. The initial phase has been referred to by a variety of names, for example, Start-Up and/or Entry. (Some books even mention these two terms as two different phases in the sequence.)

    Regardless of the name of the step or phase, the consultant can learn a great deal about the client — and even get a sense for the likelihood of the client’s participation in (and thus, success of) the project — by asking useful questions when first meeting the client. The questions can also impress the client with how thoughtful and thorough you are. (The questions are NOT to discern whether the client is ready for a project — those are a different set of questions). Here are some questions that have been useful to me over the years in order to learn more about the client and the potential project.

    (NOTE: The client might refer to the need for the project as an “issue,” if there is a current, major problem, or as a “goal,” if the project is to make good things even better. When asking questions, use the term that your client uses. For the sake of simplicity and clarity, most of the following questions use the term “issue.”)

    1. Is the situation a problem or issue?
      (If it is a “remedial” situation, then there’s a much greater likelihood that the client will be very energized to participate in the project.)
    2. Or, are things OK now, but the project would make things even better?
      (If this is the case, it might be a challenge to keep the client energized.)
    3. Who first asserted the need for a project, or for change? External stakeholders, such as investors or customers?
      (If so, then the client might be very motivated to move things along in the project. If external stakeholders were involved, then they might want to be on a Project Team during the project.)
    4. Or, did internal stakeholders suggest the project?
      (If so, it will be even more important to cultivate strong buy-in of organization members.)
    5. Did the need for a project suddenly arise or has it been planned for a while?
      (If it suddenly arose, there might be more likelihood of stronger client participation in the project.)
    6. How long ago did the need for the project arise?
      (If it was recent, then there’s more likelihood that the client will show stronger participation in the project.)
    7. Did your client try any strategies to address the issue before?
      (If so, what did they try? Training? If all they tried was training, then they might have a very short-term view of how to fix things.)
    8. What did your client want to accomplish in their previous efforts to address the issue?
      (It’s extremely important to understand what they consider to be “success” for now.)
    9. How did your client decide what to try?
      (The answer to that question will tell you how your client makes decisions — by one person or by consensus. )
    10. What were the results of their efforts? How did your client measure success?
      (Did they take a systematic approach or an impulsive approach? The answer to that question tells you a lot about whether you’ll need to persuade them to be more methodical or not.)
    11. Did your client make any effort to manage change, when addressing their issue?
      (That question starts to alert them to the need to carefully manage change, and opens the door for you to start teaching them.)
    12. How did they decide to seek assistance?
      (The answer to that question will reveal how they made decisions, but also why they are considering you.)
    13. Did your client establish criteria for selecting a consultant, for example, do a Request for Proposal?
      (If they did an RFP, they very likely are quite thorough in analyzing their issue and in ensuring they get the best consultant. They probably will be the same way with you.)

    Also see

    1. The topic Consultants in the Free Management Library.
    2. Phase 1 of the consulting process.
    3. Assessing Client’s Readiness for Change.

    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 763-971-8890
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