10 Questions You Should Ask Your Clients Every Year
Last month we looked at the indicators of client relationship health. Now, here are the questions you should ask your clients directly.
A client of mine recently told me about how he had dodged death twice. The story of the first time is especially hair-raising, but I must save it for another newsletter.
The second time this happened, it involved a seemingly innocuous growth on his arm. It looked like a mole, and he ignored it. He was so incredibily busy running his successful, global company that he hadn't seen his doctor in several years. He felt fine, and was in peak health by almost any external measure.
His doctor looked at the large mole on his arm and told him to see a dermatologist immediately–the same day. It turned out to be a melanoma that was on the verge of invading his body–of metastasizing. It was, in short, about to kill him (metastasized melanomas are highly lethal, according to doctors).
Here's the point: Your client relationship may seem healthy. Even radiant. But there may be something small bothering your client. It may be a benign issue–for now. But over time that concern may grow and even merge with other concerns. Your client's dissatisfaction can grow larger than the sum of the individual concerns. In other words, without regular communication and a thorough, annual client relationship review process, you risk losing a client because you were unaware of their true feelings or perhaps dismissed them in your mind.
You think it's a small, innocuous spot but it may grow into something more deadly. By the time you react to it, the relationship may be too ill to recover.
Here are 10 questions you should ask each of your clients, every year
1. Could you share with me your overall assessment of our relationship?
This is a general question that can help kick off the conversation in a non-threatenng way.
2. What have we done recently that you have found particularly valuable or useful?
We often think we know what has "added value" to our clients. But often, they have experienced value from things we've done that we thought were minor or insignificant. You need to find out, so ask!
3. If you could change or improve one thing about our relationship, what would it be?
If a client is not very forthcoming, this might spur an answer.
4. Are there any individuals in your organization with whom we should invest more time and build a better relationship with?
This question is especially important if you work with larger businesses where you need to be developing multiple relationships.
5. Can you give me any suggestions for improving the amount, timing, or format of our communications to you and your organization?
Ideally, you should co-create–that is, collaboratively define–the type of relationship management that suits the client.
Now you may want to shift towards several "agenda setting" questions to better understand your clients upcoming issues and challenges. Note: These are questions for existing clients, not a prospect. Agenda zetting questions for a prospect will be a little different. These assume a personal familiarity.
6. What issues are coming up for you that we ought to be aware of or thinking about for you?
7. What are your plans for…? How are planning to deal with…? (tailor these to your client’s business and markets)
Remember, you don't just want to ask open-ended questions about your client's "issues"–you want to consistently demonstrate that you understand your client's business environment and the key trends that are affecting them.
8. What are your two or three most important goals for next year? (Or, even better: How will you be evaluated by your leadership next year? What metrics will be used?)
9. As you think about the future of your business, and your various strategies and initiatives, what are you most excited about? Most concerned about?
I like this because it's a "right-brained" power question. It will help you understand what your client is truly excited and passionate about in the business.
10. Is there anything we could improve upon or change that would make doing business with us easier?
"Ease of doing business" is an important and underrated concept, and you might close your conversation with this one. I've even said, to a busy top executives, "Is there anything else I can do to make life easier for you?"
There are a few other questions you might also ask, depending on the circumstances. For example, if this is a firm relationship and you have a designated relationship manager and team, you need to find out how the client feels about them.
- Could you give me your assessment of our team? What have they done particularly well? Are there any areas for improvement or weakness I should be aware of?
- Could you give me your assessment of our relationship manager/account executive? What are their strengths and weaknesses?
- If you need something from our organization, do you always know who to go to?
What if the problem with the relationship is the relationship partner or account manager? This doesn't happen every day, but I have witnessed this type of issue a number of times. An incompatible or poorly-performing team member is one thing; the wrong relationship manager is quite another.
Do clients know how to navigate your organization? Do they know exactly whom to turn to? The last question will help ferret that out, and what you learn may be very critical information.
Finally: once a year–probably in a separate conversation–you need to ask for a referral. "My business grows through word of mouth—can you think of anyone you know who would benefit from what I do?" If possible, try and ask for a SPECIFIC referral–e.g, "I'd really like to build a relationship with Bill Smith, who sits on the XYZ board with you…would you be willing to connect us?"
ABOUT ANDREW SOBEL
Andrew Sobel helps companies and individuals build clients for life. He is the most widely published author in the world on the topic of business relationships, and his bestselling books include span Power Questions, All for One, Making Rain, and Clients for Life. His clients include many of the world's leading companies such as Citigroup, Hess, Ernst & Young, Booz Allen Hamilton, Cognizant, Deloitte, Experian, Lloyds Banking Group, Bain & Company, and many others. Andrew's articles and work have appeared in publications such as the New York Times, USA Today, strategy+business, and the Harvard Business Review. He spent 15 years at Gemini Consulting where he was a Senior Vice President and Country Chief Executive Officer, and for the last 15 years he has led his own consulting firm, Andrew Sobel Advisors.
He can be reached at andrewsobel.com