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Marketing / Business relationships

Client briefs: Asking smart questions part 2

My previous article on client briefs covered asking smart questions to yield the right information to help you secure contracts. For best results, you also need to consider who, when, where and how to ask these questions.

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Who’s the right person to ask?

Be smart about who to address your questions to. Bear in mind some people are better placed to help than others. Some don’t have the authority while others lack the knowledge or time to give you the right answers.

Take your list of questions from the exercise in my previous article – Client briefs: Are you asking smart questions?. For each, ask ‘Who is the best person/where is the best place to get a reliable answer?’

Respect yours and other people’s time, money and energy. It could be the best place to get some of your answers is from your prospect’s website.

If you do ask questions of an individual, outside of building general rapport, ask only what you must in order to make the right decision. Be considerate of their time and they are more likely to be considerate of you.

You must take responsibility in client briefs to steer things towards your desired outcome. When querying a prospect, I’d suggest your desired outcome isn’t to get the contract but to find out if it’s the right contract for you. If it is, the chances are they will feel the same and you’ll get the offer.

Asking at the right place and at the right time

Consider this: for every question there’s a right and wrong time and place to ask.

Don’t make the common mistake of asking questions in the wrong place, in front of the wrong people or in a distracting environment. Also, it’s the wrong time when people are focusing elsewhere or when there’s not enough time.

"Consider this: for every question there’s a right and wrong time and place to ask."

In a client brief meeting, your time and place are fixed but you may have questions that are best asked before the meeting, or at a specific time during the meeting. Get your sequence and timing right.

Want more articles like this? Check out the business relationships section.

How to ask the smart questions

This is largely dependent on context. Rather than asking a list of questions, consider asking broader questions which open up a conversation. By doing so, you’re likely to get answers because your prospect volunteers the necessary information. This changes the feel of the exchange from interrogation to conversation.

Remember that often people refrain from asking important questions because they feel awkward asking or fear a negative response. Sometimes they do ask, and do get that negative response!

Your job is to reduce the likelihood of this by ensuring that they understand why you’re asking. You must steer their focus on to the benefits they will gain by answering your question.

Then you’ll get your answer, and they’ll respect you for asking.

For example, consider the effect of asking a prospect “What’s your biggest frustration right now?” versus asking, “For me to best help you make progress, it would be useful for me to understand what it is that’s frustrating you in what you’re trying to achieve?”

By plugging clear benefits on to your question, you direct their focus onto something useful and motivating, rather than a negative response. You’ve smoothed the path ahead by clarifying why you’re asking.

Of course, there’s more to an effective conversation than asking smart questions, but hopefully, these tips give you some food for thought.

Just remember to plan ahead and devise a smart strategy for obtaining the information you need, whilst simultaneously demonstrating your value to your prospect.

Perhaps you have more tips for client briefs on how to ask smart questions the right way?

Mark Moore

is the Director of Excelerated Performance International. He helps people to close the skills and knowledge gaps that they face, much faster, and manage themselves more effectively in order to achieve their business goals.

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