From Vendor to Trusted Advisor: Use Power Questions to Deepen Your Client Relationships
By Andrew Sobel
Once you have acquired a new client or customer, the next challenge is to create a personal connection and deepen the relationship. Again, the right power questions will help you do this. To help deepen a client relationship, I like to ask what I call Passion questions and Depth questions.
Passion questions help you understand what the other person is really excited about in life. They enable you to learn what gets them up in the morning. For example, “Why do you do what you do?” is an excellent passion question. It’s simple but profound.
One of my clients was a managing partner in a large accounting firm. When I asked him this question, he replied, cynically, “Andrew, do you know what we actually do?” He was basically saying that accounting is boring and that he only did it to earn a living. But when I persisted and asked the question several times, he became thoughtful and shared with me some stories from his childhood, how he got into the profession, and what he loved most about his work. We ended up having a conversation that touched an emotional chord—and those are the truly memorable ones in our lives. Our relationship was just a bit deeper and more personal after that conversation.
Here are some other Passion questions that you can use with clients:
- “What in life has given you the greatest fulfillment?”
- “What do you like most about your job?”
- “What’s something you’ve always wanted to do…but never had the time for?”
- “If you hadn’t gone into…(business, law, etc) what do you think you would have done?”
- “What has been your greatest accomplishment?”
- “What would you say has been the happiest day of your life?”
- “When you’re not shaking things up at the office, how do you like to spend your time?”
- “You’ve achieved so much in your career—what else would you like to accomplish?”
Depth questions are questions that help you learn more about the person—his or her career, experiences, personal life, expertise, influences, and so on. The simplest depth question is, “Can you tell me more?” Those five words can launch your conversation into unanticipated depths.
Another good one is “How did you get started?” I was once at an awards dinner, and found myself talking with the CEO of WalMart USA. He had one million employees reporting to him! Did I try to show him that I was smart? Tell him all about my books? No! He was born in South America, and I simply asked, “How did you get your start? How did you get from the small town you were raised in to being CEO?” He smiled when I asked this, and talked passionately about his career and life story. The subsequent conversation lasted 45 minutes, and we connected in a very personal, intimate way.
Other Depth questions include:
- “If you could go back and give advice to your younger self about succeeding professionally and in life, what would you say to them?”
- “Who have been influential mentors or role models to you?”
- “What was the biggest turning point in your career?”
- “What would you say was your most important developmental experience?”
- “What did you learn from your parents? From the community you grew up in?”
Here is a selection of other power questions that I have found useful in building and deepening relationships with clients:
- When no agenda has been clearly set for a meeting: “From your perspective, what would the most valuable use of our time together?
- If you sense the other person is disengaged or distracted: “What’s the most important thing we should be talking about this morning?”
- If you have gotten a conversation off on the wrong foot entirely: “Do you mind if we start over?” (This also works beautifully if you’ve started arguing with your spouse or partner!)
- To understand someone’s strengths (as they perceive them): “Why do you think you have you been successful?”
- To get someone to reflect on their role and their effectiveness in it: “What parts of your job do you wish you could spend more time on, and which parts do you wish you could deemphasize or stop doing?”
Use credibility-building questions and agenda-setting questions early on in your relationships. Then, use passion questions and depth questions to connect on a personal level. That’s how you create the foundation for a trusted advisor relationship.
Be bold! Remember that many of the greatest figures in history were inveterate question-askers: Socrates, Jesus, Newton, Einstein, and Drucker, just to name a few. With a little effort and thought, you can become adept at asking power questions. The result will be transformed conversations and improved relationships that will enrich your career and your personal life.
If you missed the first two installments of this series on using Power Questions to build clients for life, you can find them here:
Power Questions contains nearly 500 thought-provoking questions to you help you navigate your toughest conversations with clients and also with colleagues, family, and friends. Have a look at it on Amazon.com. Learn more about it on my Power Questions page.