By Allen Fuqua
With every client or prospect, we usually encounter the same, eternal business development challenge: How do I make myself relevant to the person across from me? To begin, you have to know the client or prospect in a way that helps you direct your work and actions in line with what is important to them.
Getting to know a client or prospect can be a daunting task but by asking the right questions, you can transform who you are into what they need. By utilizing the following questions, you will be able to uncover key information on your client or prospect, and develop a better business plan.
Note: It’s best to not deviate from the order of the questions below or leave any out. Additionally, consider asking your interviewee for permission to internally share their responses with your business development team so that you can better personalize a business plan.
Question 1: What does success look like over the next year or two?
Everyone thinks about this question, and your client or prospect is no different. They look at their future and decide if they are optimistic, hopeful or worried. For being such an impactful question, no one thinks to ever ask it.
Ask your client or prospect this question, but don’t comment. Only ask follow-up questions for clarification, and respect their thoughts. By doing this, you are not only establishing a baseline of what success looks like to them, you are also able to bring future goals to the forefront.
Question 2: What are the challenges which may keep you from reaching that success?
Ask the question and then be silent. Let the other person work through how they want to express these concerns. If you have trouble with silence, reach for your glass of water and take a drink. Whatever you do, do not talk for the sake of filling that silence.
As the person you are interviewing begins to share, listen actively and with great intent. Turn off your reactive mindset and take in what is being said. It doesn’t get much better than this in business development or in building relationships, and you will be able to walk away with a list of potential challenges you’ll need to combat up front.
Question 3: Do you have a plan to address those challenges?
You may think you possess all the answers to the challenges expressed in question two. You may think you don’t need to ask question three, but you must. This isn’t a game where you have the answers; it’s a process of understanding a business person, how they think and where they are in that moment. And, you can’t possibly know that without hearing it directly from the person. Assuming that voicing those challenges means that they have not deduced next steps to solve for them will leave the client feeling “unheard — so let them share with you what they have in store before suggesting ways that you can help.
Respect the person you are talking with and learn how they plan to become successful. You may have better ideas, but you won’t be able to express those ideas without hearing all the information first. Their answers provide insight into what motivates them and what kind of ideas might be most appealing.
So you’ve had the conversation. Now what?
Make sure the individual understands how beneficial you find the information they provided. Then, based on your insight into the moment, you can follow up with these options:
- Offer some ideas on the spot, but be careful. Your peers and your client or prospect are smart, experienced people. They have considered many options and have decided on the ones they shared with you. It’s more important that you understand why they’ve chosen the solutions they’ve chosen as it gives insight into their strengths, tendencies and limitations.
- Take this information back to your team and get any thoughts on what services, insights, etc., you can bring to this person. If your interviewee agreed to let you share personal information with your team, they will see that you understand the importance of the answers they provided and will feel more trusting of you.
- Ask to have a second meeting. The goal of any first meeting should be to get a second meeting, so I like to use the information from the three questions as a basis for a follow-up discussion.
Once you have this conversation, you will possess information that few people have about this client or prospect. There will be a level of business intimacy that will leapfrog you ahead of your competition and the content will act as the basis for how you serve, or will serve them, value you will bring to the table and what resources you need to make a difference in this business relationship. The key to taking that information to the next level involves referencing it and making educated decisions going forward. The worst thing we can do is take someone’s time and then ignore what intel they’ve shared — active listening is a commitment to shaping the relationship going forward and meeting the other person where they need to be met.
Allen Fuqua Strategies
Allen Fuqua builds businesses, teams, organizations and capabilities. These efforts revolve around growth, expansion and raising the performance bar. Initially working in health care, Big Four consulting and start-up companies, Fuqua has spent the last 20 years at large law firms as their top marketing/business development executive. Today he serves law firms and law firm CMOs providing strategies, tactics and insights into how to grow and take the organization and their client relationships to the next level.