Talk less / Ask more questions


On several occasions recently, well-qualified consultants didn’t get a project because, in the initial call with the client, the consultants spent too much time talking about their own experience.

Consultants may ask about our experience.

But they actually don’t care about our great case examples.

They care about their problem.

If clients do ask, “Tell me about your relevant experience in the widget industry,” try responding with a question instead of answering.

“Sure, happy to discuss some related work I’ve done. First, I’d love to understand a bit more about your current challenge so I can share the most relevant examples…”

Shift the conversation to the client’s problem and don’t look back.

Here are some questions off the top of my head – by no means an exhaustive list. Several of these I learned from David A. Fields:

  1. So, what’s the current situation?
  2. What have you done so far?
  3. Why are you looking for help externally?
  4. Why are you looking for help on this now?
  5. What outcome are you hoping to achieve?
  6. What would the business impact be of that?
  7. What sort of challenges have you faced so far in getting this done?
  8. Assume this project were to be a big success – what would that look like?
  9. This project could be tackled in a bunch of different ways: what’s your mental model of how the project should be done?
  10. What sort of timeline do you envision?
  11. To what degree is the internal team aligned?
  12. Why might some stakeholders support a different direction?
  13. Which internal stakeholders do we need to involve?
  14. When were you thinking of getting started?
  15. Who will be involved in the selection of the consultant to support this? What will the process be?
  16. What sort of budget do you have in mind?
  17. Is the budget approved? Or if not, what will that approval process look like?
  18. What would the background be of the ideal consultant for this project?
  19. What role do you see the consultant playing on this project?
  20. Let’s say you’ve got the final deliverable in your hands right now. Please describe it to me – what pages does it include?
  21. Let’s say we’ve completed this transformation effort. How do things work differently around here?
  22. What makes you think that I [or my firm] could be helpful on this? Why do you think we might be the right choice for you?
  23. What would be your top concern for working with a consultant with my background?
  24. What would you need to see from us to confirm this effort and get started?

Discussing these questions is a lot more interesting to the client than hearing about that similar project you did three years ago.